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Now What? Tips for Publishing Your Creative Writing

Now What? is a series dedicated to providing strategies for a successful post graduate experience. 

As a writer, you probably have your own reasons for generating stories. Maybe it’s how you process things, by creating fictional spaces through which to understand the world. Maybe something you read once deeply impacted you, inspiring you to try your hand at storytelling. Maybe you just like to make stuff up. Whatever the reason, most writers feel compelled to do what they do out of a sense of wanting to share their unique perspective with readers.

“I like to say that you need to be as creative in submitting your work as you are in creating your work,” says Sidney Williams, a Course Director in Full Sail’s Creative Writing program. If you’re ready to publish your work but don’t quite know where to start, here are some tips on how to get your writing out of your documents folder and into the world.

Research Different Markets
There are thousands of publications out there, representing a wide array of genres and disciplines. It’s important to make sure you’re sending work out to places that have a natural alignment with what you’re trying to do. For instance, you wouldn’t send a hard-boiled detective story to The Fairytale Review. “All of the writer’s magazines have their own tone,” says Sidney. “I think it’s good to become familiar with what they really have to offer to you.”

Researching a publication before you submit ensures that you won’t waste your time or an editor’s time. You can find publications (also known as markets) via several sources:

  • NewPages is an online guide to the publishing world, and offers a searchable database of literary journals and independent publishers.
  • Duotrope is a submission management service that also allows you to search over 2,000 markets for a small monthly fee.
  • Poets and Writers magazine offers craft essays, interviews with notable writers, and an extensive classifieds section featuring hundreds of calls for submissions.
  • Writer’s Market is a comprehensive market directory featuring contact information for publishers and agents. Like Duotrope, it also requires a small monthly fee in exchange for membership.

Another quick way to vet potential markets is by researching the publication history of writers with whom you share a literary or stylistic kinship. If you come across a story or novel that you particularly love, take a look at the author’s bio. Where else have they published? Who is their agent? If you’re working in a similar genre, then those markets might be a good fit for your work as well.

Build Up a Network of Fellow Writers
It’s easy to think of writing as a solitary pursuit, since so much of the work happens in isolation. But when it comes to finding a home for a finished piece, other writers and industry professionals can be a fantastic resource.

“Getting out there, being around other people with the same creative energy and vibe that you feel, I think, is great,” says Sidney. He suggests attending conferences and writing retreats whenever possible. As you start to build a community of writing contacts, you may find that they can offer you a unique insight into the industry. “Often, meeting other writers will allow you to discover additional opportunities, because they may be figuring out the ropes in an arm of publishing you haven’t even thought about yet,” he says.

Write Your Cover Letter
When it comes to cover letters, keep it short. Address your letter directly to the editor of the publication. You can usually find this information on the “masthead,” or list of staff located in the front matter of a magazine, or in the “about us” section of an online journal. You should include the title of your work, the word count, and whether or not it’s been published somewhere else. If you are submitting the work simultaneously (meaning it’s out for consideration at more than one place), mention that as well, with a promise to let the publisher know if the work is accepted elsewhere.

You can also list previous publications, although again, it’s prudent to keep the list short. Remember, you’re merely demonstrating to the editor that you have prior publishing experience rather than listing your entire C.V. As with any cover letter, take the time to carefully read the guidelines of the publication you’re submitting to. Some publishers will ask that you submit a short bio along with your work, others may ask that you don’t submit work simultaneously. At the end of your cover letter, thank the editor in advance for their time and sign your name.

Track Your Submissions
Technology has refined the process to the point that the vast majority of publishers now accept online submissions. The fact that you can easily submit your work is great, but what happens when you have to track all of those submissions?

As previously mentioned, there are a few online submission management services out there, many of which require a small (and totally worth it) subscription fee. If you can’t swing the subscription fee, a simple spreadsheet tracking where and when you sent a story and when you expect to hear back will do the trick. It’s imperative to track your work, that way you can avoid duplicate submissions and you’ll know when to withdraw simultaneous submissions if a piece gets picked up.

“I used to use a calendar,” laughs Sidney. “I would mark on the date that a story went out, then when a rejection came in I would mark where the story was going to go next.” Whatever means you use, an organized approach to the submission process will make it easier to present yourself as professional.

Push Through Rejections
Finally, the most important thing to remember is to keep submitting. The fact is, getting a rejection is simply not as fun as having your work accepted for publication. However, you should bear in mind that editors reject work for all kinds of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. A piece may not fit in with the theme of an issue, for instance, or the word count might be off. If a journal or magazine has recently published a few stories in a similar genre, then they may wish to diversify their offerings, resulting in the rejection of an otherwise perfectly publishable piece. Don’t let rejections hold sway over your decision to submit elsewhere, because it may take some time to find the right home for you work.

“Do everything you can to get your work out there,” says Sidney. “I used to stick my rejections up on my bedroom wall. It was symbolic that I was sending stuff out. If you are continuously working, you are continuously improving.”

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