Recently, I have been asked to look at the work of writers who would like to take that first brave step of submitting their work for publication, but are unsure of where to begin. Here are a few guidelines that I hope will be helpful.
Start locally. The new year brings with it renewed energy for local writers’ groups, as well as a new year of contests. Many local writing organizations have subgroups that meet to critique poetry, fiction, mystery writing, or drama. It is worth checking them out if you are interested in some feedback before you go ahead. It is always great to have the support of fellow writers.
Do your homework and actually read the publication you are submitting to. Don’t send your article on backpacking Australia to a boat maintenance magazine. Unless of course, you earned money working on boats while you were backpacking. Seems obvious.
Most magazines like you to submit your work to them exclusively, but in these competitive and financially challenging times, more editors are saying they will look at multiple submissions, as long as you let them know if someone else accepts your piece. Check first. Expect to wait up to three months or more for a response.
Keep track of your submissions with a spreadsheet or in a notebook. Write a short note beside the submission if a generous editor writes back with a piece of advice such as, ‘we have all the articles on Christmas crafts for this year, but try us again.’ Consider asking editors to email their editorial lineup for the year. Magazines are often planned months ahead and an article on June weddings may be accepted a full year in advance.
Look farther afield as well. Did you visit New York in the last year? Perhaps The New York Times might be interested in your take on their city.
E-magazines may not send out print copies, but there is a good chance your work will be online for a very long time.
Magazine articles generally don’t pay very much unless you are well-established, on assignment, or a regular columnist. Writers’ and editors‘ unions provide guidelines on payment and contract advice, which it is hoped publishers and others will follow. Many beginning writers are willing to take what is offered. Keep in mind that soon you will have to decide how much your time and effort are worth.
Learn about the rights you will be giving away when your work is accepted. Today some publishers buy all of the rights, print, and electronic in perpetuity, and this may not be what you had bargained for. If you accumulate several themed pieces you may eventually want to try and have them published in a book. If you have signed away your rights, your work will belong to someone else.
Literary magazine contests are a good place to begin sending out literary work, but keep in mind there is often an entry fee.
Here is a very short list of contest and magazine links to help you get started.
Good luck and keep writing.