Friday, January 17, 2014

Entry # 196 - "Plan to be Published"

It helps me to remember that Muriel Rukeyser is reported to have said something like, “A writer should never submit to anyone! So I don’t submit. I offer.”

I have posted these thoughts previously but it helps to be reminded about the difficult business that writers must face when they put their work out into the world.

As a writer I have collected more than a few rejection slips for work submitted to a wide range of literary journals. And not necessarily because the work wasn’t good. Happily, I’ve also gotten some lovely “We loved it” letters, but for every acceptance, I’ve gotten at least 30 non-acceptances.  If you’re a writer new to this business, it might be useful to know that while you will wish to be published and hope some editor likes your work, the hard, cold reality is that your artistic offerings will receive and survive rejection. Even famous writers get “No Thanks” but probably not as often as the rest of us. As a writer you must develop a tough skin to help you deal with the “Not for us” or “No Thanks” that cuts your ego a bit.  These  often arrive in your own self-addressed envelope on a thin, ragged, coffee-stained 1/4 page of cheap paper, a mass-produced rejection letter. AND don't count on a speedy reply from journals. In fact my recent posting - Entry # 193 describes receiving a packet (January 2014) that returned two stories that were sent out to a (now non-existent) journal way back in 1995. Take heart. You must plan to be published - eventually - because someone out there will get what you’re trying to do. And they’ll finally have budget and space for your work. In this economy even that can have an impact on your publication dreams.

So when you’re sending out work that you think is ready for publication, it helps to remember that you need a plan, just as you do with most things. Read a range of literary journals. Think about whether any of your work would fit with genre, style, setting, narrative style, length, or theme.
Send your work to publications you enjoy reading. Many good publication samples can be found at your local library, book store or online. Subscribe to 2-4 of your favorites and develop a target list of 5-10 markets that you’ll send your work. Send your work out to those markets first to see if you are a good fit. Your goal is to have your work published in one or more of them within a set time period of - say -  2-to-5 years. (Yes. I did say years!)
In addition, various Writers’ Market Books provide lists of magazines,  you’ve never even imagined existed, with lists of deadlines, requirements, and guidelines. Editors will tell you that they’re looking for a reason to say no, because they get hundreds and even thousands of manuscripts each month. So be sure to follow their posted guidelines. If they set a 5-page limit and you send them 10 pages - they won’t even read it. If you use font sizes of less than 12 - they won’t ever read it.  So really pay close attention to posted guidelines, as well as the “needs” and “advice” sections in these listings.  Most editors are looking for interesting, new and different work. Send your work to the appropriate editor and make sure they’re still employed there.  Colleges and universities have regular staff turnover.  
Keep your submission simple. Send a short two-paragraph (max) cover letter.  Don’t tell them anything other than the title, word count, type of work (fiction or non-fiction or poetry), and your name and how to contact you. Avoid telling them about your story. They’ll figure it out. It’s what they do! They  read and consider if your work is ready and suitable for their particular journal - and whether they have any more space for it. This post was published as Blog Entry # 31 on December 23, 2011.

About Jan Bowman
Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, Jan's stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, and a Pen/O’Henry award.  Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers.

A recent story was a finalist for the 2013 Broad River Review RASH Award for Fiction, another story was a 2013 finalist in the Phoebe Fiction Contest; another was a 2012 finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest.  Jan’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others.   

 She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection, Mermaids & Other Stories.  She has nonfiction publications in Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at: or  visit blog:


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