How to Get Published for Newbies
A few of my close friends are aspiring writers, who’ve only recently decided to make the very difficult decision that is to try and get their work out there in the public (published) eye. I’ve been doing this whole writing thing for a while now, and they know this, so lately I’ve been finding my email inbox inundated with emails asking things like “Where do I begin?”, “What do I do?” and (in one extreme case)”Help me, dear God, help me! HGjfbgkdbjgkdsgks!!!”
In light of all that, I thought a good topic for this week’s blog post would be publishing. Namely, how to get published. It’s very basic knowledge that any professional writer takes for granted, and it’s the basis of most creative writing courses at university. Despite this, new writers or writers who don’t have a lot of experience in the industry don’t always know the fundamentals of getting their work out there. In the case of publishing, it’s often the first step (actually sending your work out into the world) that is the hardest and, in this case, it can be incredibly confusing. So, with that said…
How do you get published?
First of all, I’m making the basic assumption that you’ve actually finished writing something. Be it a manuscript for a novel, a short story, your new epic poem or a non fiction essay. You’ve spent the last days, weeks, months (or years) making sure it’s as good as it can be. You’ve polished it as best as you can. You’ve edited and proofread it. You’ve had other people read it and give you their feedback.
The fun part of the writing process is over. Now comes the part I hate — tedious waiting, hours of boring research, and the possible chance of rejection. When you know what to do, it’s actually rather easy. In the interest of brevity and ease of comprehension, I’ve tried to write this guide in a series of numeric steps. Hopefully, by following them, you’ll find that the process isn’t as intimidating as you may think it is and, with time, you’ll be able to blast through it as easily as any professional, best-selling writer does.
Here we go:
Note: This is a set of guidelines that relate to the traditional publishing method, wherein a publishing house accepts or rejects your work and publishes it at their expense. I don’t cover other publication methods (such as self-publishing) in this article — since I’m not personally acquainted with them — but feel free to check out publishing services like Smashwords, if such methods sound more suited to you.
Step One – The first thing you have to do is actually find a market for your piece. There are multiple ways of doing this. You can Google publishers interested in your piece (eg. “science fiction short story submissions”) or, if you already know of a place you’d like to try, you can head directly to their website. The easiest way, though, and the one I point most new writers I meet in the direction of, is to register an account at Duotrope Digest. Duotrope is a searchable database of writer’s markets — just by entering the genre and length of your piece, you’ll be given a full list of places that’ll consider it, with detailed information about each. Some markets will pay you, and others won’t. As a general rule, the higher paying markets are harder to get into, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If you think your story is good enough, go for it.
When searching for a place you want to submit to, you should be aware of the audience you’re trying to target with your piece, and also the tone and theme of your piece. Different markets will have different styles and preferences, and you should always check carefully to make sure your piece fits (for example, sending a dark, literary piece of sci-fi to a pulp sci-fi magazine just because they accept “science fiction” as a genre will probably hurt your chances for a successful sale).
Also be aware of the publisher’s stance regarding simultaneous submissions. This is when you send the same piece for consideration at more than one market at the same time. Some markets aren’t okay with this. Make sure you read the specific market’s guidelines properly to make sure they’re fine with you sending to multiple people. If they aren’t, they usually say it clearly on their submissions page.
Step Two – Once you’ve found a place (or two, or three, or ten) that you think you’d like to try and submit your piece to, you have to do research, to make sure they’re the right market for you. Spend an hour or two reading their website carefully. Go over the submissions guidelines a few times to find out what their pay rate is (if any) and what kind of rights they’ll be buying off you, and for how long. Read a few of the stories they’ve published (if they have them online) and see if there are any that are very similar to yours (having a story too similar to one they’ve already published can make it more difficult for you to “crack” the market) and whether or not the general tone and style of the pieces they accept match the piece you want to submit to them. Nothing will annoy an editor more than somebody who is submitting a piece that is clearly not a fit for their market. Imagine you’re an editor of a light romance magazine, and somebody sends you hardcore erotica; they obviously haven’t familiarised themselves with your publication and tastes, have they?
Pay attention to the rights that the market is asking to purchase. If you feel that they’re asking too much and paying too little, it might be a good idea to move on. If somebody wants Exclusive rights, it means they’re asking to publish your piece exclusively for a period of time and, during that time, you won’t be able to post your work anywhere else or cite it on any online forum. If they’re asking for First Rights, it means they want to be the first people to publish your piece — they’re not after reprints (a piece previously published anywhere else, including your personal website or on Facebook). Print Rights mean they want the right to publish your piece in print. Electronic Rights mean they want to publish it online. Make sure you’re clear about what rights you’re selling and that you’re willing to hand them over. Keep in mind, too, that whichever rights the market doesn’t buy, you retain, so if someone only wants the Print rights, you’re still free to sell it to someone who wants Electronic.
Step Three – Read the market’s guidelines carefully and make sure you format your work according to their preferred style. Most publishers will accept a style similar to or derived from the Standard Manuscript Format, so formatting your work this way to begin with will save a lot of hassle later. Pay attention to the font, font size, indentation, margins and spacing specified in the market’s guidelines (if they have specific guidelines — some will be willing to accept anything as long as it is readable) and make sure your manuscript abides by these specifications. You may get automatically rejected for not following the formatting guidelines.
Pay attention also to which file format the market wants your submission in — do they want it in the body of an email, or do they want an attached .docx or .rtf file? Don’t send in the wrong file format. If they can’t open the document you sent them, it’ll just mean an automatic rejection.
Step Four – Query the market and submit your piece. Often, you’ll be asked to write a query letter. There’s a specific way to do this. If they ask for one, don’t forget to include one, because no editor likes receiving a blank email. Your query letter is your chance to sell yourself and your piece, so pay careful attention to it. Also, if they ask for your personal details or an author bio, make sure you include these elements in your query letter. You’re trying your best to impress them, after all, and following their submissions guidelines exactly puts the editors in a much better disposition. Once you’re done writing your query letter, send your submission out into the ether. Before you know it, you could be published!