by Lauren H. Smith
The “Get Published in Literary Magazines” session with Allison Williams (not the actress) was a late-afternoon caffeine jolt.
“What does success look like for you?!” the motivational-speaker type chirped, before pointing to the p-words splashed across her PowerPoint slide. “Is it Payment? Prestige? Publication? All of the above?” According to Allison, it’s the day-to-day waffling between “I’m great!” and “I suck” that can inhibit the drive toward success. But “our feelings are rarely in line with what we write,” she said.
Writing is about practice more than talent. For starters, you have to read like a writer. Notice and understand the tools that other authors use, and then follow their lead. To develop and gauge your ability, take writing workshops and make writing buddies. Write as if you’re going to show a piece to a specific audience. “You won’t try to get away with as much,” Allison said. “And it will help you frame your essay.” If your writing style is similar to an essay you read in a literary magazine, you might want to submit your work there.
But it takes a detective’s journey to find the right destination for your work. Thankfully, there are venues that offer publication databases (e.g., Duotrope and NewPages). Sift through a list by reading…a lot. Read what magazines have published, peruse author bios, and review submission guidelines. Submit to as many potentially compatible places as possible, and create a spreadsheet that helps you recall what you sent to whom. Submit a piece to several magazines at the same time. If a publication doesn’t accept a simultaneous submission, decide if they’re worth the wait.
“The more you submit, the less painful rejections are. Rejections are proof that you’re doing your job as a writer. They’re just part of the process!” Allison said with a convincing grin. (I could hear a sigh of relief sweep the room.) Then she covered a huge reason why you (and I) could be getting rejected that has nothing to do with being a crappy writer. Sometimes a magazine just isn’t accepting your type of work yet. “It’s like when you pass a large group of men on the street,” she began. (I was curious about where this was going.) “There are lots of good ones to choose from, but they may not be what you need right now.”
Allison offered other helpful submission tips. For instance, remember any personal rejection letters you receive. If a publication requests that you submit at a later time, they aren’t lying, but wait six to eight weeks. She also suggested keeping an under-one-hundred-words cover letter on hand that you only need to tweak for the places that require them, and always have a short bio ready. Don’t use services that say they’ll submit your work for you; submit it yourself. Take chances: Even if your piece doesn’t fit a theme to a T, it could still get accepted. And finally, enter writing contests. Your entry fee usually gets a submission to that magazine, which is a nifty little perk. Just make sure the fee isn’t out of proportion with the prize.
Now grab a cup of coffee, remember that you don’t suck, and jump on it.
(If you want to learn more, read Allison’s book. As you might have guessed, the title is: Get Published in Literary Magazines.)