Publishing Your Writing
This guide offers information on the most basic aspects of publishing your writing, from defining what it is, how to go about submitting, to offering advice about what to do once you've been published.
What It Means to be Published
Publication is very straightforward: it means sharing your writing with someone else. That someone can be your grandfather, your writing group, or the readers of The Atlantic Monthly. If you send your poem to twelve magazines and get twelve rejection slips, you can at least be sure that twelve people have now read that poem, that it has entered their consciousness and resides there, somewhere, which is, really, one of the reasons we write (and publish): to enter the consciousness of someone else. The same reason we speak. To be heard, to be noticed, to change, however minutely, the world around us.
That said, there are a number of different types of and venues for publication. All types of publication, except self-publication, indicate that someone has selected or screened your work. While you may not actually get money, it's proof that at least one person has deemed your writing worth the time it takes to read it: thus, more people (especially editors) will be willing to consider reading other writing of yours. In other words, getting published gives your writing credibility.
Types of Publication
The following is a list different types of publications to which you can submit your work. By exploring your options you can decide which type of publication would be best suited for your submissions.
- Letters to the Editor
- Newspapers & Publications with a Staff of Writers
- Literary Magazines
- Other Types of Magazines
- Scholarly Journals
Self-publication is any type of publication in which you (the writer) foot the overhead costs, and which thus allows you to make the final decision about what gets published and what quality that work will be. With the advent of the world-wide web, more people have access to self-publication than ever before. Anyone can put up a website and publish their theory of the universe, their favorite sweet potato recipes, or their eight-hundred-page novel in verse; however, just because they've posted it doesn't mean anyone will read it. There are thousands of web novels out there; very few have managed to make it big. Likewise, there are hundreds of so-called vanity presses which will accept any manuscript for a specified fee, and for this fee will print the manuscript and distribute it. But be warned: other editors and publishers will not consider self-publication to be an actual credential (unless your book has managed to sell well). Despite notable vanity-press veterans-Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was originally a vanity press book-there is a definite stigma attached to this type of publication. Engage in at your own risk. For more information on self-publication, check out www.booksjustbooks.com.
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the editor is one of the places nearly anyone, with persistence, can get published and read by a large audience. Some publications are able to publish all of the letters they receive, but most exercise some form of discretion. Obvious screening techniques include discarding any letter that is abusive, racist, heavy with obscenities, etc., as well as overly long letters. Depending on the publication, letters are selected based on a variety of factors, including relevance, timeliness, succinctness, clarity, and the clearest statement of a common sentiment.
Newspapers & Publications with a Staff of Writers
Newspapers tend to employ most of their own writers, who do the reporting, writing, and featured columns and editorials. True editorials are written by the editor and are statements of the paper's philosophical/ political leanings; columns and opinion pieces may be written by regular employees or freelance writers and are usually chosen to represent a broader range of interests. Reporting is done by a combination of the newspaper's own reporters (and remember, a bigger paper has more reporters) and by employees of the Associated Press, a non-profit collective that supports a staff of 3700 reporters and photographers around the world. Feature articles may be written by the paper's employees or by freelance writers, and local papers may be a good place to get started publishing. Typically, feature articles are neutral in tone but can use literary techniques such as scene and dialogue.
Here are some online newspapers to investigate:
Most fiction and nearly all poetry is currently published only by literary magazines. In addition, many of these magazines publish creative nonfiction of various sorts. Frequency of publication ranges from weekly (such as The New Yorker), to monthly, to quarterly (four times a year) or less. Some of these publications accept material only from experienced writers, from agents or by solicitation (meaning they contact writers themselves); many others are open to beginning writers. All expect a certain level of professionalism in submissions.
Remember that most literary magazines receive upwards of 300 manuscripts a month, from which even the largest will only be able to select a few. Take the inevitable rejections in stride: it is not at all uncommon to hear of writers who submitted a work ten times, twenty times, or more, only to be finally have their work be accepted for publication or even win a prize. So much depends on individual taste. Persistence pays off!
For more information of literary publication, check out:
Other Types of Magazines
Writers of nonfiction have a very large and diverse market open to them, and it is possible for a writer who is committed, disciplined, and energetic to make a living writing this genre. Cultivate a style, devote part of every writing day to the business of publication, and be willing to accept numerous small assignments at first to build up your reputation and repertoire. Start with the small publications and work up. For more information, including advice, markets, and guidelines, check out www.writersdigest.com.
The purpose of scholarly journals is to share findings, ideas, and discoveries within a community of specialized scholars. It is in these journals that the cutting edge discoveries, ideas, and developments of every field are first published. Many of these journals are peer-reviewed, meaning that every article that is deemed a possible candidate for publication is read by two or three recognized scholars in the field, who critique not only the writing but the importance and usefulness of the information presented.
Typically, these journals are only open to people doing original work in the field. Within each discipline there is a hierarchy of journals, with the top journals only publishing the most important and exciting work, and/or only publishing work produced by recognized scholars and/ or laboratories, and the smaller journals typically publishing good but less groundbreaking work. Guidelines for publication in these journals are listed in one issue a year, or can be obtained online; a potential writer for one of these publications is recommended to be familiar and comfortable with the typical level of discourse, tone, style, subjects, etc.
The best place to find out more is to investigate individual disciplines are Writing Across the Curriculum sites.
Webzines, also known as e-zines, eBooks, or online magazines, come in as many forms and genres as print magazines. There are online magazines devoted to news and politics, to literary work, to science fiction and fantasy writing, to e-publishing, and to nearly every sort of specialized subject you can imagine. The same guidelines that apply to submitting to print magazines also apply at these magazines, except that postal charges and SASEs are not involved.
Some great online magazines are:
The Nieve Roja Review
Most writer's guidelines recommend getting an agent if you want to publish a book-length work. There are exceptions to this rule: if you are submitting to a small press, if you have a book with a very specialized audience, or, possibly, if your book is likely to sell well; even under these circumstances an agent is recommended. Approach an agent the same way you would a publisher, with respect for his or her limited time and attention. There are lots of excellent resources on how to go about getting an agent; a good place to start is www.writersdigest.com.
General Guidelines for Submission
Every publication venue has its own slightly different rules and ways of handling submissions, but the following principles hold true for every venue:
- Treat the editor and staff of the publication with the utmost respect. Most editors are overworked and underfunded, and you don't want to give them a reason to reject your work.
- Neatness counts. Never submit a handwritten work. Proofread carefully; send in only your most polished work.
- Always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) for notification. If you want them to return your work, include enough postage on the return envelope to make this possible (but see #4).
- Always keep a copy of whatever it is you're submitting. Manuscripts frequently get lost.
- It is a good idea to include a cover letter with any submission; this letter should be in proper business format. Keep the letter simple, respectful, and to-the-point: an editor friend of mine reminds writers that "we will never accept a piece based on a cover letter, but we might reject it." Don't include any information unrelated to your submission.
- If an editor or agent provides submission guidelines, read them carefully, and follow them to the letter. Once again, you don't want to give them a reason not to read your work.
- Keep good records.
- Do your homework. Don't submit to a publication without reading it first: you can write to the editor and request a back copy, or check out your local public or university library. Many publications maintain a website with sample articles (and submission guidelines). When choosing a place to submit, be picky. Don't submit to a publication if you don't respect or don't like the work they publish in your genre. Remember, once you've published a piece, most other publications won't take it (there are some exceptions to this), so aim high.
Once you've published a book, your writing career may change, and not always for the better. Before publication, your direction as a writer is open and unbiased by other people's expectations of you. After publication, especially if your first book was successful, you'll have to fight to hold onto this freedom and openness. First of all, agents and editors will expect you to write a book that is not only as successful as the first, but is sort of a sequel to it. If you wrote your first novel about a cheeky young woman who climbs mountains, you may have trouble publishing your second novel about a dour old woman who collects stamps. If your first book was how to cook cheaply for a family of ten, you might have trouble publishing a cookbook on gourmet cooking from Italy. In other words, you get typecast.
Wortman-Wunder, Emily. (1998). Publishing Your Writing. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=46