Publishing Advice for the Unpublished Writer
By K.C. Mead-Brewer
Only submit something you actually enjoyed writing, something you’re passionate about, something you’ve edited and reedited and performed aloud and hated and loved and obsessed over, whether it’s funny, frightening, serious, or melodramatic. I’ve read enough passionless gimmicky pieces to last me a lifetime.
Research magazines and journals before submitting to them. Aside from reading the actual publications themselves, also check them out via editor interviews on various blogs, Duotrope, New Pages, and right here on The Review Review. This step is invaluable. You might’ve written the best story in a century, but if you don’t do your research, chances are no one will ever read it. You’ve put all this time into a story’s creation, so why wouldn’t you want to give it that home that would most cherish and understand it? Why subject it to needless rejections from publications that might like it but simply have no place for it?
Step Two, part b:
Create a list of those magazines/journals that you’ve determined would make a strong fit for your piece and then rank them from Most Desired to Least Desired. This should be a completely personal list, influenced by any number of things: your own reader/aesthetic preferences, Pushcart Prize rankings, editorial prestige, etc. Then be sure to first submit your work only to those at the very top of the list, even if you think they’re less likely to go for it. This way, not only do you have some other magazines ready at hand to submit your work to should you receive some rejection letters, but you also don’t risk selling yourself short by submitting a top-tier story with a middle-tier publication.
Read each magazine/journal’s submission guidelines carefully and completely. You might end up reading the same lines about fifteen times, but then you might also come across that one magazine that wants their prose submissions single-spaced or that require blind submissions or that want a particular kind of detail included in the cover letter, etc. Don’t pass up any opportunity to show an editor that you’ve taken the time for them that you expect them to take with your submission.
Step Three, part b:
Don’t stress about your cover letter too much, and don’t say that you’re previously unpublished. It’s not that owning up to being unpublished is a bad thing, it’s simply unnecessary and may even make it just a tad harder for editors to extend you the kind of trust/suspended disbelief that’s so vital between readers and writers. Instead, keep your cover letter short, professional, and to the point. After all, it isn’t a witty cover letter that you want editors to remember—it’s the story. It’s always the story. Your story needs to be strong enough to stand on its own with readers, and that means it needs to be strong enough to do the same with editors. Trust your story to do the heavy-lifting for you, sans any clever intro. Because if you don’t trust it, why should anyone else?
Keep a spreadsheet documenting all of your submissions. I keep one for all of mine, noting everything from date of submission to date of publication response to word count for each story/version—these kinds of records are especially vital for when you need to go around withdrawing pieces that have been happily accepted elsewhere.
Really, truly, I mean this—do not give up. You don’t have to keep all of your rejection letters like some authors do, but don’t let those letters keep a grip on you either. There’s no doubt that it can get discouraging at times, but the truth is, the authors who make it are those who keep doggedly, brazenly, wildly putting themselves out there.
KC Mead-Brewer is a writer and editor living in beautiful Baltimore, MD. Her writing appears in a variety of publications, including Fiction Southeast, Cold Mountain Review, Jersey Devil Press, and Bartleby Snopes. For more information, visit: kcmeadbrewer.com or follow her @meadwriter. She is a prose editor at Cleaver Magazine.