Submitting for beginners

I figured out how to make my links live. Yeah, I’m just blazing a trail in this blog business.

I’m writing a lot now, by the way, because I can and because I’m tired of all the sites I like to read not updating ever. So for now, while I can, I’m hoping to update often. I’m on vacation in the woods next week, though, so I’m not sure yet what my wifi access will be.

Today’s topic: submitting and publishing for beginners. From what I can tell, most of the people reading this right now are trying to break into publishing any frigging way they can, so it seems like the kind of thing you might want to read about. This is probably part one. I’ll think of other things to say as soon as I post this. (Post questions if you have them.)

I’m no expert, believe me. I’ve had some successes, but I still don’t have a book published (or, actually, finished). But if you’re trying to get started any frigging way, you can try my frigging way: literary mags.

I had some good news last week in this area. I’ll have a story in the summer/fall 09 issue of the Crab Orchard Review. COR is a paying market, people. Paying. If you’re starting a list of magazines to try, add COR to it. It’s a great magazine, very professionally done, pretty covers, Midwestern sensibility (it’s based in southern Illinois), and it pays. (If you’ve never researched lit mags: this is a rare and beautiful thing for literary fiction.) I’m pretty excited about this bit of news, and I thought other beginning writers might want to know how the hell I got from point A to a check from COR.

It wasn’t just a matter of having a story and sending it widely (and wildly) to as many magazines as possible. There was, in this case at least, a process.

Step One: Be aware of the market. I knew about COR. It’s in Illinois. I’m in Illinois. One of the instructors at Roosevelt (my MFA program) was published in COR a few years back and won an award. I have a couple of copies of the magazine that I picked up at the AWP conference. (Although, to be fair, I have not read them yet.) But I knew a bit about the magazine to begin with.

Step Two: Keep up-to-date on publishing opportunities. I use a web site called to search for publications that might want my work and to check for contests and calls for submissions. They have a deadline calendar which details what mags are accepting and when they close submissions, but also mags that are looking for themed stories and poems. It’s a good place to shop around for idea starters if you’re facing a blank page. I also read the back of Poets&Writers (I think my subscription lapsed, even though I sent a check for that. Jerks.) and remember once in a while to read other sites that list contests and other opps: Practicing Writing,, and others. When I think of them, I’ll post them here. At some point, I found a call for submissions from COR and mentioned it to a writer friend, who is much more accomplished than I am.

Step Three: Don’t let opportunities pass you by. My friend, who is also smarter than I am, said, “Uh, you should submit to it, too.” I had suggested the opp to her because the theme of the issue was, basically, race. At least, that’s how I took it. And my friend, Mary Anne, is from Sri Lanka and is in an “interracial” (do we even say that anymore?) relationship and has a bi-racial daughter. She had things to say, whereas I am the pasty-white daughter of other pasty-white people and if we have a heritage I have no idea what it is. But the conversation with Mary Anne made me think about that non-heritage as a heritage, and suddenly I had something I could write about. And, as Mary Anne pointed out, fewer writers would be submitting to the pasty-white side of the color wheel, because they thought as I had, that “race” wasn’t something that pasty-whites wrote about. I wrote a story. I revised the story. I had a friend read the story for me. (I was not in workshop at the time or I might have had 17 people read the story.) I sent the story by the deadline.

Step Four: Believe. I sent the story to COR and only COR. This is not usually recommended. I do a lot of simultaneous submissions. I follow guidelines, and when mags accept simultaneous submissions, I thank them in my cover letter. If you don’t send simultaneous submissions, you could spend the rest of your life trying to get a single story published. But in this case, I had written this story only for this particular call for submissions and I didn’t know if it was any good. I liked it (that’s important) but I wasn’t sure if it would work any other place. I decided that I would let COR reject it before I sent it out anywhere else.

I waited 263 days.

I won’t lie to you. I have looked at that story’s entry on my submission tracking spreadsheet (such a dork) many times and thought maybe I should give in and send it somewhere else. It wasn’t a bad little story, not too long. Maybe another magazine might want it. But I wanted Crab Orchard, and so I talked myself out of sending the story anywhere else. I still believed that the story I had written for that call for submissions had a better chance there than any other place. I worked on other stuff. I sent out other stories. I got plenty plenty plenty of rejections on other stories.

Step Five: Be prepared for rejection. I was prepared for rejection by other rejection. I already had a plan for this story when it came back (“came back” being metaphorical, since I always have them recycle my mss) from COR. I planned to take another look at it, revise it, send it out to four or five other magazines, probably places I already had on my spreadsheet, places that had already rejected other stories. I might have looked for other themed issues dealing with race or children.

Step Six: Celebrate and be grateful. When the email came, I got a little choked up. (I’ve had a lot of rejections this past year. And here’s something you might not know, if you haven’t gotten your first acceptance yet. Acceptances almost always come by email. Rejections always come by the method you submitted. Mail if you submitted by post. Email if you submitted electronically. Through electronic submission managers if you had to use one of those to send in your story. Do not wait by the phone. Almost no one calls.)

To celebrate, my husband and I went out to dinner at our local pub that night. I got to share the news with some writer friends the very morning I got the email. But it’s not all about celebration. It’s also about gratitude. For COR for choosing my story (I sent them a thank-you email when I sent in the file they needed). For Roosevelt for helping me get prepared for doing this kind of work (I included my program in my bio). For Mary Anne for setting me straight (I thanked her in person and also, you should read her book). And for other writers, who make a lonely process much less lonely—and that’s why I offer you this post, in the hopes that it helps you take a second look at a call for submissions, or that it helps you believe in your own work enough to send it out.

By Published On: June 18, 2009Categories: Writing