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Choose Your Publications Wisely

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January 12, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower

Writers love getting published. It may be the one thing we like more than writing.

Nothing makes us happier than opening the inbox and reading the acceptance emails that let us know someone likes our work. Well, we’re probably happier when we actually see the story online, and even happier if/when we hold a copy of a real book that contains our work.

It’s nice to be appreciated. To be validated. To know our work is worthy of being shared by someone else. To know that someone will read our words.

We sweat over these words. We put our heart and soul into choosing exactly what to say. We go through painstaking editing processes until we are sick of our stories. We want people to see, to read, to comment.

But do we want to give our hard work away to just anyone?

It’s easy to be tempted by the need for another publishing credit. But before you submit to a market, ask yourself if you really want to be published there. Ask yourself if you really want this particular story published by this particular venue.

Not too long ago, I sent a story I was fond of to a literary project I wasn’t very familiar with. It popped up on Duotrope, and I decided to submit a piece after exploring the pages of the publisher’s website. It looked okay. They hadn’t published much, but their mission statements and all that seemed fitting for my story. Now, I’ll admit, my time on their site was rather brief before I submitted. Maybe I skimmed the ‘About Us’ page. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough for work they had published.

After the acceptance, of course I was happy. Another publication. Another notch in the old belt, right?

And then the book came.

There was my story, in the early pages of the book. With my name right below it. No matter how many times we see it, our own name in print never gets old. It’s beautiful every time.

I sat down and read my story. I was pleased with the way it turned out. There were no surprise edits or grammatical errors. Everything looked okay. No Mandy DeGeit scenarios.

Then I started reading the other stories. Things started off well enough.

By the time I got to story two, I wanted to puke.

No, the story wasn’t disgusting, and I didn’t have the stomach bug. It was the nausea of extreme embarrassment.

As I flipped horrified through the pages of the book, I found countless editing errors accompanied by nonsensical plots (I don’t mean surreal or bizarre; I mean gaping plot holes and story lines that made no sense in the context of their own story). The book was just bad.

I could feel the humiliation my story felt at being in such a collection. This isn’t to say that my story was brilliant. It was competent. Something I was happy with. But I wasn’t happy with where it was now. I just wanted to rip it out of the book and tell it that everything was going to be okay.

I didn’t rip the book. I shelved it. And I didn’t write any defamation of the editor anywhere. Nor did I write some awful review. I simply learned a lesson:

Be careful where you send your work. Don’t just settle for any publishing credit.

I read somewhere recently that a publishing credit is worthless. Anyone can be published. There are markets out there that accept anything. There are places that accept everything because they know authors will buy books that have their names in them. Authors will buy the books by the bushel and pass them out to friends. There are publishers who make a living off publishing bad fiction.

When you choose to submit, always explore the publication thoroughly. Read some sample work. Read the ‘about us’ page. If you can afford it, buy an issue. Be certain you are going to be happy to have your work alongside what is already there.

That doesn’t mean you can’t support the new publications. I love supporting the new publications and watching them grow. Most of the editors out there are good people looking to present projects they are proud to call their own.

This doesn’t mean you should send your inferior stuff to those “bad” markets you find. You should never send out your inferior stuff. If you aren’t happy to include it in your list of published work, if you wouldn’t want an agent to see it, then you probably should just keep it hidden. Remember, what goes on the internet stays on the internet. Forever. If it was there once, someone can dig it up. Not too long ago I deleted a bunch of photos off my camera. Later I discovered that I shouldn’t have deleted them. It took less than five minutes to get them back. The same can be done with anything you publish, if someone wants to look hard enough (and there’s always someone who does).

Write your best. Send your best. Get your acceptances. Just make sure you know you’re going to be happy, that your story will be happy. This isn’t online dating. Once a story is printed in a book, you can’t just break up with that book.

Don’t be embarrassed by what you’ve written (or what you’ve published). We all know that styles change over time. None of us are the same writer we were when we started. Be proud of all your published work, and remember to share, share, share with the world. After all, what we want most is for people to read what we’ve written.

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9 thoughts on “Choose Your Publications Wisely

  1. Tieryas says:

    Hey Nate, I completely empathize as I’ve experienced this more than once last year. Thanks for a great post.

  2. You know, there are two ways you can look at this. The first is the idea that you and your work would be judged by a potential literary agent because of the grammatical errors in the stories of others. Then there is the other possible perspective: that if the grammar and spelling in the rest of the work is that bad, and your work is of more refined quality by comparison, then your story may well stand out on its own merit. I mean, if the publication you sent this too is new, then they might actually improve their editing or gain feedback from that one story that you sent them.

    I do agree that ideally one should look at the publications that they send things to, and perhaps my observation above is not a wise marketing perspective, but knowing that you did your job and your story may stand as a “diamond in the rough,” would definitely give me some solace at least. I hope that you will have a better experience and that as I continue to send my own stories out that I will as well. Take care.

    • Matthew, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I think your points are valid. I hadn’t considered an agent being impressed by a polished piece appearing in an otherwise poor anthology. Of course, the agent might not ever get to your piece if the anthology is that bad. I definitely wouldn’t recommend a strategy of trying to get your best pieces into inferior publications in order to make them look stronger. I’m not sure if the company the story is in will really have impact on how the story is appreciated.

      Good luck with your writing. Hope to see you here again.

      • Hello again Nathaniel. I agree that you shouldn’t go out of your way to put your pieces in inferior publications. But getting out there is definitely a goal for me. Take care.

      • Matthew, I think you’re absolutely right that the most important thing is to get our work out there for people to see. Of course, we should always make sure the work we get out there is the best it can be. Avoid those hasty submissions.

  3. Think it through before submitting — good advice. I’ve missed this step a few times and it has cost me, whether in the form of a less-than-satisfying publication or in the form of flatout rejection.

    Your last thought about avoiding feelings of embarrassment about previously published work certainly resonated with me. We can’t always be perfect and we don’t always stay the same, right?

    That would be horribly boring. And too easy.

    –AM

    • Thanks for your comments, Anthony. I agree. As writers (or any creative artists), we change over time. I cringe sometimes looking back at an older story, thinking of how I would write it now (or if I would write it at all). But then I remember that it was part of the process to get me to where I am now.

      We should always be proud of our work, even if it seems “bad” when we look back on it later in life.

  4. Good point. Hasn’t happened to me, thank God, but I can imagine how embarrassing it’d be.

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