May 4, 2014 by Nathaniel Tower
While some writers choose to hoard the majority of their work, most prefer to seek publication. I certainly fall into the latter category. As a short story writer, I have written approximately 500 “completed” stories in the past ten years. About half of these stories have been published. About one-fourth have been moved into a folder of “unpublishable” work. The other 125 or so are sitting around waiting for their day of acceptance.
When I started getting serious about writing, I wasn’t picky about where I submitted. As soon as I found a market with submission guidelines that seemed to fit one of my stories (which basically meant the right word count), I sent it off. I never thought about what my writing goals were. I just wanted to get as many stories published as possible. As a result, some stories I really liked ended up in publications I really didn’t like. If I did an audit of all the publications that have accepted my work, I would discover a great number have closed their doors. If I had access to the analytics of some online journals, I would realize that some of my stories went wholly unread.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to get as many publication credits possible. However, we should have an idea of why we want those credits. Ultimately, having a lot of publication credits probably won’t get you anywhere special. It might make someone say, “Wow, this author writes a lot,” but it likely won’t lead to a deal with Random House or Penguin. There’s no one from a big publishing house sitting around watching your website, waiting for the day you get your 200th acceptance.
We should also know why we want a particular piece of writing published. This may seem obvious to some people. We want it published because we wrote it. We want it published so it will be read. That’s fine, but who do you want to read it?
Before you choose to submit a story, poem, novel, etc., it’s important to know what your goals are for that work. Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you want to make money from this work?
- Do you want a lot of people to read it?
- Do you want it to open doors for you?
- Do you just want to get it out there?
- Will you settle for any publication at all?
The first two questions may seem obvious and stupid. Of course you want money from your story. Of course you want people to read it. However, a huge number of submissions are sent out with no real intention of making money. I would estimate that 80-90% of the literary markets accepting short story or poetry submissions today do not pay a dime for the work they accept. Many of these are excellent publications. The vast majority of my story publications were unpaid. I obviously don’t have access to readership numbers, but I would guess that a fair number of online literary journals don’t have more than a hundred loyal followers.
There’s nothing wrong with sending a story or poem to a venue that doesn’t pay. Nor is there anything wrong with sending a story or poem to a venue that isn’t widely read. But you have to know what you are willing to do with a particular story. Take the best story you’ve ever written. Will you be happy if it gets accepted by a non-paying venue with ten monthly readers, a venue that will likely be closed within six months? Then again, would you really be happy if your worst story gets accepted by said publication?
We should know why we want a particular piece of writing published in a particular venue. Submitting your work shouldn’t be done in some willy-nilly fashion. Writers need to take great care in the way they send out their work. If you don’t, then your acceptance might turn into failure. Again, some questions to ask before sending your story to a particular venue:
- Will this venue meet your goals for this story?
- Would you be proud to have your story published here?
- Do you ever plan to read this venue again?
When you submit your work, you need to know why you are submitting it. You need to know what your ultimate goals are, and what you will ultimately settle for. If you have a story that you really believe in, that you really want to be read by many people, that you really think deserves money, then hold onto it until you find a venue that will give you that.
It’s not feasible for every writer to be a best-selling millionaire with a four-story library of leather bound books. It is, however, feasible for every writer to pursue his or her goals by making the right decisions with his or her writing.
Before you send out another submission, ask yourself what you are hoping to get from sending that story to that venue. If you don’t know the answer, then don’t bother hitting submit.