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How to Get Published in 7 Simple Steps (Even If You’re Not the Best)
2015-10-02 · by sub-Q
You write. You love writing. And you want your work to be read. But maybe you’re not a super A+ award-candidate kind of author. Maybe that’s not in your cards. Maybe you want to know how to get published, even if you’re not the best around.
It’s possible. I’m proof.
Not everyone can belt out 2000+ gorgeous words a day like Chikodili Emelumadu. Or paint a shimmering, breathing world like Vajra Chandrasekera. Or mash up the fantastic with the beautiful mundane like Natalia Theodoridou.
But maybe you’ve got some good yarns to spin, ideas to explore, and characters to bring to life. You write, you workshop, you kill darlings. You mine some gold now and then. You want to sell that novel, but you know any publisher wants to see prior credits. But in the tiny, competitive short story market, how does a B- author get published?
Seven steps. That’s all.
Though be advised I give advice about as well as I write.
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1. Find a Workshop
You will need feedback. Everybody needs feedback. As Ernest Hemingway put it, “the first draft of anything is sh*t.” Patient friends are great, but for honest, accurate, and consistent feedback, you only get what you give. Time to find a writer’s group, either online or IRL, where you can get your work read and read others as well. Witness the process. Find your weaknesses. Hone your strengths.
If the workshop you choose is more than 150 people, find a subgroup within it that matches your interests.
2. Do Your Research (It Can Be B- Research)
Ideally speaking, you would acquire and read an entire issue of each magazine you submit to. But you will not do this. If you wait until you’ve done this before you start submitting, you’ll never submit.
But at least:
- Read the submission guidelines thoroughly immediately before submitting. Editors change. File types change. Email addresses change. If you read them thoroughly a month ago, great—you’ll be in a better position to notice what changed.
- Read the first few paragraphs of at least three stories they’ve published. Get a sense for the voices they like, the themes they prefer, and the openings that grab them.
- Be aware of what subjects editors have seen enough of, and avoid having your story buried in a flood of lookalikes. Yes, you have a pretty good mermaid story. No, it’s just not going to rise above the tide. Hold on to it a while, or lower your market sights, or maybe set it in the desert. Deserts are cool.
3. Start Submitting
Sound trivial? It’s not. Plenty of writers write and write and write and never put it in front of strangers. It takes tremendous courage to bite the bullet. Bite it.
You’ll get rejections. They’ll sting. You’ll get feedback that completely misses the point of your precious snowflake of a story. They’ll make you slam your laptop. But if you absorb and digest the notes you’re being given, if you hear the same sort of thing from more than one person, you know you’re hearing the readers you want to reach.
4. Play to Your Strengths
I love Shimmer: great market, great stories, great bunch of human beings. But if you read even one issue, you can tell there’s a specific, beautiful, lyrical voice they’re looking for, and it’s one I don’t have at all. Someday I might. I could read a bunch of Zadie Smith and Oliver Sacks and knuckle down and try to cram myself in that round hole. But meanwhile there are plenty of Rachel Swirskys making round pegs all day long.
Have exquisitely researched, pro-science SF? Go see Clarkesworld.
Have squicky, muscular horror? Rock on over to Nightmare.
Have an odd duck with a POV not often seen in F/SF? Take it to Strange Horizons.
Your rejection folder will thank you, and so will the slush readers.
5. Murder Deadlines
Don’t just beat them. Beat them to death. Your editor will notice and remember.
If you know you’re going to miss a deadline, let your editor know ASAP. Notification allows planning. Planning shrinks problems.
If you often find yourself underwater, track how long it takes you to write 1000 words, or rewrite 5000. Track how many hours of writing you really do in a week. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Once you know how long it really takes you to do a thing, you can recognize when a deadline is realistic, and you can make only those commitments you can meet.
6. Be a Pleasure to Deal With
Neil Gaiman said it best:
But people keep working, in a freelance world—and more and more of today’s world is freelance—because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.
If you know what category you’re in, use it.
In all your communications: be enthusiastic, be self-deprecating, be brief.
Respond within 24 hours, even if it’s just to say “I got this and will get a more detailed response to you soon.”
Accept notes. Incorporate feedback. If there’s an editor’s note you must resist, make your case and figure out a solution that addresses both your concerns. Don’t stonewall, unless it’s a stone wall you can sit on together.
7. Get Naked
That awful secret? That story you don’t want to tell? That fact of yourself you can’t bear to reveal? Congratulations! It’s your golden ticket.
Anybody can write the story that they want to shout from the rooftops: the Mary Sue, the revenge fantasy, the superpower trip. It’s the vulnerable, rarely uttered, edge case stuff that really gets an editor’s motor running. Go to the places that scare you, and come back with something they’ll want to print.
You might not be the best. But you could still be the best read.
Hope this helps, and good luck. Here’s to many happy publications.