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The Beginning Writer's Guide To Publishing

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Fri Jan 27, 2012 7:09 pm
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Lauren2010 says...

Am I Ready?

It’s probably best to note, right up front, that if you don’t have a strong stomach for handling rejection, attempting to publish your work may not be the best choice for you. In all honesty, any one of you reading this guide (in fact, any person who has ever published anything ever) will be rejected significantly more than you will have work accepted. If you’re sitting there thinking “oh, that doesn’t apply to me, I’m a good writer”, stop it. Stop it right now. Even the best of the best had their work rejected at first. It’s part of the industry.

Now that you’re adequately terrified and/or depressed; publishing, particularly for younger writers, is hard. There’s no flashing red sign declaring your age to the people reading your submission (in fact, age is indicated nowhere in the submission process), but most often your age will show through in your writing. Simply, as young writers, we have had much less experience not only in the craft but in life (and I maintain a position that being a writer does not limit itself to sitting in front of a computer/typewriter/notepad and pounding out words) than older writers. Not to say what we can produce isn’t good or legitimate, just that this may limit the venues that support our work.

However, YWS has afforded us all the opportunity to have writing experience thrown at us and shoved down our throats which, I’d argue, puts us far ahead of a significant portion of “adult” writers. Even so, if you’re a young writer (particularly younger than eighteen) it may be most beneficial for the time being to seek publication opportunities geared toward your age group. The Writers Market forum on YWS is the perfect place to find contests and publication opportunities that are suited for your age range, and a quick google search can reveal a plethora of other contests and opportunities.

This isn’t to say that we all shouldn’t seek opportunities in more prominent locations, just that probability for success increases when you aren’t competing against the “big dogs” who have been writing half their lives. We have all the time in the world ahead of us to improve and publish. Practice makes perfect. But of course, the fact that you, reading this guide, are a young writer seeking to publish means that you’re ready to get rejected and rejected and rejected again before ultimately, someday, finding success.

Really, I encourage anyone who thinks they’re ready to try. Just keep in mind, your work will get rejected much more often than it will be accepted.

Step One: Revision

So you’ve written a story/poem/article. Presumably, you’ve spent the time writing the first draft, then the ages of revision after revision to get it “just right” and now you think it’s good enough to publish.

If you’re sitting there with a first draft you just finished writing five minutes ago, stop right now. Stop reading this guide and go post it in the appropriate YWS forum, let it get torn apart, revise it, rinse, and repeat. Frankly, if you haven’t slaved over revision after revision then your piece probably isn’t ready to be published, and maybe neither are you.

YWS offers us the unique opportunity to have so many wonderfully talented and knowledgeable people look at our work and tell us it’s all wrong. Most people have to wait until they get a form rejection from an editor (or twelve) before they realize maybe their work isn’t the perfectly sparkling gold thing they thought it was. Then they revise, or give up entirely.

Never give up, and never submit something before you’ve revised it at least once (preferably over and over again until you’re about ready to tear it in half yourself).

Step Two: Formatting Your Manuscript

This step could potentially come anywhere before submission, but we’re just going to put it here since it’s not that hard to explain. Manuscript formatting is really simple to do, but if it’s done wrong it could affect the way your work is received. For example, if the submission guidelines ask for something you don’t provide, your work could be tossed aside without another glance. Editors have plenty of work to sift through, and they are not obligated to consider yours if it isn’t following their guidelines.

Formatting only varies slightly between Poetry and Prose.
Note: I don’t know that it particularly matters which side of the page the contact information is on, but the resource I referenced said right hand.
For poetry, you have any and all possible ways the editor could contact you as the very first thing (after your name), followed by the number of lines in the poem. Give five or six spaces, and then start your poem.

If you’re submitting multiple poems, keep them on their own pages. If your poem exceeds one page, the second page should have this: Your Last Name, “Poem Title” Page # in the right side of the header (or footer, I don’t think it matters) of the pages.

Your font should be 12pt of something standard (Times New Roman, etc).

For prose (that means short stories, novels, nonfiction articles, etc), you still have any and all possible ways the editor could contact you as the very first thing (after your name). Give two or three spaces, and then start your story.

At the bottom of the pages (unless, for some reason, it’s only one page long) you should have this: Your Last Name, “Story Title” Page # in the right side of the footer of the pages (what I said for poetry will look exactly like this too).

Your font should be 12pt of something standard (Times New Roman, etc).

Step Three: Finding A Place to Submit

There are several ways to find places to submit your work. Easiest would of course be this forum, Writer’s Market, on YWS. You may also run a quick google search, if contests are more your style. However, there are two surefire ways to getting the widest selection of information on literary magazines/journals/anthologies, literary magazines, and publishing houses.

First is Writer’s Market (the book, not this forum). This is a collection put out by Writer’s Digest that compiles the contact and submission information for as many literary magazines/journals/anthologies, literary magazines, and publishing houses as you would ever want to see in one place. In my opinion, it’s beneficial to own a physical copy of Writer’s Market from the past five years (a new edition is put out every year). Or, you can find most of the same information online here (although it looks like you have to pay for it).

Second is [url][/url]. This site includes pretty much all the information provided in Writer’s Market, but comes with a snazzy search feature that allows you to narrow your search into publications that will accept your work (rather than having to read through all of Writer’s Market to compile your own list).

It’s best to compile a list of six to twelve places, depending on how you feel about printing off a hundred copies of your manuscript and cover letter. It may (more likely will) take up to several months to hear back from some editors so it’s best to cover as many as you can.

We’re young, but we don’t have forever to wait around on editors to decide to inform us whether we have been accepted or rejected, so by general rule it’s wise to avoid places that don’t accept simultaneous submissions. That is, don’t submit someplace that wants you to only submit that piece there (and no where else) until they decide to accept/reject you. It’s a waste of time, when you could have your work under the eyes of ten editors at once rather than just one.

A Note On Publishers: Most publishers you’ll find through things like and Writer’s Market are legitimate publishers/magazines/journals/etc. However, if anyone asks you to pay them in order to publish your work then they are what we call a Vanity Press. These are not “legitimate” in the ways that a traditional publisher/magazine/journal are, and I avoid them on principle. No one should make you pay them in order to publish your work (self-publishing is an entirely different story).

An Aside
Concerning Novelists and Short Stories

If you’re a novelist and you’re not writing short stories, stop it. Stop it right now. Not only does short story writing allow practice in all that good writing stuff (setting a scene, building characters, building worlds, carrying through a plot arc, etc) but publishing short stories can only lead to good things.

First and foremost, it’s awesome to have a resume of published work when you’re going for querying novels. It tells the agent/editor that other people have liked you enough to publish you before, so they should consider your work too. Also, it isn’t unheard of that agents/editors will see a short story they like in a magazine/journal/anthology and contact that author to ask if they have more work. Sometimes, they might even ask you if you have a novel, because they want to publish it.

Now, when an agent/editor contacts us and asks if we have a novel, no matter if we actually have a novel or not, we say yes. If you have a novel, great! Polish it up and send it. If not, well, write one!

So, now you have literally no excuse to not be writing short stories. Get to it!

Step Four: Writing a Query Letter

Query letters are fairly simple (unless you’re a novelist – but we’ll get to that), but on the whole they’re made much more complicated than they need to be, and people end up getting them wrong and just hurting their chances in the long run.

This basic format is what any query letter or cover letter will essentially look like. You have your address, just like on your manuscript (yes, you include it twice. Never hurts to reiterate important info like that). Then you’ve got the name and address of the person you’re writing to, whether that’s a specific editor or agent with a name, or if it’s just the “Editorial Board” or whoever submission guidelines indicate the submission be sent to (it always helps to find the name of the person most likely to be looking at your work and get it directly into their hands) like a regular business type letter.

The body of the letter varies slightly between short works and long works (like novels/books).

Short Works
Paragraph One
Introduce your work by title, wordcount, and whatever other specifics the guidelines might want (for articles, for example, you might be asked to provide a short abstract).

Paragraph Two
Give a brief bio. If you’ve been published before (or won respected contests related to what you’re submitting) put that here. If you’re studying creative writing, or some field related to the content of your piece, list that here. If it’s short, don’t worry. It’s better to be honest than to fill this spot with every little thing to try to make yourself look good.

Paragraph Three
Thank the editor/agent for their time and be off. Also, inform them that it’s a simultaneous submission, if it is so. And most definitely always inform them if the work is accepted elsewhere. It’s common courtesy, and first publication rights are kind of a big deal in the publishing world.

And that’s it. You don’t need to speak any more than that for your work. Let your work speak for itself.

Long Works
Long works have a little more to their query letters/cover letters.

Paragraph One - Two
Your first two paragraphs consist of a short (very short) synopsis structured in a way to hook the agent/editor into reading the attached pages (and into wanting to request more of the manuscript). This can vary from the first paragraph being a one or two sentence hook, and the second being a fuller synopsis (sort of like what you’d read on a book jacket), or both paragraphs can contain pieces of the synopsis.
Note: This is just an example I worked up as an example, it is by no means a successful query (meaning, I’ve never sold a book on this write-up here).

Final Paragraph
Now you give the specifics. Title, wordcount, genre, perhaps one or two works that are similar to yours (though that bit is not required), and whatever information the submission guidelines want. You may also want to mention any previous work of yours that has been published, particularly if it was in the same genre of the work you’re seeking to publish now. Also, titles in novel queries are always in ALL CAPS.

And that’s it. You don’t need to speak any more than that for your work. Let your work speak for itself.

Queries for a long work are the second hardest thing to do next to writing the story in the first place. Getting the whole hook/synopsis bit right so that the editor will read on is difficult. Luckily, there are endless resources to help write better queries. One of my favorites is Query Shark where real life queries are torn apart by a real live agent, and there’s plenty to learn from.

Part Five: Putting It All Together

Now, everything has to go in one place for mailing (unless it’s an online submission). Here’s what you need:

-Cover Letter/Query Letter
-Manuscript (Full/partial/first x pages depending on guidelines)
-One Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE)
-One large envelope that will hold everything without having to fold the manuscript/query letter

The cover letter will go on top of the manuscript, but nothing should be stapled/papercliped/joined together in any way. Leave them loose (but stacked and in order, of course). The SASE will go in with those into the larger envelope. The SASE is so the editor/agent/whoever can send you back your manuscript/contact you by mail (although, I hear most of the time when you get that SASE back it’s a rejection. If they want you, they’ll contact you in a more immediate fashion). If it's an online submission (as many are these days) you obviously don't need the SASE.

And that’s it! Address the big envelope to whoever you’re submitting to, and repeat the process for the rest of your list, mail it out, and wait! Hopefully you’re on your way to publication! Or, at least a good stack of rejections.

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Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:43 am
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Kale says...

Just a little addendum to online submissions:

Pay attention to the file type you are submitting. Some publishers only accept certain file types, and just as having an improperly formatted manuscript leads to instant rejection, so does submitting with the wrong file type.

It's also a good idea to query a publisher on what constitutes first-publication before submitting a piece. Some publishers are perfectly fine with publishing works that have been posted online, whereas others are very strict, especially if they're an online publication.
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Thu Mar 28, 2013 2:37 pm
Lauren2010 says...

An update! has recently switched over to a pay model which makes us sad. :(

It was previously the best free site to find literary magazines, and there might be a few others milling around on the interwebs but none really have the same date Duotrope had. The cheapest alternative would be to find a recent copy of Writers Market in your local library!
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Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:48 pm
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Carlito says...

Lauren2010 wrote:An update! has recently switched over to a pay model which makes us sad. :(

It was previously the best free site to find literary magazines, and there might be a few others milling around on the interwebs but none really have the same date Duotrope had. The cheapest alternative would be to find a recent copy of Writers Market in your local library!

I used to find all of the agents I want to submit to. It's great because you can search by name or genre and find a plethora of information about the agent. I would also recommend going to the agent website to learn more about the agent, what he/she is looking for, and exactly how the agent want you to submit. From what I've seen, most agents want email queries or have their own online web form to submit materials.

This site: also has a lot of really great query letter info (written by a literary agent). If you don't want to read the entire site (although it's fantastic and I highly recommend it), just look on the right hand side for the query stuff. She posts some of her clients original query letters and explains what worked about them.
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Tue Mar 25, 2014 1:38 pm
WritingWolf says...

This is a wonderful little guide/thing Lauren, thank you! :)

And I thought I'd point out a specific example of why short stories are important. Some of you may have heard of the movie that came out last November called Ender's Game.
That started out as a short story by Orson Scott Card. I don't believe he had published any novels by that point (I could be wrong on this fact), just shorts and plays. But when he published the original short story version of Ender's Game it was so popular that he was asked to write a novel length version of it. And then later he turned it into a series. And then created two more series in the same universe. And then finally, last November, it became a movie.
Now I know that not everyone will have a short story so great someone asks them to write a novel version of it. The chances of that are actually pretty small. But if he hadn't bothered publish Ender's Game in the first place, he wouldn't be as big in the Sci-Fi wold as he is today.

So that's just one example of something good that came from a short story. :)
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Wed Apr 11, 2018 2:34 am
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Lauren2010 says...

Boy oh boy is this old! The info is still good, but one of these days I'll give it a good update with all the things I know now. :)
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Wed Apr 11, 2018 9:00 am
StellaThomas says...

1. This is great.

2. I love that Eventide is the example you used!
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