When I first started writing seriously, I was struck by the generosity of many of the experienced authors I encountered along the way. These writers were willing to take a fledgling by the hand and explain both craft and professional practice. They made all the difference, helping transform me from a writer whose occasional efforts got stuffed into a drawer to someone who was prepared to polish and publish.
During last Sunday’s Speaker Series event of The Writers Circle: Ready, Set, Submit, author Lisa Romeo evinced the same generosity of spirit as my early mentors. Lisa, who has been teaching at TWC for the past five years, packed her two hours with advice and resources about getting writing off the desk and into the world. Her abundant wisdom and sound advice proved to the writers who attended that yes, the daunting practice of submission could be mastered.
Lisa began by challenging us to consider our motivations. Many people submit their work simply for personal satisfaction, while others look forward to the possibility of being paid for their writing. Sometimes submitting simply gives writers a sense of completion, along with the permission to move forward with another project. “Often people will keep tinkering with something if it’s hanging around,” Lisa explained. Creating a portfolio of published work, whether in print, online, or both, is also important to writers who want to build a writing career. And, of course, there’s the fact that we all want to share our writing with readers!
We then embarked on the nuts and bolts of submission, starting with some of the basics, like simultaneously versus exclusive submissions. Lisa explained that online and literary venues are more forgiving of simultaneous submission, while commercial publications prefer exclusivity. In all cases, however, once a piece is accepted, you absolutely need to withdraw it from any other pending venues.
Lisa stressed the need to study the publications you’re considering for your submissions. Consider mood, tone, and structure, whether they tend toward more edgy or traditional pieces, and, of course, word length. Knowing these facts may eliminate some publications from your list of possibilities, but it might also suggest other pieces you could write. Lisa explained how considering your own piece deeply, both in terms of format and content, will help you hone in on the right handful of publications that might truly be interested in your work.
“Be brutal,” was Lisa’s next piece of advice. “If the publication or piece isn’t right, don’t submit.” Clearly, time is of the essence for over-worked editors who will be considering your work – and it should be for you as well. This means that you truly need to do your homework and zero in on just the right publications.
But where to start creating a list of possible publications? Lisa highlighted many resources that aggregate the options, some that you can visit online or others that arrive in your in-box. Some charge a small fee , such as Duotrope.com, which, for $50 a year, helps writers build a publication record, giving incredibly useful insights into a publication’s acceptance history and your own experience with them. Others are free, such as CRWROPPS (Creative Writing Opportunities) and Poets & Writers.
When I first started submitting poetry, one of those generous-spirited fellow writers told me to “stalk her” and try sending work to the same publications she appeared in. It was a glorious day when one of those publications accepted my work. Lisa had the same advice, also suggesting that participants attend workshops and conferences, befriend editors (especially those who, when sending a rejection, include an encouraging note), and become active in writers groups on social networks and in person.
“It’s important,” Lisa told us, “to keep a personal record of your submissions.” Whether you’re old school, using index cards and a notebook, more technologically adept, utilizing an Excel spreadsheet or Word/Google doc, or use sophisticated tracking software such as Asana, you need to know what’s making the rounds, what’s been rejected and accepted, and some ideas of where to go next.
Finally, recognizing that some people in the room were interested in submitting book-length manuscripts, Lisa touched on how to approach agents and editors, write a book proposal and more.
It was a jam-packed afternoon, but a motivating and inspiring one. We’d be thrilled to hear from any of the participants who put their work out there – and get it accepted!