by Robin Bayne
Publishing credits in the small press and on the Internet can add substance to your writing resume. Although not always as impressive as book-length credits, they demonstrate your ability to follow through on a project and that someone liked your work. Editors are always looking for well-written short stories, and some are prepared to pay for them. For two years, I edited and published a small press literary magazine. The experience was enlightening in many ways. Not only did I meet other writers and readers, I met and corresponded with many other editors of the small press. Many of them were writers as well; most also held full-time positions unrelated to writing. They understand our busy schedules, and they want to discover a great story by an unknown writer. As the saying goes, they are overworked and underpaid. In fact, most are not paid at all, some even fund their ventures personally.
Along with inspirational publications, there are literary, mainstream fiction, and many magazines considered “small press” that exclusively publish genre fiction such as romance, science fiction and fantasy. However, many others will consider genre stories if they are done well and appeal to a wide audience. Non-fiction stories of personal experience have become a hot trend in the inspirational market. Credits in these publications are of interest to editors who acquire book length manuscripts. On-line magazines offer a whole new market, and in some cases, less competition for a new writer while the off-line world catches up.
Most publications offer both regular submission guidelines and contests for specific categories. Reviewing the publication prior to submitting is a must, but with so many websites available, samples as well as guidelines are sometimes as close as the ‘print’ button. Payment is typically in copies of the published magazine, or a token payment, but writing for guidelines before submitting will clear up any confusion. Some small press publications pay well. For example, creative non-fiction stories accepted by the Chicken Soup for the Soul series pay $300.00, but the competition is fierce.
I selected stories (and poems) to publish that created visual images, flowed well from beginning to end and featured believable, likeable characters. The writers that submitted work to my magazine ranged from raw-amateur to near-pro. As in any business, there were a few bad experiences with unpleasant personalities. Overall, I learned a great deal about editing practices related not only to small press but to publishing in general. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:
—Don’t submit before requesting and reading the publication’s guidelines, or thoroughly exploring the website. The porno submissions I received went right back into the mail.
—Do include a brief cover letter with your best publishing credits. Leave out jokes, puns and family anecdotes. Do note any relevant experience you’ve had.
—Don’t instruct the editor to “enjoy your work.” One editor confided that enjoyable reading for him is “Cosmopolitan,” not writer submissions. Others just resent the presumption.
—Do put your name and address on every page (of short pieces). If you submit electronically, make sure to include both e-mail and regular mailing addresses. I had an author who waited months to see his work published, but I had no address or phone number.
—Don’t call the editor unless asked– it catches her off guard and is annoying. Please write. Use e-mail if it’s provided as an acceptable means of contact. Remember, most of them have other occupations as well as publishing.
—Do send an SASE with every regular mail submission and inquiry. No exceptions.
—Don’t submit cute items with your work. I received so many tiny, origami objects while I edited. Photos are okay, but not ones of your dog.
—Do be sure to identify your target market and send only appropriate material.
—Don’t assume your editor is a man. I didn’t look favorably on letters addressed to “Mr. Robin Bayne.”
—Do submit the hard copy of your work, with disk to follow if requested. Follow the guidelines the editor provides?they are designed to save you time and money.
—Don’t hand-write it! Don’t send a dog-eared copy that’s made the rounds fifty times. We can tell.
—Do send a thank-you note when you receive the finished copy of your work. It will be remembered. It also may get your name mentioned in the magazine again.
—Don’t send out submissions by Certified Mail or any service that requires a signature. If your editor has to traipse to the post office to sign for your submission, you start out with points against you.
—Do inform editors if you are simultaneously submitting your work. I once had to pull a story from my publication after typing and set-up. I found it in a competing magazine.
—Don’t burn your bridges. Keep those nasty thoughts to yourself, so that next year they don’t come back to haunt you. Better yet, record them in your personal journal. You’ll feel better.
—Do consider those small press credits as real publishing credits. Even if you’re not paid, keep in mind that for every story accepted, many were rejected. Each acceptance letter is a major accomplishment.
—Don’t be discouraged after a few rejections. I had to send back many stories I liked, but simply didn’t have room to print. Even online, space is limited.
—Do be wary of magazines that state “not copyrighted” in their guidelines. You still have rights in that situation, but the protection is considerably less.
—Don’t worry about copyrights in most magazines. As a publisher, I was required to send two copies of the “best edition” of each issue to the Library of Congress Depository. Any magazine that published work identified by the © copyright symbol must make the deposit, even if it does not officially register and pay the fee.
—Do send out your best work. You never know who may notice your work, or where your favorite editor may end up.
Copyright © Robin Bayne. All rights reserved.
(Revised 10/02. Previously published in Writer’s Journal, November 1997)
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