I’ve been meaning to zip off a blog post recently, and I thought some more thoughts about successfully submitting to a publisher would be appropriate. For the first couple of pointers on the subject, check out the first blog here. While my colleague makes some interesting points about craft in writing, any great writer can break any of her carefully laid rules and still construct a phenomenal story. As Truman Capote once said, “Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” When it comes to art, rules may be broken, but when it comes to making a business of art, authors–especially beginning authors–ought to observe certain professional courtesies in order to be successful:
1. Research the Press/Mag
Ice Cube Press has its own particular mission statement. Virtually every press and mag has an “About” page describing the vision for the publication. Make no mistake; the people running that mag or press want to stick close to what they envisaged for their publication. That’s their decision. Running a press or magazine means long hours with working hours that may extend into the nights and weekends, and the editors do not want to work with any author that cannot spend the time to research their press before submitting a piece. An author’s skill hardly matters if they submit a novel surrounding the fictional politics of the U.S. War on Terror to a publisher like Ice Cube Press that focuses on publishing works about the Midwest and/or environment. Similarly, you wouldn’t submit a creative nonfiction essay about coping with your sister’s psychological dysfunction and subsequent drug addiction to a literary magazine focusing on the transforming power of place like Flyway. Knowing which press or magazine is most likely to accept your work is the best start for any author seeking to publish.
2. Carefully Observe All Guidelines for Submission
All great authors ought to have an eye for precision. For whatever reason, many different presses and mags have various guidelines for submitted work. Maybe the guidelines help with selection, or maybe it streamlines the formatting process. Maybe the editors just want to set up complex guidelines because they’re jerks. Whatever. The fact is editors want submitted work formatted in a certain way to fit whatever their project might be. Editors are brave people with thankless jobs that pay far less than they deserve. They set up guidelines to ease their process for publishing an author. The moment any submitting author refuses to observe the editors’ guidelines that author extends a giant middle finger to the editors. As much as I personally love writing as an art form, my time editing Prairie Gold feels disproportionately split between actual editing and simply emailing authors asking them to abide by the guidelines set forth on the website. From what I understand, most editors will not even send an email asking for corrections to the submitted work so that it fits within the guidelines; most editors will summarily dismiss the story out of hand. After all, what mastery does an author exercise over language if they cannot carefully read and follow simple instructions for work submission? If shit happens–as shit tends to–and you submit something incorrectly, then catch the problem and fix it before the editor has to deal with it.
3. Express Appreciation for Anything the Editor Gives You
I don’t want to humiliate anyone, but I recently had an author decide they no longer wished to have their story published in Prairie Gold because they wanted far more in the way of remuneration. This author never published a piece of fiction before, and they decided that they’d rather not appear in print if we did not give them something more than print publication. Although I’m a huge fan of temerity, it really shouldn’t be for its own sake. Many editors are not paid to work at varying literary mags, and the ones that are usually have to take their work home with them and read authors’ work off-the-clock. Any author should express their gratitude to an editor that gives them anything above and beyond a form rejection letter. Even an editor insulting particular parts of an author’s work deserves thanks; at the very least, harsh words provide an author with honest and unfiltered feedback. If you, aspiring author, want or expect a certain level of remuneration for your work, then ask about it before submitting that work. Deciding not to publish because you do not get paid enough or will not acquiesce to editing your work hurts you, the aspiring author, not the editor. Editors will always have phenomenal authors to choose from, and aspiring authors seeking their first publication do not have political weight to try and hold a publication hostage in the eleventh hour.
Anyone can make arguments about craft. On a lot of points, I would entirely disagree with my colleague about what “makes a good book,” but we could both quibble over the issue and both be correct. On the other hand, knowing the rules for why, where, and how to publish provide the best foundation for success in publishing your work.