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As any aspiring writer can attest, getting your work published can be a daunting challenge. For every one magazine article, novel, short story or poem published in the world today, there may be thousands of submissions which didn’t quite make the cut. Gauging precisely what an editor or publisher wants is an art form in itself, and one of the best skills to have is patience. Sometimes, it’s simply a question of the right piece reaching the right editor or publisher at the right time.
History is filled with stories of famous authors who spent years trying to get their work published, only to be rejected time and time again. Many of today’s best-known literary works were accepted by the 20th or 30th editor to actually read the manuscript. Getting anything published in today’s competitive writing field should be viewed as a laudable accomplishment.
One way to get published is through a writing contest, often called a writing competition in countries outside the United States. Writing contest sponsors may ask for an entry fee or a specific theme for submissions, but most deliver what they promise to the winners. The prize for placing in a writing contest often includes getting published in a collection or having your entire manuscript published through a small press. Entry fees help to defray the sponsor’s expenses. Many writers who work in niche markets such as poetry find it easier to find success through chapbook and full-size manuscript contests rather than approach mainstream publishers with their work.
Many people get published for the first time by submitting their work to local newspapers, especially the alternative presses. Tabloid newspapers which cater to a younger demographic often seek out poems, short stories, essays or opinion pieces to fill out their pages. Organizational newsletters are also good places to approach with short informational articles or appropriate pieces of creative writing. It is usually much easier to get published for the first time in smaller publications which need good content from local writers. Getting printed and getting paid may be two different issues, but at least your work will be in print and any clipping will eventually help an aspiring writer gain some much-needed credibility.
Another way to get published is to obtain a list of periodicals and their publishing needs. A public library or local bookstore should carry several reference books for writers looking to get published in regional or national markets. These books are often promoted as “Writer’s Markets” or “Poets’ Markets” and are usually quite comprehensive, which means thick. These writers’ guides should provide the contact information a writer needs in order to send off manuscripts. In addition, there should be details on what a particular magazine needs and the proper format for submissions. In order to get published in a magazine or journal listed in these books, all a writer can do is follow the rules and hope his or her works stands out from the hundreds or thousands of other submissions received by the editor(s). The process can take months, and a number of publications have a 2% acceptance rate or less.
Getting a novel or a non-fiction work published can be even more of a challenge for an unestablished writer. Submitting to a small press may seem like a good idea, but many of these publishers are already committed to a number of other projects or may be experiencing serious financial difficulties. Getting a novel published by a major publishing house such as Random House often requires the assistance of a literary agent. Locating and impressing an established literary agent can be a lifelong quest in and of itself, but few major publishers ever read unsolicited manuscripts from unproven writers. In order to get a full-length manuscript published and distributed, a literary agent must first recognize its merits and lobby the publishing houses on behalf of the writer.
There is always another option available for writers who want to become published, but it can be costly and less satisfying artistically than traditional publishing. An aspiring writer can go through the services of a self-publishing or “vanity press” company. The cost of having a manuscript edited and formatted usually falls on the writer himself, and the publishing company may require a minimal number of copies before ordering an initial press run. The total expenses involved with a vanity press may make the cost of an individual book prohibitive, but some authors find they can recoup much of their investment through readings and self-promotion.