On this, a Free Week here at 4F,1H, I thought I’d expound on a question that was asked of me last week about having articles and short stories published. Poets could also benefit from a few of the easy ‘helps’ I will offer.
We usually cover fiction-writing here, however, non-fiction articles fall under the same guidelines.
The most important advice I can give (and editors will give) is:
KNOW THE PUBLICATION
I don’t just mean ‘know of it’, but know the tenor, or ‘voice’ of the publication to which you wish to submit your work. If you can, read through several issues of the publication. You may find some in libraries or in big-city bookstores/ periodical shops; some will even let you sit and read a bit.
Most publications now have websites. Read them thoroughly, but you will not get as much from the site as from the publication. Many publications will send sample issues to you, although most charge for them these days. This can get expensive, but keep your receipts; if your writing career takes off, you may be able to take the charges off of your taxes. (See a professional tax consultant.) Pay attention to the types of advertising and the way the ads are presented. These also give insight to you as to the publications expectations.
Believe me, subtle changes in your wording or how you present your story or article based on the atmosphere of the publication can be the difference between being accepted and rejected. Once you are accepted, the periodical is opened to more from you, as others like it may be.
Rewriting is the sign of a professional. If you can’t adapt to differing readerships, maybe publishing shorts or articles isn’t for you. If you aren’t writing to be read, why try to publish at all?
KNOW YOUR STUFF
I use this for lack of a better word to cover every point you need to make. Pay attention to details. This is especially important in a short story. A piece of misinformation buried within a twisting plot or a dramatic point of conversation, lost among the pages of a lengthy novel, may be forgiven or even forgotten, but when word counts are short, mistakes glare. Some of your readers (like me) will remember your slips in stories. If you are writing a non-fiction piece, Heaven help you if you make a mistake. Your editor will more than likely reject anything you submit in the future, unread, especially if he/she did not catch it, and their readers did. Look it up. Ask questions. Do your homework.
Use spell check; keep a dictionary/thesaurus nearby. Open a tab online and look up any questionable spellings that spell check doesn’t recognize. Add the new words to its dictionary. Use keyboard shortcuts for letters in foreign-based words.
[ All inclusive: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/keyboard-shortcuts-for-international-characters-108fa0c1-fb8e-4aae-9db1-d60407d13c35]
[Easier Spanish: http://www.spanishnewyork.com/spanish-characters.html]
[Easier French: http://sites.psu.edu/symbolcodes/languages/psu/french/ ]
TALK TO YOUR EDITOR
I had the premise for one article accepted by an editor, only to find that he expected it to have a much shorter word count (which had not been posted). I asked if that number was set in stone, and gave him details that I knew were essential to the full story, one I was adamant to have told. I also asked if I could post a link to the full article, which I would post on a blog. This intrigued him, and he asked me to send all of what I had written, which he would edit. He loved the article and published it in its entirety. I got 4-5 pages in a “glossy”, (i.e., high-end magazine.)
SEEK ADVICE ONLY FROM THOSE WHO PUBLISH LIKE WORKS
When I asked a friend to read over the article I described above, he gave me the best advice he could, and pronounced that it was all wrong. He was a published writer, who was sincerely trying to help, but he said that it did not follow the textbook design of an article. He also felt that I should have concentrated on only one of the aspects of the story, the one which I considered to be the least important. He had not been experienced with the type of article I wrote, nor did he know the publication or its readership. Had I not been secure in knowing the material and the publication, I would have blown it by taking this advice.
I have found most writers to be encouraging and helpful, yet there are those who become jealous. A friend of mine approached a cousin of hers who prided herself within their family for being a published author. The cousin doused my friend’s aspirations and ambition without ever reading any of her work. I could never spark the fire back into my friend, and all her beautiful story starts and fragments were never finished, lost when she died. Be aware. Be secure…or reasonably so.
READ AND FOLLOW THE “GUIDELINES FOR WRITERS” or for “SUBMISSIONS”
These are NOT ‘GUIDELINES’; they are RULES. Follow them to the letter. There are almost as many different rules for submissions as there are publications. Never assume that like publications have the same requirements. Some want ‘query letters’, to ask if they are interested in an article on a subject or a type of story and they will not accept unsolicited stories or articles. Some want a cover letter with the story/article premise and your publication history. Some want your biography. Some will accept full works only when presented by an agent. Some want none of the above, but they will allow you to send a whole story/article right away.
A friend of mine with a degree in journalism sent article after article to magazines without following their guidelines. She was never paid, seldom published, but when she was it was for free and her content edited…and printed among the Letters to the Editor. I could never convince her that reading and following the fine print would make all the difference. She finally gave up, which was too bad. She had some things to say.
Some publications will only accept submissions within a certain word-count, depending on the type of work, or the target readers’ ages. Some of the word-counts depend on the area of the publication for which you are submitting the work. Is your piece a short story in the body of the publication? Is it a cartoon/joke/ quip for a regular feature of the periodical? Is it non-fiction advice, a tip, a review for the front of the publication, or an article for a standard section? Check to see the precise expectations of the editors for the areas of the publication that you would like to address.
Some publications accept submissions only during certain times, as one only accepts poetry three months out of the year. Some will only accept a certain amount of work; many limit submissions to three pieces at a time; for some, the limit is one. Most only accept seasonal, holiday, event-themed stories or articles within 6-9 months prior to the event/holiday/season. Check with the individual publication. Some, such as “The Chicken Soup” books, only want certain themes at certain times. Check online for what types of stories or articles a publication is presently accepting. Some that generalize may be overwhelmed at the time with one type of story. Find out before you waste your time with them. (If they warn you that they seldom accept rhyming stories but yours does, save yourself the postage.) You may get ideas for another type of story or article by reading their lists of current needs.
Some publications still want hard copies in hand. Some demand your full contact information on every page submitted, either in a header or as a footnote. Do put your name on each page, number the pages and do not staple the pages together. Most editors want specific spacing within the body of your work; some don’t care. Many are now accepting online submissions by email, and some want it to be only submitted through their website. Most demand certain clear fonts. Don’t use fancy or “clever” fonts or your work will go unread. If their ‘guidelines’ do not specify, you may look on the internet for help. There are general guides online which can be confusing and which have conflicting advice. The following link seems to have the easiest information to understand, and contains the most updated information: http://writersinfo.info/smf.html
Give all of your contact information: your physical address, phone number(s) and email address. If you have a website, add it, but don’t clutter your info with Twitter, Instagram, etc. They will not use those methods to contact you.
Some require a SASE if you want your work returned, but my advice is not to bother them with it. NEVER SEND ONLY COPIES OF YOUR WRITING, PHOTOS OR ORIGINAL ART.* Some publications ask for a stamped, self-addressed postcard so they can acknowledge receipt of your work. If they do not, please do not aggravate them by requesting that they do so. And NEVER SEND YOUR WORK REGISTERED OR RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED. That is the sign of an amateur and is a black mark against you with them from the start.
*Most publishers more easily reject stories when art is sent with it, especially unprofessional art. Cartoons, rebuses and the like (where pictures are essential) can be exceptions, but the art needs to be truly professional-quality art, not just ‘pretty good’. Publishers will pair your work with their own artists if the story/ article calls for it.
READ THE RATE
Articles and short stories are usually paid per-word. Don’t try to pad your work with excess words just for a few more dollars. Your work will suffer and editors are onto this. Tips, jokes, (sometimes poetry), and some other small contributions to a publication’s featured sections are usually paid flat-rate. Sometimes articles, stories, and poetry are paid per-page. You can be published and be paid no money, or in copies of the publication, a few pennies per word, to over a dollar a word. Know before you send your work. The big-paying publications are harder to break into, but you can try. Don’t feel like a failure if you only get picked up by a lower-paying publication. Enough of those will be monetarily accumulative and they still look good on your cover letters/résumés.
Sometimes, as in greeting cards (poetry/sayings on mugs, tee-shirts and other novelties) the fine print will tell you that you will be ‘test marketed’, which means your work will be made into an item and before they put you into full production and pay you, a certain amount of your work needs to sell in a certain amount of time. Some people in Houston bought a card of mine, but not fast enough. I never saw a dime, but Blue Mountain made a little money on me. At least they liked what they saw and asked me to submit more. Personal satisfaction is worth something, but not much.
My opinion: There are only a few times when you should allow your work to be used in someone else’s publication without monetary compensation:
1) You believe in the information you wish to have known is for ‘the greater good’. A friend who is adamant about cycling and alternative human-powered transportation gave an article to a low-budget magazine based on that ideal. He came away with copies of the publication. I have received a several-year subscription to a magazine worth at least $75.00 for an article of mine that was used, (and for which I did not contract for compensation). I do not consider either to be truly “without compensation”
2) For charity. I had a number of poems and photos published two years in a row for the St. Jude Book of Inspirations. The original plan was for them to print the books and sell them, but that fell through. The “books” were available to be seen online for years, but no one made anything on them. I hope someone, somewhere, was at least ‘inspired’.
3) To help a friend. I mean a real friend, not someone you barely know. There is an article of mine floating around on the internet that you can still scare up if you look hard enough. I did at the request of a very old and dear friend, who was attempting to revitalize an e-zine that had fallen on hard times. It didn’t work. Am I sorry? No, because it was a request from my best friend in grade school and it was fun.
Some publications, online and hardcopy, will try to play on your sympathies for their vision and offer you ‘exposure’. The saying goes among writers, “Yes, but you can die of exposure!” Take low money, but don’t do it for free. And never pay money to have your work published.
[Note: I also sent a ‘tip’ in to a craft show, hoping to be chosen the “Tip of the Week”, and win an expensive sewing machine, plus additional items, or possibly to win lesser ‘goodies’ for being read on the show. They said they would contact me if they used my tip on-air, but I never heard back from them. Two years later, I was surprised to receive a book in the mail on ‘ favorite tips’ by the show’s host, with mine included. I got my own box in the book; I received credit, I got the book, I got a press kit, (which I never used). I’m glad I hadn’t already sprung for the oversized paperback @ $19.95, not that I really wanted it. What I should have gotten was the Bernina, if my tip was worth putting in the book. (The show’s host took all the royalties, riding on her audience’s tips). My point is, without specific permission, procedures, and rights spelled out, (like my friend’s “Letters to the Editor”), your work may be used in ways other than you expected, without proper compensation.]
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
How much are you giving away? Will the publication always own your piece?
Some publications buy your work and keep all rights, but this is not as common as other, varying, contract standards. [For American writers:] Many simply take first runs and the North American rights, which means that they print your work in their publication, gather all the royalties in N. America (which is usually the only area where American publications have circulation) and afterward, the rights revert back to you. Some go international. Some allow for more than one printing, or they may want to put your work in an anthology, end of the year ‘best of’ issue, etc., and pay you no more. Read the fine print.
Many writers edit, rework or simply resubmit the same works to other publications once their rights revert back to them. There are many college/university presses, regional publications and magazines aimed at differing demographics where certain stories/articles can be re-read with almost no chance of cross-over. Beware that some want to know where and when you had previously published the piece, which may affect your sale. Many regional publications only want articles/stories from, or on, their specific areas of interest.
Just a word to the wise:
Read carefully; you may be excited to see the money offered for something that you wrote that may fit the requirements of a Canadian publication, but you will often be considered only after all the Canadian submissions, and Canadian currency is worth less than its U.S. counterparts. Other countries will usually also give preference to work from their own citizens, and may have different expectations as to what they offer or retain. Some may not be trusted to honor your compensation agreement.
[Laws in other countries vary, as may the enforcement of them.]
KNOW WHO YOU NEED TO CONTACT
Don’t rely on possibly old information, even if it is in the latest “Writer’s Market”, “Writer’s Digest”, etc. People change jobs. Check out the publication’s website. Get the person’s name right, and for Heaven’s sake, make sure you check on their gender or use gender-neutral wording. I called one editor “Ms. Lastname” in several correspondences. I was told to call ‘her’ by her unusual first name. It took me months, even after my work was accepted, to find out that the person was a man. I was on pins and needles, fearing he’d kill my article. I guess he was used to the confusion, bless his heart!
GO OVER YOUR WORK
Check your info. Read and re-read your work. Have others see if you have written something that is clearly understandable. And then YOU read it again, and once more.
All they can say is no. Actually, you probably won’t get a “no” when it comes to most publications. They often only contact you when they want to use your work.
Some publications say that they do not accept “simultaneous submissions”. That means they don’t want you sending the work that you are offering to them to any other publication until they have a chance to reject it. This is the only ‘guideline’ that you should ever ignore. How they would know if you sent it to anyone else is anyone’s guess. It usually takes 3-9 months to hear back from most publications. You could be submitting the same good story or article for many years at that rate and never get anywhere. Go for it. If more than one offer comes in, take the best one. “The best one” might be the biggest-paying, or it might be the one with the biggest circulation. It might also mean the one that would give you the most exposure (the right kind of exposure) within the circles you wish to cultivate. Once you accept an offer, you can rescind your other submissions, but better still, wait to see if other acceptances are forthcoming. You can then simply apologize to the others and say that you wish to decline their offer and withdraw that piece from consideration, with no further explanation. If you say that you received a better offer, more than likely you will never have your work be considered for the publications that made subsequesnt offers ever again.
DON’T TAKE REJECTION PERSONALLY AND KEEP SUBMITTING
I know, that’s easier said than done. Some publications are simply overwhelmed with submissions. Sometimes your work got to a reader/editor that was having a bad day, or some just have different tastes. Maybe they recently printed a work much like yours; that doesn’t mean that yours is not good.
Submit it again. Tweak it if you think you need to for different publications. Read how many times now-famous writers were rejected, or how many times famous people, who are now considered authorities on subjects, were rejected for their views before their works found support.
I hope that I have given a few new suggestions to you and you gained some insight. Good luck!
Please ask me anything that I may not have stated clearly. This is not an all-inclusive article that was worked on for months, but simply pertinent information that I have in my head, which I typed out into this blog post (as I thought of it) over a few days’ time.
Any comments? Any experiences that you have had that I did not cover or are different than mine? Please comment below.