Deciding Where to Submit Your Writing
Writing is just one part of being a writer. Editing is another. Assuming you’ve written something, and edited it, you then to move onto the third part of being a writer: submitting.
Firstly, you need to build up the courage to send it out. Perhaps, before you think about submitting, take your writing to a writers’ group and get some feedback or critique. If you don’t want that, or think you need that, then you’ll have to build up the courage to submit by yourself. Even though you’ve edited, read through it again. Check it. Double-check it. Triple-check it. Make sure it is the best thing you can possible do within your capabilities. Then find somewhere to send it.
There are thousands upon thousands of publishers to which you can send your writing. Some are big, well-known places, others are small and independent. No matter the size of the publisher or publication, however, there are certain factors which will determine the size of the slush pile. The slush pile is the big stack of submissions that publishers wade through to find the things they want to accept. The bigger the pile, the smaller the chances of being found, and the higher the standard of writing selected. The size of the slush pile is one of the main considerations when deciding whether to submit your writing; the other is the tone and style of the publication. Get these right and you will maximise your chances of being accepted.
There are six factors to look at when deciding whether to submit your writing to a particular publication.
How many people read this particular publication? If it is print publication, what are the distribution numbers, and where are they stocked? If it is online, what are the daily/weekly/monthly/annual traffic numbers, and are they visits or visitors? Small to mid-level readership varies from the tens to the tens of thousands (Thanet Writers currently gets around 20,000 visitors a month, for example). If you want bigger, you need to look at huge career-making dream-level platforms like The New Yorker, or Big Five publishing houses, in which case generally to get anywhere you will need an agent acting on your behalf—open submissions to these are so close to 100% rejection that there are more zeros than numbers in the number and a lot of decimal places. That’s not to say you shouldn’t give it a try—quite the opposite—just be aware of the odds and don’t get disheartened if one of the most prestigious and hard-to-access publishers in the world turns you down. The readership is proportional to the slush pile—the greater the publisher’s reach, the greater the number of writers wanting to be published by them, therefore the greater the slush pile. Bear this in mind. Some writers start with smaller publications before aiming for larger ones as their abilities improve, others start big and work backwards. Either way, be realistic about the chances of acceptance. Initially I went big then worked down in readership until my writing started being accepted, and since I have worked on climbing up from there.
Does the publisher pay, if so how much? Other than a rare few, most writers don’t make much money from writing. Pay is desirable; the higher the rate, the more writers will be targeting that particular publisher. That makes for a bigger slush pile. In this case, consider what you are writing for. We’d all love to be paid a fair wage, but that is often an unrealistic expectation within the arts in the current economic climate, especially if you haven’t built up a reputation as a writer who attracts readers. Most publications don’t pay at all, and often the ones who do (such as Thanet Writers) only offer a small amount per accepted item. Even for novels, advances are rare and royalties are small. Rather than worrying about pay rates, think about why you are writing: do you want prestige and respect, or financial reward? Whilst it would be great to say both, at this moment in history that is simply unrealistic, at least when you are starting out. Personally, artistic integrity triumphs over financial remuneration, so this is less of a factor for me.
3. Reading Fees
Some publishers charge a reading fee to submit. Others offer a fast-track service that is charged. There also are publishers who don’t charge fees at all (Thanet Writers included). I always look at what the fee is being spent on, how much it is, and whether I want to pay it under the circumstances. Am I likely to be accepted, and if so is the reputational reward worth the risk of the investment? It is up to you whether you pay to submit, but I would suggest for your first few submissions that you don’t, until you’ve got the hang of how submitting writing works.
This is a big one. In my mind, this is the big one. A good quality publication is more important than whether you get paid, or if you have to pay to submit, as far as I’m concerned. I’d even go as far to say that quality is more important than readership. That being said, quality is relative. Small, new publications need time to find their feet, whereas larger, established ones should have found them already. For example, some writers I know are involved with or have written for a somewhat successful publisher that puts out a print magazine as well as publishing online, and does some multimedia stuff. The readership is substantial and they publish a lot of writers. Also, they are not open all year, but have set reading periods, indicating fairly high submission volumes. Theoretically, this is somewhere I would submit to. However, I have not, and as it stands I am not going to. I have seen grammatical errors in titles of articles and inconsistencies in formatting of title/author attribution. That’s without reading the content, which again is inconsistent and contains errors. Despite the readership opportunities, I feel that aligning myself with that publisher could potentially damage my reputation, either now or in the future. If I shoot myself in the foot through something I have written then fair enough—that’s my own fault—but I’m not going to risk having my name associated with a supposedly professional publisher that has such low standards. If it was a single individual running it as a passion project, it would be entirely understandable, forgivable, and likely overlooked or ignored—I have submitted writing to many such publications and will continue to do so—but for a decent-sized publication with several staff and editors, that is unacceptable, in my opinion. Choose your destinations carefully by looking at their output over time, and make sure they align with your expectations.
5. Gut Instinct
This is very important: you need to listen to how you feel about the publication. If it is a small place that you stumbled across but hadn’t heard of before with a low readership, but it looks interesting and you get a good vibe from it, then why not give it a try? On the other hand, if all the boxes are ticked—large reach, pay, no fees, high quality—but you just have a feeling that you don’t want them to publish you, then listen to that. Your instinct is your subconscious working out factors beyond your conscious understanding, and most of the time it is right. Don’t second-guess it, or flip-flop back and forth over the decision. Trust your gut. You can always wait and submit later, after all, but most of the time you will be proved right.
Of course, all of this is redundant if you are sending the wrong type of content to the publisher. If they are a science-fiction publisher looking for short stories of between 5,000 and 10,000 words, don’t send them a piece of literary flash fiction. If a publisher generally accepts aesthetically-pleasing poetry, don’t submit a slam-style word dump with no coherent visual appeal. That’s not to say there aren’t places for those things, but find those places.
Submission is not a one-size-fits-all, but rather your writing is a very-specifically-shaped peg for which you need to find the closest-aligning hole. Do your research and send it to the right place, not the first or nearest. Some publishers, like Thanet Writers, are open to a lot and are willing to gamble on unheard voices and experimental writing. Others are much more set in their ways. You will only find out by looking, and you will only know by trying.
Sign up to Submittable and use the Discover option. Check updates like the monthly Opportunities Roundup here at Thanet Writers. Send your work out into the world and help it find its home. It’s worth it.
© 2020 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.