✏ Don’t Ruin Your Name Before You’ve Got One
Everyone wants to make a name for themselves, but what they don’t realize is that there are two ways to do it. If you’ve had work published previously, that can play a big part in getting something new featured online. On the other hand, if you don’t have a ton of experience under your belt, it’s best to be patient. Make sure that each piece you send out is the absolute best that it can be (that usually means sitting on it for a while and doing a handful of drafts). If you’re over-eager and send out something that has typos, or worse yet, isn’t well-developed, you run the risk of blacklisting yourself. Just like editors are likely to remember the names of writer’s they’ve loved, they’re also likely to remember (and avoid) those who have sent them bad work in the past. Many online publications also have a limit to how often you can submit. That means if you send something subpar out to that review you’ve had your eye on and get passed over, you might not get a chance to redeem yourself for another six months. So, be patient, craft your best work, and don’t let your first reputation be a bad one.
✏ Try. Everyday.
I’m not saying that you should be cranking out stories round the clock and submitting to anywhere that will have you as soon as you meet the required word count (see above). As Phyllis Whitney said, “ good stories are not written, they are rewritten”. Good work takes revision and that’s a skill you should be honing everyday. Even if you’re not quite ready to submit, keep showing up and putting in the effort every day.
BUT (there’s always a but), once you’ve got something that’s in good shape, send those babies out! Every. Day. Many places which publish online accept simultaneous submissions. They usually just ask that you email them as soon as possible if your work is accepted elsewhere—no biggie. So sow your seeds far and wide, because you never know which one will take root. We’ve all got our eye on a certain publication that we hope will publish our work, but it isn’t our job to tailor the work to fit their needs and keep rapping on the door until they open up. It’s our job to write. Submitting (or revising) your work is all you have control over and in the end, it’s usually what has the biggest impact on your results.
✏ Stalk Around.
You heard me, get on someone’s trail and start creeping around. When I was in a writing course, I once looked up my professor online and found his resume. I wanted to know how he got from where I was, a writing student with no experience, to a professor with a full page of publications. His resume included his school, work experience, and also a list of short stories he’d written that had been published over the years. I started reading some of the stories and checking out the places they were published. Once I had written something of my own, I started submitting to those same places that published his early work. It didn’t yield any immediate results but eventually, the first short story that I ever got published was by one of the online magazine’s I’d heard of through his resume. I never would have known about that place otherwise. So dig into every nook and cranny because you never know what can happen. The real benefit of following in the footsteps of someone you know and admire is that, if you have similar tastes or writing styles, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to submit to the same places because you already know the type of work they accept (more on that below).
✏ Know Your Audience.
Do you write short stories? Blog posts? Novellas? Are they Narrative Nonfiction? Historical fantasy? Sci-fi erotica? The answers to these questions is going to have a huge impact on who is interested in publishing your work. Sometimes this is going to be obvious, but often times it’s a lot more nuanced and publications will cover a wide, but specific, range of material. For instance, I know a website which welcomes any genre so long as it is a “feel good story”. Similarly, I’ve held off from submitting to others who I know value a more ambiguous style of short fiction than what I write. That’s not to say that certain places will never publish your work if you write a certain way, but it does mean that you have to tailor your submissions to each individual piece. Don’t cast your pearls to pigs—send your writing to those who will be most receptive to it. By blindly sending your work to every place you see, you (a) risk creating a bad name for yourself with those editors and (b) you waste their time, as well as your own. One fantastic tool for finding the right audience is Submittable, which allows you to search for publications based on tags which fit your work.