Tag Archives: publication

Breaking One of the Sacred Cows of Publishing Etiquette

One of the most important messages that I attempt to convey through the material on The Literary Game is that if you want to be a successful writer, one whose work is published in well-respected literary journals or independent publishers, it is critical to conduct yourself like a professional. It is essential to address publishers respectfully, and on the terms laid out by their submissions guidelines. This is an excellent rule to follow, but like all rules, there are times when this one must be broken. 

Although I hate the idea of labeling any writer’s work, much less my own, for those who are inclined to put everything into neat boxes, it can be said that my poetry and fiction is “alt lit.” Much of my writing draws from the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle, having grown up associating with some wild friends. Naturally, writers write what they know, and I am no exception.

The alternative literature community has its own values, ones that offer many parallels to the punk community. There is an emphasis on DIY (do it yourself), challenging expectations, some shock tactics, and a “hardcore” approach. Whereas the traditional literary world can be seen as fairly conservative in its manner, these alternative writers who are building their own literary magazines operate as a sort of counterculture.

I do not recommend doing this, especially if you are not writing material with similar themes, but I am compelled to share the story of how I approached Brian Fugett, publisher of Zygote in My Coffee, one of the leading journals of poetry in this milieu. I wanted Brian to publish a poem of mine, “You Fuck Like You’re on Antidepressants,” but I had never previously communicated with him before. In a stroke of boldness, I sent him a rather untraditional cover letter, essentially cursing him out and not so subtly telling him that he would be a fool not to publish my poem. When he responded with his decision, the first part of his email was him returning the favor and cursing me out, and the second was him accepting the poem for publication. I knew that Brian, and his journal Zygote in My Coffee, did not want to associate with unprovocative writers, and so I chose not only to submit a poem that was an appropriate fit, but a cover letter as well.

So, what is the takeaway from this anecdote? While there are rules that should be followed to increase your chance of success in anything, including publishing your writing, sometimes breaking those rules can lead to amazing results. 


How To Find Appropriate Publishers For Your Writing

The whole process of becoming a successful writer, at its essence, can be boiled down to three simple steps:

1. Write the manuscript of your novel (or short story, poem, etc.).

2. Have your work edited to a publishable standard.

3. Find an appropriate publisher and submit your writing.

Regarding step 3, one of the most common errors new writers make is submitting their writing to publishers who have no interest in the style, genre, or content of their work. There are few publishers who do not have VERY specific parameters of what publish. If your writing falls outside of those parameters, the chance that your submission will be accepted by that publisher is close to 0%, no matter how good your writing might be.

First, let’s backtrack for a second. If you have amassed a body of writing that’s been edited and is ready for publication, but have no idea how to get published, it is critical that you become familiar with these two resources:

Duotrope.com – Duotrope is a subscription-based (only $5/month) catalog of most every high-quality literary journal, contest, and many publishers. Duotrope is highly recommended for any writer looking to find a home for their short fiction or poetry. For contests, I personally prefer using Poets & Writers (pw.org). For manuscripts of novels or nonfiction, the Writer’s Market is a far better resource.

Using Duotrope, you can search over 5,000 literary journals by a variety of limiters, allowing you to find journals that are a match for your genre, form, etc. Once you find a match using Duotrope, it is essential that you carefully read through at least one full issue of the magazine (or at least ten pieces of fiction or poetry for those that are not issue-based). Does your work convey similar themes? Is your writing style similar to that of the writers they publish? How does the content of your writing compare to the content of the authors published in the magazine? If you perform your due diligence and truly study the publication, then you will be aware of whether or not your writing is a match. If it is not, do not bother wasting your (not to mention the publisher’s) time by submitting your writing, as it will not be accepted.

I have not found a single public library in the United States that does not have a copy of the Writer’s Market in their reference section, and many have older editions available to check out. The Writer’s Market is an invaluable resource for anyone who has written a novel (or a long work of non-fiction). This book has an index of publishers that you can browse through, with quick descriptions about the publishers. Using the Writer’s Market, you can quickly identify potential homes for your fiction amongst a variety of independent publishers. Once you notice a potential match, I recommend that you visit the publisher’s website and read some of the blurbs of the books they’ve put out. Again, are they similar to your manuscript in genre, style, and content? If so, you should submit your manuscript and see what happens. If not, do not waste your time, as you will not have your manuscript accepted.

Of course, there is also the self-publishing route, which has its own advantages and drawbacks, but that is a topic for another post.

In short, the key to getting your writing published is to ensure that your writing is a direct match for what the publisher puts out. If your writing fits a publisher’s niche, you have a good chance of getting your work accepted.

In success,