Alex Clermont Writes 3 tips to getting your short fiction published heading

3 Tips for getting published

The ultimate goal for most writers is to be read. That is, to be published. There are several steps to get there. The first, in my opinion, is to stop writing crap. Try it.

Being a good writer will usually get you published—unless you’re J.K. Rowling, who was turned down by 12 publishers before being picked up only because one publisher’s 8-year-old child liked her book. But that’s neither here nor there. Not writing crap will get you a long way.

“The result is that you have to submit en masse before one of those dozens of strangers accepts your story and turns into your editor”

To improve your craft you must read constantly, write constantly and perhaps join a writer’s workshop. All that could be the subject of a blog post in and of itself. For the rest of this post I’ll assume that your writing is very good. After getting to that point the trick is to get your very good writing seen and accepted by an editor.

The submissions process is where you send your thoughtfully crafted and heartfelt words to strangers. People who are themselves overrun by a flood of stories sent by writers who haven’t learned that you first have to not write crap. The result is that you have to submit en masse before one of those dozens of strangers accepts your story and turns into your editor.

Here are a few tips I think could be helpful in that endeavor:

1. Go With Who You Know

Any editors you’re in communications with, or whatever literary journals you subscribe to, submit to them. Even if you know some only by reputation, gather up the information you already have and submit your stories. This should be your first step for the obvious reason that it requires little research on your part. Also, the publications and people you already know most likely fit your literary interests anyway and will therefore be more open to your writing. Give them a try. The same goes with anthologies as well as journals.

In submitting my short story, “Desperate Lives,” I knew that author and editor Raquel Penzo, published a yearly anthology that focused on minority writers. Being a minority, I felt fully justified in submitting my story for her consideration. It was accepted and voila! A byline.

2. The Known Unknowns (research)

Alex Clermont Writes 3 tips to getting your short fiction published tools

Some writing resources for you to use.

After you’ve exhausted what you know, check out the resources below. These are just a few of the many online lists of literary journals that will give you a vast database of publications to submit to. I like these the most but if you think there are better ones/other ones please let me know in the comments below.

Poets & Writers: A straightforward list of a bunch of literary journals. Poets & Writers have scoured the net and have alphabetically listed a glut of info on publications you can submit to. It’s indiscriminate, but works well if you just want to paste a template cover letter into your emails to the editors. Just make sure you change the name of the publication. Addressing the wrong folks can result in some embarrassing rejections. So I’ve heard. New Pages has been around for a while (or at least for the last 6 years since I’ve been using them). Like Poets and Writers, they also provide a large database of publications, but rather than just a list they let you know who’s actively calling for submissions, what theme certain publications will have for an upcoming issue and etc. You can tailor your submissions and save yourself time by not submitting a story about apples when the journal’s theme is about oranges as a deadly weapon.

Authors Publish: This is not a list like the previous sites. This is a helpful website and newsletter that will fill your inbox with call for submissions from quality publications. They also provide advice on how to get your submission past the “slush pile.” By the way, I love that term! Some people don’t. I understand, but just the sound of the word “slush” is enough to make me giggle a little—it’s that loopy “S” sound.

3. Organize your information

Alex Clermont Writes 3 tips to getting your short fiction published excel sheet

Or use Google Sheets. It’s free.

So now you’ve got a bunch of publications who might print (or blog?) what you write. You’ve got a chance to get in there! Like any worthwhile plan though, you have to make sense of the pieces you have. Time to methodically organize all that data from the resources above.

There’s this software called Microsoft Excel. Use it (or Google sheets) to organize who you submit to, when you submitted, what you submitted and what their response was. Such a form isn’t that hard to create, but here’s an example of the Excel spreadsheet that I’ve been using. It’s basic, but you get the picture.

Fill up the form with publications you think fit your writing style then methodically go through them. You can record your progress on a particular story and it keeps you from sending the same story to the same people. In the long run such a list also helps you recognize who you should submit too later on. Hey, if they liked you before, they’ll probably like you again.

I hope these steps help in your journey from writer to published author. If you find any of this helpful, or you’d like to add your own tips please let me know in the comments below. and don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter using the bar above. You’ll be glad you did.

9 Responses to “3 Tips for getting published”
  1. PJ says:

    Thank you Alex! That is perfect advice – not to write crap – i love it! But I think it takes a lot to not write crap. I had the opportunity to speak to Colm McCann – who said maybe one pearl is there among all of the ideas. Writing is a difficult pursuit and you have to find a way to motivate. I think the workshop idea is great advice. Best to you! PJ

    • Alex Clermont says:

      Thank you, PJ, for reading my post and for your comment on it! You’re right in that it’s really hard to not write crap. I’ll probably make a short post about it in the near future, but the best way to improve your writing is to write. Malcolm Gladwell makes this point in Outliers. That is, to master any skill you need to practice. A LOT. In my opinion it takes more than motivation to keep going—it takes discipline. You have to find time to hit that keyboard whether you want to write or not. Hopefully we don’t need a 1,000 hours of writing (Gladwell’s magic number) to reach the not-crap stage : )

  2. Terrence says:

    Hi Alex,
    I just came across your post in my inbox. Seems you went to Hunter College, too. Any, Poets & Writers is a good resource. I subscribe to it. I’ve never heard of the others you’ve listed. Will check them out. Two other good resources are The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. You can find contest there as well.

    Let me ask you, suppose you submitted a story to a certain magazine, and after the rejected it you’ve reworked it, would you resubmitted it later?


    • Alex Clermont says:

      Hey Terrence! Firstly, thank you for looking through my post and taking the time to reply. Fellow Hunter alum, it’s much appreciated. I’ve been checking out Poets & Writers a lot recently for articles on finding an agent for my novel manuscript, so you’re absolutely right in recommending them as well as Writer’s Digest. I haven’t checked out The Writer, but I certainly will now.

      The issue of resubmitting a short story has come up once before for me. Literary journals aren’t like publishing houses or literary agents. If those folks see your manuscript more than once it’s too much. With journals—at least the one’s I’ve listed in my extremely large excel file—they never state a prejudice against previously submitted work. They ask for your very best before submitting, so edit, edit, edit! But if a year or so has passed and you’ve made substantial changes I would definitely re-submit.

      If that amount of time hasn’t passed than most likely it will be rejected again because your writing hasn’t grown beyond what it was and/or you haven’t given yourself enough time to approach your story with fresh eyes.

      This is all in my opinion of course, but if they don’t state it, and you think you’re story is much, much better, I would go for it. Make that a motto: Go For It! : )

  3. Zhana says:

    Excellent tips, very helpful and practical.

  4. Diane Turner says:

    Great article and tips. I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing, and posts like this help.

    • Alex Clermont says:

      You’re more than welcomed Diane. Thanks for reading my article, and double thanks for commenting. This post is more about the submitting part than the not-writing-crap part, but there’s certainly a lot more to say about both. Keep checking and I’ll try to do just that.

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