Getting Your Article, Short Story, or Poem Published for the First Time

Writers in the Grove is a creative writing group, focused more on supporting each other’s writing passions through education and writing opportunities. Some of us are also published from time to time. While the group’s focus isn’t on how to get published, we do cover that topic occasionally.

This article serves as a general tutorial and guide to help you get your work published for the first time, taking you step-by-step through the generic process of submitting your work in article, story, or poem formats, not novels and non-fiction books, though the process is similar.

The process begins with craft, learning as much as you can about what you are writing and preparing to submit before you begin the process.

Know The Craft of Writing

Each writing genre has specific standards for writing format, form, and function, and it is part of the development of your craft to learn these.

Understand, editors don’t want to reject anyone’s writing. Their job is to accept and reject those that don’t pass through their filters. Many editors are inundated with dozens if not hundreds of submissions weekly, sometimes daily, so they’ve learned to reject for simple grammar mistakes or be the rare ones to see past the poor language skills to find the gem of the story. Present your best work so you never give them an excuse to reject your work.

Improve Your Skills with Writers in the Grove

Writers in the Grove offers a chance for you to bring your short story or poem to our group to read in the second half of our weekly workshops. This is a great opportunity for gentle feedback, but also practice your reading skills.

We also produce two author reading events annual, Lend an Ear and Wintersong, a chance to submit and read a 4-minute piece before an audience of 50-100 people, again, another excellent opportunity to read publicly and get public exposure for your work.

  • Learn How to Spell or Use Spell Check Wisely: Some editors are forgiving about the occasional spelling mistake, others are not. If you regularly misspell words, learn them or pay close attention to them when you use them.
  • Learn Punctuation Rules: Learn how to use punctuation, and understand why you use commas, colons, semi-colons, hyphens, and quote marks, and how to constrain yourself from using exclamation points.
  • Become a Grammar Guru: Learn sentence structure, prepositions, clauses, and how to use and not use them. Writing is a non-stop class in how to use the language. Learn to use it to craft the words into a symphony.
  • Edit Brilliantly: Edit your work. Never submit a first draft. Craft your draft. Only submit your best work, so edit with a strong and graceful hand.
  • Get Feedback: There are many groups dedicated to helping you publish, giving you the high-powered review and critique you may need to succeed in the marketplace. Writers in the Grove members will give you gentle feedback, designed to encourage rather than discourage, though we will give you a harder review if you ask, we are not publishing experts nor editors, just writers with experience. In addition to our group, look for groups focused on publishing in our area or online to improve your professional writing skills.
  • Network and Build Relationships: Some writers rarely submit their work for publication. Editors invite them to submit because they have established a connection, a relationship, and reputation for quality work. Look for opportunities in your community to attend other writing groups, conference, and workshops to get to know others in the business. Travel to writing conferences, and find a way to connect with those who are buying your work.
  • Take Classes, Read Articles, Study Books, Learn Writing: You are never too old or experienced to stop learning about your craft. Luckily, the Portland area is stuffed with exceptional colleges and educational facilities offering writing courses, workshops, and events. Don’t forget the Willamette Writers and their monthly activities and annual conference.
  • Learn What Publishers Want and Need: As with everything, writing is part of the supply and demand economy. You have to give them what they want to buy. Carefully study their publication. Read through their guidelines for writing and submission as well as their want lists to give them just what they need.

Your Writing is Now a Business

Did you know that many short stories were picked up by agents and publishers to be turned into novels and movies? Orson Scott Card’s famous, award-winning book, Ender’s Game, started out as a short story. It not only became an international bestseller, with numerous sequels, but also a movie.

Anything is possible when you publish your writing. You need to be prepared for it and treat it with the professionalism it deserves.

You may have written for a few months or decades, but it is a hobby until you begin to sell your work. Once you cross that line, your hobby becomes a business, and you need to treat it like one.

Here is a way to think about this. You are not submitting your writing for acceptance or rejection. You are looking for a job. Treat it with the same professionalism, because every new publication is a job interview, and you want the job.

You have to be professional, act professional, write professional, and keep track of everything as a profession.

It begins by setting clear goals. What do you want to do with your writing? Do you want to write the next great novel? Do you want to make extra money? Do you want to leave your day job and write full time? The clearer you are with your goals, and what you want to achieve, the clearer the path you need to take on your journey, and the more specific you can be about the process.

Get your taxes in order. Work with your CPA or tax advisor, or get books on how to set up a home office and get credit for your writing business on your taxes based upon current tax law.

Start keeping records of every expense, conversation, and action you take with your new business. There are many software programs to help you do this including:

  • Bookkeeping: QuickBooks or Quicken are the two most popular bookkeeping software programs to help you set up your business accounting records.
  • Know Your Local and Federal Business Laws: Does your area or region require a work permit or business license for writers? Typically there is a maximum of income you may generate before you are required to have a business license. Some types of taxation requires permits and legal forms. Find out if your writing comes under any of that legislation, local and national.
  • Keep Track of Your Time: Writers tend to write off-the-clock, so to speak, not keeping track of their hours, but this is now a business. Learn how to work more efficiently by tracking your time. Famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury rented a typewriter in the study room at UCLA’s Powell Library for ten cents per 30 minutes, which cost him $9.80 to write Fahrenheit 451, and taught him how to use his writing time with greater effectiveness for time management. Apps that work on your computer, phone and table to help you track your time include Toggl, RescueTime, Timesheet, Chrometa, and PayMo.
  • Create Templates and Forms: Create templates in Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, WordPerfect, or whatever word processing tool you use for submissions. These include letterhead, memos, cover letters, query letters, submission trackers (more on these further down), writing resume, submission formats, and other common business forms. You will most likely submit through online forms and email, but create these so they are ready to attach to emails, or copy and paste the information into emails and forms. There are many templates and examples on the web for writers.

Here are some articles on how to make money with your short stories, articles, and poetry, tackling the business side of publishing.

Know Your Rights

In “this Huffington Post article on getting your book published, author Melody Moezzi recommends:

Above all, whatever happens, never compromise your moral or artistic integrity for anyone. And don’t take my—or any other individual’s—advice alone on anything, especially when it comes to the arts. Do your research; consult books, organizations, and individuals; compare suggestions, but in the end, decide for yourself.

Know your rights before submitting or confirming a submission acceptance. Do the terms of the agreement work for you, your writing, and your career goals?

Check the terms and agreements, policies, and rights of every submission guideline before you submit your work. What are they asking for? What are you willing to give away? Does the money you get offset the loss of rights to this story?

There are two core types of rights in publishing

  • Publisher Rights: Publication Rights are a type of copyright or license granted the publisher for use of the work as the first to publish a previously unpublished work. Many publishers want First Rights, the right to be the first to publish the work anywhere. Others will allow the work to be published elsewhere previously, or after a specific time period, giving the publisher First Internet, First Anthology, or other First Rights.
  • Author Rights: Better known as Copyrights, these are your rights to protect the original content as the author/creator. By granting Publishing Rights to a publisher, you are giving license and permission to use your work, but you still own the rights, unless you hand them over to the publisher and walk away from the work with no hope of future earnings.

One of the most famous publishing rights is FNASR, First North American Serial Rights. This right states that you are selling the right or license to a publisher to be the first to publish the piece in North America only once. When the terms of the contract are complete, the piece is published, and time has passed as stated in the contract, the rights revert back to you and you may resubmit the work elsewhere and face different rights. As the piece was previously published, you will need to look for publishers willing to accept Reprint Rights, First British Rights, First India Rights, First Internet Rights, and other rights for publishing.

For more information on what these rights are and how to interpret them in writing agreements and contracts:

Who Are You Writing To and For?

“I write for young adults.”

That’s not specific demographic audience. Narrow it down.

“I write for teenage girls entering puberty, flush with the new discovery of their bodies and their powers.”

That’s a more specific audience.

Be specific with your audience. The above could be narrowed down to Latina teenage girls living in New Mexico. an article written for people over 50 considering retirement, it might really be for people over 50 without savings, retirement funds, or personal investments to keep them going after retirement in a way that maintains their current lifestyle.

Drill down through the assumptions about your readers and whom you are writing to and for. Often, you are writing for yourself, so describe yourself. You are writing information you want to know or wish you’d known, so who are you? What are your needs, your economic, social, and educational description?

The clearer you are about your reading audience, the more specific you can be about narrowing down publications for submission and describing your audience to a potential editor in your submission cover or query letter. It’s the first question they will ask, so answer it for them.

Knowing your audience also helps you write better, especially when it comes to writing a title for your piece. Writing a title for a technical tutorial is different from writing one for a teenage girl’s magazine.

Look around your house. Check the bedroom, bathroom, near the couch. What magazines do you subscribe to? Which magazines catch your attention when passing by the magazine rack at the local grocery store? Check your bookshelves.

The odds are high that you are already reading material related to what you are writing about. These are your initial markets. Find their submission guidelines and style sheet (writer’s guidelines) to see if your work measures up.

Research the markets for your style and type of writing. What’s out there that would be an ideal match? There are online and print sources for tracking these down, but start with a simple web search for magazines, publications, journals, anthologies – match it with the keywords used to describe your work and writing style.

How to Submit Stories, Articles, and Poems

Patrick Icasas of The Write Life recommends avoiding submission mistakes such as not following the guidelines, not researching the market and genre, not editing or proofreading thoroughly, and not proofreading the cover letter.

But in the rush to submit, don’t forget to give your short stories the attention and preparation that will help them succeed. In my three years on the submissions team of Flash Fiction Online, I’ve seen countless submissions with heart-breakingly minor mistakes that kept stories from being considered for publication.

Make sure your story stands out in the slush pile in a good way. If you’re going to spend the time crafting an intricate, exciting story, make sure to give it the best chance of success.

Each publication has two key documents, often combined into one, that tell you exactly how, what, when, and where to submit your stories, articles, and poems, outlining their specific needs.

Read through these and follow each instruction. Failure to do so could result in a rejection no matter how great your story.

  • Submission Guidelines: The submission guidelines take the writer step-by-step through the process of how to submit their work to the publication. This may include specific formatting, styles, and the writing they are seeking currently, as well as deadlines for submissions.
  • Writers Guidelines: Also known as the Style Guide, this is a document that outlines how your work is to be written to match the form, style, and voice of the magazine, if applicable. Some publications only accept first person stories, while a few require second person, and some expect third person. Some expect the submitted work to be styled for easy formatting by the typesetter for the publication. Typically, writers guidelines spell out the requirements of the written work to be factual, fact-checked, use real or fake names, long or short paragraphs, headings/subtitle usage, the use of bold and italic, spelling (American or British), and other style elements.

Let the publication tell you how to submit, but learn the general terms and conditions for such submissions from experienced writers and freelancers.

Keep Track of Submissions, Rejections, and Acceptance

There are many ways to track your submissions and their results. You can do it on paper, a whiteboard, with sticky notes, or digitally on the computer.

There is no perfect way to do this. While there are many articles on the web to help you create a tracking system, it must be customized to meet your needs and working style.

To help you consider your own system, here is a simple technique for doing this on the computer for those new to publishing.

File Dates

Consider adding dates to your drafts and final work in the file name in addition to version numbers. When a file is modified, the file date changes, and having the date in the file name protects it.

Dates of the creation of file documents, research, and notes may come in handy if you have to deal with copyright infringement, and it helps you keep track of your work over time.

  1. Create a folder on your computer called “Drafts” or something similar in your Documents folder. Here is where you will put your drafts and works in progress. Place each one in subfolders with the title of the written piece and all the files associated with the development of the piece such as images, research, notes, etc. When a piece is ready for publishing, add “final” and the date to the file name and copy it to the Submissions folder in its own folder.
  2. Create a folder on your computer called “Submissions” or something similar.
    1. Create a subfolder in “Submissions” titled “Forms.” This is where you will place all the templates, forms, and information you will use for submissions. These include submission templates, cover letters, resumes, bios, portraits of yourself as an author, press and media, award lists, etc.
    2. Create a subfolder titled “Submission Tracking” or just “Tracking.” In this folder you will place a spreadsheet or word processing document to track your submissions. Keeping it isolated from the rest makes it easier to find in the future.
    3. Create a subfolder for each genre such as Short Stories, Articles, Memoir, Travel, YA, Children, Poetry, or whatever works for you.
    4. Inside of each of the genre folders, create a folder with the title of each story, article, or poem you wish to publish.
      • Inside each of these folders, put the final copy with a version number in the file name such as “When Your Pet Needs a Vet on the Road 03Jan2016 v1.doc.” If you edit the writing between submissions, identify it as v2, v3, etc., and make a note in your submission tracker form of which version you sent out.
      • Add to this folder scanned rejection letters and any comments and notes in text files or word processing files about your thoughts on the response and how to improve or change the article. If you find the work receives the same comments from multiple editors, it could be a clue you may need to change things, or redirect your marketing to a different publisher.
      • Add to this folder a copy of your submission cover letter and notes on the submission for reference. You should have a file for every submission.
  3. Create a subfolder called “Published” in the “Submissions” folder. If a piece has been accepted and published, move its folder out of Submissions and into Published to separate it from the active submissions. As your work gets more and more accepted, consider adding subfolders for each genre. Depending upon the publishing rights, you may wish to republish this piece, or rewrite it for another market.

The final order of the folders might look like this:

  1. Drafts
    • Story 1
    • Story 2
  2. Submissions
    1. Forms
    2. Submission Tracking
    3. Short Stories
      • Story 1
      • Story 2
      • Story 3
    4. Articles
      • Article 1
      • Article 2
      • Article 3
    5. Memoir
      • Memoir Story 1
      • Memoir Story 2
    6. Children
      • Children Story 1
      • Children Story 2
    7. Poetry
      • Poem 1
      • Poem 2
  3. Published
    • Story 64
    • Poem 43
    • Article 29

It is also highly recommended that you create a Submission category or label in your email program to sort correspondence by Submission for reference.

Consider organizing your paper files in a similar manner, filing draft and final pieces together with submission information and correspondence.

The Submission Tracking Form

Developing a submission tracking form is beyond the scope of this article, but in general, it should allow you to track the status of each written piece as you submit it, it is returned (rejected or accepted), notes from editors, and money generated when sold.

Some track submissions on a general basis, adding information to a document or spreadsheet as they go. Others use more sophisticated tracking methods, tracking by individual story, by individual publication, all pulled into a master list to track where the submissions are and their status.

Excel or a spreadsheet program is typically the easiest way to do this. Here are some articles and examples of submission tracking spreadsheets.

Robin Mizell offers a list of free and paid submission services worth considering that offer easy ways to track your submissions, especially for scholarly work and journals.

Other software and online services for submission tracking include:

Where to Submit Your Work for Publishing

Now that you know the audience, the genre and topic, and you’ve finely honed your written piece, it’s time to submit it.

Here is the most important piece of advice in this article:

Submit your writing only to publications that want it, as they want it.

Read through the publication’s description and audience. Look for their “needs and wants” list for article submissions. Pour through their writing and submission guidelines. Follow them to the letter.

Pay attention to the fine print. The submission guidelines will advise you of compensation, copyrights, exclusive rights, and other publishing rights. Also note what it says about their expectations for you to promote your published work and their publication. More and more contracts and agreements are adding author promotion stipulations.

There are many places to publish your articles, short stories, and poetry. There are consumer magazines and online journals, often with online as well as print content, websites, anthologies, literary journals, short story collections, blogs…the list today of where you can publish is greater than at any time in history. Don’t forget to look for writing contests, a great way to get experience and exposure, and if you win, add to your growing resume of credits.

To look for places to submit your writing, check your local library for a copy of Writer’s Market for the current or recent year. They also have market books for specific types of writing such as poetry, children’s, short stories, etc. Track down your genre, and see which publishers feature that material, and what they want and need. Copy the information and add it to your list of publishing sources.

Check out online sites and lists for publishing locations:

There are also now online services that connect writers with publishers and editors in the freelance publishing market. Check out:

Rejection

Author Ellen Jackson wrote:

Success as a writer depends more on intelligent persistence than on raw talent. By “intelligent persistence” I mean the ability to learn from mistakes, to figure out what you’re doing wrong, and then to change it. I know a talented writer who gave up after one rejection from one editor. I know another writer–with very little natural writing ability–who writes and rewrites and gets rejected over and over. The first writer has never been published. The second writer has published more than thirty children’s books. As James Michener said: “Character consists of what you do on the third or fourth tries.”

Rejection. We attach too much negative significance to that word. Think of it as a chance to try again, an opportunity. Some writers actually have celebrations when they get rejected, comparing themselves to famous authors known to be rejected dozens if not hundreds of times before acceptance.

Professionally, a rejection is just a notification that your story wasn’t needed. The reasons could have nothing to do with your writing.

  • They just did an issue on that subject.
  • They just bought a similar story before seeing yours.
  • They did a similar story a year ago and it is still too soon to repeat.
  • It’s too long/short.
  • It doesn’t match their readership.

It’s professional not personal, so treat it accordingly and sent it right out to another publisher. Keep them in the air, juggling, and someone will catch one.

Here are some tips for handling the lost opportunities.

What To Do If Accepted

If your writing is accepted for publication, work with the editor on any editorial changes that may be necessary.

Show gratitude as well. Don’t blubber and fuss, just make sure you send them a professional thank you with the acceptance of their terms and conditions.

Inquire as how to promote the work before or after it is published. Some publishers have very specific instructions for authors promoting their work, and others expect and trust you will, but less controlling. Either way, prepare your marketing material early while the article and acceptance is fresh in your mind, and put a reminder on your calendar to schedule the promotion as the publish date could be 3-12 months from now.

Then send your next article, story, or poem out.

Once published, if the material is online, take screenshots of it and save the web page to your hard drive’s published folder (in a web browser, File > Save As) to preserve a copy for yourself. If in print, your publisher/editor should provide free copies. Scant these and print a few copies to add to your files, and include a copy of the scan in your Forms folder to include if examples of your work is requested.

Make a note in your records of the article’s status as published, and start your marketing campaign to tell the world you’ve done this amazing thing.

Then do it again.

Start Your Author Platform Now

In an interview for Writer’s Digest on what authors would do different with time to look back on their writing careers, authors Melinda Leigh and Kira Peikoff explained:

Peikoff: I would have taken more advantage of the early lead times for things like publicity. I knew about things like that from working in publishing, but I think I would have done more with it—like send out my galleys to certain indie stores, rather than hang on to them for sort of a long time like I did. Just get everything out really early, make sure that all the long-lead publications are contacted months and months in advance. I would start thinking about my publicity six to nine months out, versus three months out.

Leigh: I would even say, go further than that. Before you’ve even sold that book, start your publicity. That’s when you have the time—before you have deadlines, before you have edits, before you have those really tight time constraints. Build your website then. It doesn’t have to be anything specific, it can just be a plain WordPress site. Get that up and running. Get yourself on Facebook, get yourself on Twitter.

Set up a free WordPress.com site, and a Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ account for you as an author. Start using them. Write example stories. Share your journey. Tell your personal story, if appropriate. Publish on these at least once a week. Not novels, just short, newsworthy stories, tips, techniques, and examples of how you write and what you write. These become your online resume, how editors and publishers can find you as well as readers.

If a story or poem is accepted, this is where you shout it out to the world with pride, with a link to the publication and your work. Brag! You earned it.

It feels complicated at first, but think about these sites as the fence you lean on and talk to your neighbor, or a local bakery, pub, beauty parlor, or barbershop, where people hang out and share their stories and the news. Do the same online to get started, and you will learn and grow your platform with time, experience, and published submissions.

More Information on How to Get Your Story, Article, or Poem Published

This is just a simple outline of the basics to help you get started with a freelance writing career or part-time work. Getting started right may help you in the future as you build upon your successes in publishing articles, short stories, and poems, and who knows where it might lead.

For more information, see these articles on publishing.

Please do not ask to have your article included in this list. We will update it of our own accord when necessary, but know in advance that all such requests will be rejected. Thank you.

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