Submit only when your work is ready, not when your family or friends think you should.
Sometimes, the most well-meaning folks can do the greatest harm to an aspiring writer.
If Great Aunt Harriet insists your writing is the most wonderful thing she’s ever read and it ought to be published in every notable newspaper from New York to Los Angeles, my best advice is that you thank her politely for her kind sentiments—and not trust a word of it … especially if she’s patting you on the head while saying so.
Of course, the opposite can also be true. As the youngest child in a typically loud Italian family, I was routinely informed that nothing I had to say was of any importance—let alone of the slightest interest to anybody—so why didn’t I just shut up?! I grew up believing those harsh words; therefore, I left a great many things unsaid, and much of my early writing unshared.
That isn’t to say I didn’t pursue creative outlets. One uneventful summer, my friend Nancy O’Brien and I decided to start a newspaper. We “interviewed” our neighbors and listened for all manner of secondhand gossip, then retreated to the upstairs playroom in my parents’ house. Our first edition barely filled one page, and Nancy’s father was our only customer—and he only subscribed so we’d quit nattering at him. The fledgling Neanda News folded after that one slim issue. In retrospect, that colossal fail was probably for the best; we couldn’t print with any sort of regularity anyway, because the following week, we decided to form a famous rock band that would take the world by storm. (I suppose you’ve never heard of the Neanda Street Irregulars. Don’t feel bad; no one else has, either.)
High school afforded my first opportunity to do some actual news writing. I was asked to become a correspondent for the local newspaper’s school pages. For youthful writers, this can be a great way to gain writing experience. Young writers who are serious about getting published will find a wealth of information here. You’ll find concrete advice—I’m particularly fond of tip number three—with steps to take toward getting published.
Sound writing advice
Then again, these days, it seems practically everyone has advice to share about writing. Nevertheless, this collection of advice—including scrumptious tidbits from such notables as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, —is actually quite good, albeit callous.
Yet another bit of advice—this particular nugget comes from Tina Fey—makes a whole lot of sense for those of us who may have heretofore been somewhat timid about sharing. If you wish, go ahead and replace the word “joke” with “story” or “article.”
“You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke
you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that
kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it…You have to let people see
what you wrote.”
The first piece I submitted for publication as an adult was one I penned after the death of my radio-news mentor, published on the Op-Ed page of The Hartford Courant in July 1997 (they paid me $80). The second was an article about coping with the holidays after a pregnancy loss, featured on page one of the S.H.A.R.E. Pregnancy Loss Newsletter in December 1998 (I didn’t get paid, but it gave me a byline in a nationally distributed publication—which afforded credibility and enhanced my writing “chops”).
It isn’t vital, but it helps if your day job relates to your topic or bolsters your author bio. When those pieces were published, I was news editor at The Catholic Transcript and my articles were being distributed all over the country by Catholic News Service (some in well-respected publications in large cities). Submitting to other publications became a logical offshoot.
Seek out honest critiques
While you may be tempted to seek feedback from those closest to you before submitting a piece of writing, don’t rely solely on family or your circle of friends. Chances are, even if it’s horridly written, Mom, Aunt Sadie, and your BFF will smile, nod, and assure you anything you’ve given them to read is utter gold. However, as we discussed earlier, do not, under any circumstances, believe them.
It isn’t always so, but there’s a fairly good chance the folks closest to you are praising your writing because a) they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings, b) they don’t have the slightest idea how to offer a legitimate critique, c) they’re hoping for a really terrific birthday present this year, or d) all of the above.
If you hope to be taken seriously as a writer, have somebody critique your work. If you’re a student, ask one of your professors (preferably one in the subject area in which you’ve written) to review your writing. If you’re a professional, invite a trusted colleague to critique it. Do you belong to a writers’ group? Ask a few members of the group (those whose opinions you particularly value and respect) for feedback.
You want your writing to be its absolute best before you submit it. Remember the old adage about only getting one chance to make a good first impression? Don’t rush to submit your work only to realize (10 minutes after you’ve sent it off) that you spelled a few words wrong or, worse, left out a key piece of information!
Not sure whether your writing is ready for submission? A professional critique of your manuscript can be an invaluable investment in your success. The Institute For Writers offers a critique service, staffed by professionals with years of experience in a range of genres.
Additional submission opportunities
The Offbeat is a publication of Michigan State University’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures. Published twice annually, the editorial staff is currently seeking submissions.
The Wax Paper accepts submissions year-round. Pieces are chosen for “their ability to illuminate the humanity and significance of their subjects.”
Eastern Iowa Review will be accepting/reading submissions through March 31. They’re seeking lyric essays and prose poetry, as well as a variety of fiction categories: literary, mystery, spy, young author, and debut author. Payment is sparse, but there’s no submission fee (except for contest entries).
West Texas Literary Review accepts submissions year-round for poetry, flash fiction and essays. View their submission guidelines here.
Magazines, literary journals and newspapers aren’t the only places to submit your writing. Consider entering these writing contests.
Deadline is March 15 for three Bellingham Review contests—for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Top prize is $1,000 for each contest. Find information and submission guidelines here.
If you’ve got a manuscript of 50 to 300 pages, you have until March 30 to submit it for the Mary Hunter Austin Book Award. Check out specifics and submission guidelines here.
Deadline is September 30 for the Miller Williams Poetry Prize, offered through the University of Arkansas Press. Top prize is $5,000 and publication, and up to three finalists will be published. Find specifics and submission parameters here.
And entries are now being accepted for the Institute For Writers’ Sci-Fi competition where the top prize is $650, total cash prizes of $1,300.
Rita M. Reali is an award-winning author whose work has appeared in Reminisce magazine, the S.H.A.R.E. pregnancy-loss newsletter and newspapers across Connecticut and Tennessee. She’s spoken about editing at writers’ conferences and delivered presentations on proofreading to several professional groups. Rita also runs an editing and proofreading business, The Persnickety Proofreader, and blogs under the same moniker: https://persnicketyproofreader.wordpress.com. Her debut novel, Diagnosis: Love, was published in 2015; she published her second novel, Glimpse of Emerald, in 2017.