Friday, April 13, 2012

Step by Step

For beginning writers, the hardest step towards publication is the first. Once they achieve that first step, the others come easier. However, too many beginning writers mistakenly believe that they should begin at the top. After all, they look to bestselling authors for inspiration. One makes it into a top magazine on the first try while another lands their first book on the New York Times Bestseller List. The odds of a beginning writer making either of those are worse than winning the Mega Millions jackpot.

The first step is the all-important one. Making sure that one is solid takes perseverance and patience, plus lots of hard work. The best advice is to start small—write a short article or a short story, not a book. Writing a book is like having a baby elephant. It takes 22 months to grow in the mother’s womb and a lot of care after it’s born. On the other hand, writing a short piece is like a chicken laying an egg and sitting on it until it hatches.

Once you’ve had a piece published, you need to keep moving farther out on a limb—but without falling off.  If you write non-fiction, you might publish several short articles in your local newspaper. If you prefer fiction, you might publish a short story in a small literary magazine–for a little pay, of course.

The next step should be to contact a regional magazine, suggesting an article on a subject you know well or a short story. A good way to get feedback before jumping into unknown waters is to write an article or short story and let several friends or colleagues read it. Feedback from "readers" at this stage is more important than acceptance from an editor. If "readers" like the piece, then an editor will most likely enjoy reading it, too. But its more than just liking it. Discussing your article or story with your "readers" to obtain detailed feedback is even more important.

But before you send a piece anywhere, it’s equally important to study the periodicals to find out what they publish—a least a year’s worth of issues. Read the content as well as the ads to find out what sort of content to send the editor’s way.  And reading the letters to the editor will give you a clue to what readers are thinking.

Nothing builds confidence like money in the bank and words in print. Until these accumulate in sufficient amounts, writers rely on substitutes—hope and encouragement. Some beginning writers treasure the letters of rejection that come back with manuscripts they submitted on speculation. They pore over them with a fine-toothed comb searching for clues as to how the manuscript might be revised to become a winner. However, too often they read too much into the editor's words. It's better—and more professional—to immediately send the rejected manuscript to another market, or to revise it and begin again.

But if an editor says he or she has too many stories and might be interested later, you should put a note on your calendar to do just that. If an editor says the idea isn’t a good fit with the publication but would consider others, it’s a good idea to immediately send more ideas.

Many struggling writers feel that their work is better than comparable material they see in print. Just because a piece has been published doesn’t mean it’s good. It’s all subjective. Writers learn to depend on the likes and dislikes, and whims, of editors. Having your article or story rejected may have nothing to do with the subject or your writer’s skills.

Therefore, don’t take a rejection personally but look at the situation objectively. Is getting a piece in a particular publication all that important or will trying for another equally good publication suffice? As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

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