Aug 15, 2007

On Getting Published

Eight years ago I was a disillusioned ex-business owner who was trying to figure out what the hell he was going to do for the rest of his life. With some prodding from my wife, I decided to go back to college and finish my BA in some career-oriented field like secondary education.

Along the way a few of my professors noted that I displayed some aptitude for writing, and encouraged me to apply myself toward improving my writing skills. I sought out writing tutors, pestered my instructors for critical feedback on my work, and began reading books on style and grammar.

Within a few short years I began to branch out into different genres of writing, especially journalism. By 2004 I was racking up professional and academic awards, and had over one hundred published articles in a variety of popular and academic periodicals.

Whoop-tee-doo. I have since learned that getting published has less to do with the quality of writing as it does sheer persistence and pluck. There are many thousands of venues for writers to get published, and if a person submits to enough publishers, eventually that writer will get lucky and find an editor who needs to fill some last-minute space.

I am occasionally asked by unpublished writers about the best techniques to getting one's work published. With that in mind, I decided to create a post with some tips on improving the chances of getting one's work published.

1. Know the typical readers of your chosen publications, and make sure your work reflects this. While the term "dumbing down" might seem crass, there is much to be said for matching your writing with the reading levels of the audience. For mass-market publications such as newspapers and popular periodicals, avoid high-fallutin' vocabulary, and keep paragraphs short. Save the rhetorical gymnastics for more highbrow and academic publications.

2. Know the style and format expectations of the publication's editors. Nothing irritates an editor more than a submission that needs a lot of formatting. Read the submission guidelines, which are usually located in or near the masthead. If a publisher wants you to follow, for example, AP style, then take a few minutes to figure out what that means for your work.

3. When you are starting out, take any publishing opportunities that come along. Never turn your nose up to a publication, even those free health newspapers in the doctor's office. If it pays and it publishes, a periodical is a winner in my book, and your CV becomes all the more thicker. You can become choosy when you are a star.

4. Start a blog. Sure, there are a lot of poorly-written blogs that give this emerging media an undeserved reputation as the "junkosphere." That being said, it is relatively simple to stand out from the pack of lesser writers on the Internet, sort of like playing basketball against a group of first-graders. I have had my blog writing featured in countless national and international websites, and my blog presence has brought me quite a few paying gigs as a writer and a historian. Finally, the world of communication is rpidly changing, and a quality Web presence is a must for writers in the twenty-first century.

5. Work hard at your craft. Ten years ago I knew next to nothing about the art of writing. While I may never be mistaken for Herman Melville, I nonetheless have achieved considerable personal, professional, and financial success with my writing, and the only recipe for success as a writer is hard work. Read style guides such as The Elements of Style, and improve your competency in grammar by making use of sites such as Purdue University's Online Writing Lab.

6. Write every day. No exceptions. Whatever your writing endeavors entail, you will never succeed if you are a slacker in the business of actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Set daily minimum goals for yourself, and become your most severe taskmaster. In my own example, I push myself to create a minimum of one original post per day on this blog, and I force myself to write no less than one page per day when I have academic writing that looms overhead. Stephen King, in his impressive book On Writing, noted that he has a goal of ten pages per day when he is working on a new novel. By sticking to your goals you will quickly accumulate an impressive body of work in short order.


Jay Ott said...

That's very sound and wise advice. I just want to add that also holds true for photographer's seeking to get their work published.

I think it should be mentioned that editors also take into consideration one's ability to defend their work.

"To those seeking publication, it's just a numbers game, so play it. With enough time, talent, hard work and a little bit of luck, anyone can get their work out there."

Mad Jack said...


Thanks for the post. The only exception I would make to this is maintaining a web log. If your Blog is political, and one way or another most are, what you write can cost you. Check out Kim du Toit's blog sometime for an example. Kim was turned down by several clients after they read his Blog.

jshriver said...

I'm kind of an aspiring writer. While my avenue is a bit different from yours, I'd like to release a short story or novel. Since I didn't major in English and have no aspirations of making a living off it, I found print on demand to be a nifty new piece of technology.

While it's really hard to get a company to buy your book and get it to print. You can use print-on-demand to get some copies made, and available in several outlets. I'm still in the writing stage, but when I'm done I'm definitely going to use Out of the POD services I've found online, this one had the most services and bang for the buck.

I do you like your advice on writing. I'd like to think I have a creative mind, but I plan to use those resources you listed to better my grammar and writing quality.

Note: This isn't an ad lol, but anxious to have found a place like lulu and POD in general. So it might be useful to anyone else who might be in the same boat I am.

historymike said...

Excellent point, Jay Ott. I am far from an accomplished photographer, but I have had several photographs picked up by major media through this blog.

historymike said...

Good point, MadJack. Be cautious about what you write, as it can come back to haunt you.

historymike said...

Lulu is quite an intruguing concept, jshriver.

And the ability to engage in print-on-demand has opened up quite a few opportunities for aspiring writers.