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Six Steps to Getting Published Outside of Medium

[Image description: a fanned out display of magazine covers]

Medium makes it easy to publish, and easy to connect with readers. Why would you want to publish your work anywhere else? Some possibilities:

  1. You want to reach a community that is different than the one you’ve found or made on Medium.
  2. You want to see your byline at the NYT or Ploughshares.
  3. You want an agent or a book contract.
  4. You want to be recognized by MSM or someone as a writer.
  5. You want your work to win fellowships or awards.
  6. Whatever floats your boat.

In the future, self-publishing (what Medium is made for) may be equivalent in status to getting someone else to publish your work. Writing may, in the future, be judged solely on quality. But we’re not there yet. Getting an established publication’s imprimatur on your poems or stories or nonfiction is still what matters most to agents and publishers.

No question — sending your work out to publications is time-consuming and anxiety-provoking. But it must be done, and it must be done a lot because once you reach a certain level of competence as a writer, the rest is luck. Increase your odds of succeeding by increasing your number of submissions.

By the way, embrace rejections. Getting rejections means you’re getting your work out there. Many people (me included) aim for 100 rejections a year.

Here are six steps that have helped my poems and stories get into literary journals including North American Review and Catapult, and into more general interest publications including O, the Oprah Magazine, and Guernica. I hope they work for you!

  1. Thanks to the internet, submitting is easier than it was back in the paper days, and almost all publications now accept electronic submissions. Most make use of Submittable, so set up a @Submittable account today if you don’t have one already.
  2. Read widely among publications you admire, and where you can envision your work fitting in. Pick 5–10 target publications and check their submission guidelines. Do they take Word documents, PDFs, RTF’s? Do they require a specific format? For prose, it’s probably double-spaced, 12 pt Times New Roman. Do they read blind? If so, remove your name and other identifying info from your piece.
  3. Aim high unless you have a good reason not to. That good reason could be that you like a new magazine’s aesthetic, or that you want to connect with a specific readership. I’ve published work in new magazines that turned out to be winners. They now look great on my publications list, and they’ve continued to publish me.
  4. Make sure your targets accept simultaneous submissions. Most do.
  5. Give editors what they want. Double-check your submission piece(s) for compliance with submission guidelines. If different targets have different formatting guidelines, I save files separately: “Poems A, B, and C for Black Warrior Review.”
  6. Prepare your cover letter, and copy and paste it into the Submittable box. Attach your file. Click Submit.

Once you have a piece and a cover letter ready to go, along with your list of targets, submitting to 10 different targets will take you less than 20 minutes. Like house painting, it’s the prep work that takes the most time. And it should.

Next up, information about keeping records of your submissions.