A list of things I wish I knew when I started writing for publication

Isabel Yap
Dec 3, 2017 · 5 min read

In no particular order:

You don’t need to send thank-you’s to form rejections. They won’t be read. (Note: this won’t get you blacklisted or anything, it’s just not necessary.)

You have no idea who will make it, so don’t assume you do, ever. The chances of someone succeeding go way up if they follow the basic rule of: don’t be a butt.

This community works at its best when people support each other and give of themselves generously.

If you are fake and a user, that bubbles up eventually, so hey. Stay genuine and don’t step on other people. There’s more than enough room for all good work.

At the end of every year there is going to be this thing called awards season. It’ll be fun and it’s exciting if you and your friends have had work out and are hopeful, but…it’s also stressful as fuck.

How I’ve learned to cope with awards season: 1. it’s totally okay to self-promote; let people know what you’ve written! 2. share your faves from that year! 3. it’s okay to feel all the feels (sad, jealous, ignored, etc). Go offline for a bit and breathe.

Publication isn’t a magic bullet. You’ll still get blocked. You’ll still get impostor syndrome. You will wonder if you will ever write anything good again. You will want, want, want the next thing — asap. That’s normal. Stay grounded and do the work.

A lot of your friends in this community will need help. Help them out if you can. It’s what friends do! But if you have your own shit going on and can’t engage at the moment, that’s okay too. Don’t drown in guilt over this.

Reach out to your heroes. The community isn’t as huge and intimidating as it seems. Most people that you get starry-eyed over are genuinely shocked and pleased that they have a single fan.

Send them a tweet or an email; strike up a conversation. Signal boost their stories. Support them. You should never demand or expect anything, but you might be pleasantly surprised. I am so pleased that I can call some of my writing heroes my friends.

You are going to put incredible amounts of pressure on yourself: to write, to submit, to publish. But publishing* is not in your control. So take it easy with the trash-talking of yourself, and remember: all you can do is do the work, as well as possible.

Social media is going to be one huge goddamned distraction, and at least once a year there will be a massive community-wide trashfire event that will make you lose all faith in everything. It will pass. Try to keep out of the trashfire bits and stick with good folks/known entities.

Slush readers really, really, really do want your story to be amazing. They are on your side. They have read many meh stories and want yours to be the one.

Cons are good networking events and you can learn some interesting things about craft and/or the publishing industry from them. They’re not necessary (also, they are US-biased and cost $$). They’re more fun if you go with someone you know.

That one writer who you’re like, ‘holy shit they’re amazing everything they write is gold AND they are super cute AND they have this perfect instagrammable life’ is probably struggling more than you know. It’s impossible not to, but try to avoid a comparing headspace.

Honestly: the playing field isn’t even. It’s really not. Privilege comes into play in a huge way; so does access, and who you know. Again — all you can really do is focus on your work. But IF you’re in a position where you can help even out that playing field: you should.

You will long for the good old days when writing was for fun and you weren’t obsessing over venues and submissions and who will read the work all the time. The fact is: you’re a different writer now. (Note — different =/= better.)

Your relationship with writing has changed. Of course you’re going to think about an audience, or where this story should go. And you will want, desperately, both publication and that old sense of play. I don’t have answers for this one, except to keep trying for that balance.

Your friends in this community will also be your colleagues and your business partners. The lines can and will get blurry sometimes. Keep that in mind. It doesn’t hurt to be careful with who you trust.

It’s not a race, but it will absolutely feel like one, and you will see people start to peel away from the pack and your heart will fall a million miles and you’ll think: I’ll never get there. But that’s only true if you take yourself out of the running.

You might have the delightful experience of meeting someone who, umm, has actually read your work, and umm, liked it! The correct response is to thank them. And then maybe ask them about what they’re writing, or other authors they like! Incorrect response: dissing yourself.

You may be wondering: how the heck do people get into anthologies? Two ways: 1. they get solicited/invited to submit, which is up to the editor’s discretion; 2. there is an open call for subs and you send your work in.

Everybody loves gossip, and it will come up, and Twitter is full of juicy gossipy goodness, but. But. The internet is not the best source for cold hard facts. Use your discretion and your filters. You likely do not know the full story.

There will be highs, lows, days when inspiration strikes, and then long stretches of time when you think about writing and decide that’s a life that belongs to someone else. And you will feel so, so, shitty on the shitty days. It’s okay to cry.

The only one who can kill your dream is you. (Thanks, Jim Butcher!)

You will need to figure out your writing life. No one else can do this for you (though by all means, sound it out with trusted folks!). It’ll take time, and it’ll keep changing, and that’s okay.

And. *Deep breath.* Last thing, for now. You deserve to do this. You deserve to write too. It’s going to be hard, and not a lot of people are gonna get it, and it’s going to suck sometimes. But there’s a reason why you write. Writing is yours, and you are very lucky to have it.

This is slightly modified from a Tweet thread I wrote on 28 November. Read the original here.

*Someone pointed out to me that ‘publishing is within your control; choosing to be published by others is not.’ That’s true, and an important distinction to make. When I said publishing in this context, I meant traditional publishing.

Isabel Yap

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Writer of stories, mostly about monsters. Product person. Heart lies somewhere at the intersection of poetry and tech. http://isabelyap.com