Grunt Work

I’ve heard others say I should tailor my writing to fit a chosen market. In other words, write to fit the magazine in which you’d like to publish. Maybe I’m just a rebel, but I’ve always done it the other way ‘round—write first, match to a market after. ‘Course, that might explain why I’m not published yet.

But I don’t want to write a cookie-cutter piece. I want to write from my heart, from my mind, from my experience, from whatever moves me, and I simply can’t imagine that stories written in such a “backward” order are doomed, just because I didn’t force-fit them into a predetermined mold. I have faith there are plenty of readers out there who will find my stories moving, inspiring, funny, accessible, or what have you. Thus there must be a suitable market for each of my stories.


The trick is to find it, and I’m still working on that. (When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.)

About a month ago, give or take a week, I finished two short stories in one day. After reading, simmering, revising, beta-readers (thanks Chris, Alyssa, Becky, Cathy, Laura and Kerry!), and final revisions, now I’m searching for a place to submit.

Enter grunt work.

First, I must classify my story. Is it non-fiction? Memoire? Literary? Genre fiction (in which case further classification is required: sci-fi, slipstream, fantasy, mystery, thriller, etc.)? This step forms the groundwork for all the rest. Without knowing what my story is, I can’t know where to submit.

Regardless of classification, there is a market to fit every story, and the second step of my grunt work is to search the Internet to find these gems. I do this so often now that some names (Analog, Masters Review, Carve, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Ploughshares, and others) are familiar to me, and I know (more or less) what they publish. Others I have to look up every time. On the upside, you benefit from my research since I post links I’ve found here on my site.

But simply identifying each publication’s style isn’t enough. Step three is to read examples from each magazine or webzine, so that I can see what the editors like – i.e., what they’ve selected from the slush pile as print-worthy. It’s only then I can see whether my story might fit well within its pages.

If I think a magazine is a good fit, I move on to step four: scrutinizing the magazine’s submission guidelines. And I read them hard. Even if I’ve read them before, I scan them again. Guidelines change all the time to take into account new scenarios or situations. Also, the guidelines will tell me whether or not the magazine is open to unsolicited submissions. Sometimes, these publications get overwhelmed with material to the point that they close the window to allow their staff to catch up. (Writers are legion; potential markets seem few by comparison.)

If the fit is good, and if I want my piece to appear in their pages or on their site, and if they are open to submissions, I move on to step five: prepare a submission document that includes whatever they’ve asked for, double-check it for accuracy and compliance, then submit it either via e-mail, U.S. Postal Service mail, or whatever online submission system the publication uses.

Grunt work is not quick, nor is it something I can do mindlessly. The publishers aren’t looking for reasons to write off my submissions. Quite the contrary! They want great stories. But because there are so many of us, and because they receive such a large number of submissions, they can afford to be choosy. I try not to make it easy for them to say no.

Still, with all that said, they have somehow managed to keep saying “no.” (sigh) I try not to get discouraged. It’s just a matter of timing and finding the right fit. Believe me, when I figure it out, you’ll all hear me cry “Eureka!” no matter where you are. In the meantime, I make it a learning experience. I read every online magazine I can find (well, okay, I’ve done the best I can; not all have free samples online, and I can’t afford to subscribe every one or even buy a sample—some of which cost $10 per issue!), and with every story I read, my writing improves. I note little turns of phrase, how a writer might use a relatively common verb in an uncommon way to really paint a clear picture of what’s happening, that sort of thing. It all contributes to the growing knowledge base. Like I said before, none of it is wasted.

In the meantime, I’m preparing to start my next story. Stay tuned; I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

One Reply to “Grunt Work”

  1. Good morning, Drema. I think I start at a different place, but end up right where you are. I long to write to a market–a huge market–because I need the money. I try to think what’s most “readable” for all those readers of novels out there–you know the ones: they log onto Amazon and buy books 🙂 Unfortunately, when I sit down to write, what appears on the page is a usually well-written book that is not marketable. My characters and their stories (as, ultimately, decided by them) simply refuse to co-operate.

    So, my characters continue to emerge from my heart and my mind and appear on Amazon. And I continue to write, every day, and am learning to love Ramen noodles.

    Good luck to us both.

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