When I first started submitting stories for publication, I figured I wouldn’t be considered for any of the more popular and competitive magazines. I set out to find possibilities that I thought I might actually have a chance at being accepted at.
First I read a ton of stories in journals, on websites and many that were self published. I decided on an extremely rough estimate of where I fell in terms of the strength of my stories. I figured it wasn’t entirely impossible that I was at the midpoint with about half of the stories submitted to journals that considered submissions from new writers better than what I wrote and 50 percent weaker than my stories.
I then looked at acceptance stats, to find journals that accepted 50 percent of the stories submitted. I thought that a 50 percent rejection rate was pretty high and I’d have a decent shot at acceptance at all those journals. Looking back at how naive I was makes me laugh.
The stats were clearly much more formidable than I anticipated. Not unusual, I found numbers such as the Number of submissions per year being 3000 with acceptance rates at .01 percent. In other words, out of 3000 submissions a year, a whopping 30 were accepted? I soon found that submissions for journals that were considered good choices for unpublished and emerging writers to submit to had anywhere from a 5 percent to 10 percent acceptance rate with one actually accepting 25 percent of the submissions they received a year. My heart sunk.
I wasn’t going to give up my dream of becoming a writer though, and so I became determined to figure out another way of determining journals where I could submit my work and actually be considered and even have a chance of acceptance. Thinking that brand new publications might have lower numbers of submissions since perhaps many writers hadn’t heard of them yet I looked for journals that were publishing their first issue. I still think this was a good idea and ultimately it did lead to not just my first publication, but my first paid publication. But it meant taking a bit of a different tack.
Don’t Discount the Personal When Trying to Get Published
I came across a journal called Weirdbook Magazine. The call said the magazine was returning after a 17 year hiatus and it would be the first issue since 1997. I figured that there was a good chance that not that many writers would come across the announcement and so I’d have a better than average chance of getting in. As I’d just finished a class in writing weird fiction I was in a mindset to write in that genre and created a short story I liked quite a bit in the next week. I sent it off and as I was impressed with the history of the magazine tried to think how I could improve my chances of being accepted.
The editor was extremely approachable and was frequently updating information and the status of the edition on Facebook and the magazine blog. I decided that if I could become more than just a byline on one of the stories submitted, maybe it could help. At least it couldn’t hurt. I helped with publicity, found ways to aid in online marketing and simply kept in touch, responding positively to news about the edition and magazine. When he updated the blog to inform readers that by the time submissions closed he had over 500 stories, I figured my initial impression that because it was a magazine that hadn’t been published in 17 year there would be fewer submissions was way off and I didn’t have a shot at acceptance. I continued to do what I could to help out anyway and kept in touch.
When the response came on my story, the editor said that while it wasn’t being accepted for the first new edition, it had come close and had been shortlisted. He then asked if I would allow him to hold it as if the edition did well enough to afford another edition he’d like it to be considered for that one. Of course I said yes, despite it meaning waiting several more months to learn whether the edition was a go or not and if so, whether my story would make it into that one. This also gave me more time to interact with the editor.
As it turned out, the magazine went on to another edition (and has continued to published in the years since then). Despite just as many submissions for that one, I learned my story was being accepted and I had my first paid publication. I can’t say for certain whether, or how much my interaction and willingness to help the magazine get its first new edition off the ground influenced the decision to accept my story. However, I can’t believe making myself more than just a name on paper had absolutely no effect given the number of stories submitted and ultimately selected.
Be Friendly and Make Yourself Useful
When trying to break into writing and getting your work published, the bottom line is there are many factors other than just sheer talent that influence whether your story is accepted. If you come upon a new magazine or one that hasn’t published for a while but is making a comeback, contact the editor. Tell them that you are impressed with the journal and that you submitted a story but whether or not it’s accepted that you’d like to get involved with the publication. Be sure to have some familiarity with the journal if it has been published before or if not be aware of what the editor intends for the new publication. Ask if there’s anything you might be able to help out with. Often the editor will come back and say they can’t think of anything specific but then ask if you have any ideas. Find something to offer if possible. Can you publicize it in some way? Do they need reviews and if so do you know anyone that would have name recognition that you can ask? If they are crowd funding the venture can you publicize that in a way that gets even one or two supporters?
Even if your story isn’t accepted that time around, keep in touch with the editor and continue to ask about ways to make yourself useful to them. This will make it more likely that your story will receive more attention and a better review (all things being equal) the next time around.
As an editor, I can tell you that often there are far more good stories that are submitted than we can possibly accept. Factors such as the degree to which the story matches the theme of the call and whether there have been too many stories on a particular aspect of the theme influence which are accepted. But even so, there are still always far more great stories than can be accepted and many often end up with the same ranking.
When it comes down to it, what influences which of these stories is accepted, is not always something entirely objective. Whether we’ve heard of the author, whether and where they’ve been published and yes, even the degree to which the author has weighed in on our Facebook page or been in contact with one of the editors can provide just enough goodwill to tip a story slightly over the finish line.