Sunday, August 31, 2008

Iowa Writing Coach: Sometimes Getting Published Works Like It Should

"New Lives" is a recently published essay of mine that has kind of a sweet little history to it. For one thing, writing it was cathartic as I came to terms with the empty-nest sadness I experienced after our sons left home for college. For another, it was relatively easy to find a publishing home for the essay. Just a couple of days after I submitted it, the editor emailed a warm note of acceptance and appreciation. Once in awhile, getting published seems almost effortless.

As a freelance writer I'm becoming more savvy about where to submit my article ideas and finished essays. In the beginning I was unrealistic, submitting my material to magazines without scrutinizing their pieces for styles, content, and intended audience. Like many beginning writers I thought that if I could just get one break in a well-regarded publication, I'd be on my way. But it doesn't work that way for most of us.

After some painful rejections I started submitting from the ground up -- from local and state newspapers, to regional publications, to specialized national publications, to more widely distributed publications. Now, before I submit anywhere, I do a careful analysis of the publication's content. Are the articles and essays personal or more journalistic? How much research seems to be required? How long are the pieces? What writing styles seem most prevalent?

I've also begun to acknowledge that some pieces belong in literary journals and magazines rather than commercial magazines. This can be a tough thing to admit to yourself as a freelancer. When you're trying to make your living this way, it's the commercial market that pays the bills; you can have a hundred essays published in that many literary journals and not make a cent on any of them. However, if you look at your published pieces as part of a portfolio that shows the range of your skills, the published-but-unpaid essays can play an important part in snagging future writing work, including book contracts.

After I finished "New Lives" several years ago, I promised it out loud that I would find a home for it. I knew this might be tough because the essay was long and didn't exactly fit the mission of most women's magazines, whose articles tend to me more factual or how-to oriented. When I read about Mom Writer's Literary Magazine, I knew that could be the perfect venue for my piece.

Luckily, the editor agreed. My mission is accomplished: the piece is out, my empty-nest sadness is gone, and I have another published piece in my portfolio.

1 comment:

Colleen Gonzalez said...

Thanks Suzanne! Reading your experience is very encouraging for a "newbie" like me! Being honest with yourself can be a tough but necessary lesson to learn!