Publishing · Writing

Publishing

I’m amazed at how much publishing has changed over the past decade or two. When I was first becoming serious about being a writer, I would spend hours looking for magazines to submit my work to. This was at the very beginnings of the internet as we now know it. There wasn’t much out there – very few fiction magazines had websites – and the only somewhat reliable way to find a place to submit to was in the Writer’s Digest annual compilation of market listings. It was a big paperback, similar in size to a phone book. Oftentimes, the listings would be out of date by the time they were published, but that was just part of the game. Find a magazine and hope they were still operating.

It was also a pricey endeavor. There weren’t any electronic submissions. Everything went through the mail, so that meant buying large envelopes that would hold a manuscript without folding it. Then there was postage. A thicker manuscript cost more to send, so a struggling writer had to be sure their story was ready and hope the editor on the other end was in an accepting mood when they picked it up off the slush pile. It was almost as time-consuming as writing a story. But less fun.

The days of paper manuscripts and mailed submissions are long gone. Everything now is via email or online submission portals. I no longer have to look through hundreds of pages of market listings because I can go online and find websites that compile a searchable and constantly updated database of magazines. That part of the submission process has gotten easier and less expensive than it used to be. I appreciate that.

But there have been other changes that have changed the face of publishing for both good and bad. Arguably the biggest change has been the steady decline of print media. Twenty years ago there were hundreds, possibly thousands, of magazines looking for stories to publish. It wasn’t terribly difficult to get a story in print, although it depended on how low you set the bar. For example, it was tough to get published in the New Yorker (where they pay very well for fiction), but I could easily get published in a small-circulation magazine or self-published ‘zine and either get paid very little or not at all.

When starting out, I felt that getting a publishing credit was sometimes just as important as getting paid. I just wanted to see my name in print and to be able to list a handful of previous publications in my cover letters. Sort of like a writing resume’ – the more experience (publishing credits), the more likely an editor would be to read my submission. It has a certain logic, but I’m not sure about the accuracy of that assumption. Having worked as a magazine editor (both literary and commercial) I admit that I was more likely to pay attention to a submission from someone with more experience. Not that I’d dismiss the submission from someone with little or no experience. Having been there myself, I always tried to balance acceptance between the two.

What this means is that I’ve had to change the way I look at things like finding publications to submit my work to, how I submit my work, and how I track it all. In a way, I like the changes because I find it easier to do all the tasks I used to do with pen and paper and mail and stamps. Sure, I may be required to pay a small submission fee now and again, but if it helps to support a publication I’m willing to hand over a couple of dollars. And if I’d rather keep the money I can always self publish. But that’s a discussion for another day.

RB

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