Chew On This
By Theryn "Beaver" Fleming
Some writers I know shy away from calling themselves writers. Others treat their writing as a shameful addiction, keeping it a secret from their friends, family, and co-workers, and "come out" only in the presence of other writers. Still others disrespect their successes, and those who had confidence in them, by insisting they are "unpublished" because their credits consist of ezines, small-circulation magazines, local newspapers, and the like.
Fact: Writing is the ONLY thing that makes you a writer. Publication and payment are perks, not prerequisites. The word "writer" is not a statement on the quality or circulation of your words. It is simply what you do.
Fact: The presence of your writing in ANY publication, even if it was "just a newsletter", means yes, you have been published. When you say you are unpublished after your writing has appeared in a publication, you not only disrespect yourself, you disrespect the publication, and the other writers published there.
Fact: You may NEVER earn your living from writing. Many successful, well-known writers hold down second jobs. This doesn't make them less a writer than someone who does make enough money solely from writing. Some types of writing pay better than others. That is all.
Want to get some respect as a writer? Give yourself some. And start treating others--including those "little" publications--with the same respect.
I have an interesting perspective. I'm a writer, who probably has similar writing credits to many of you. I'm also an editor of one of those little publications. So I get to see things from both sides of the fence.
As a writer, I've heard many a tale of woe from other writers. It's easy to get sucked into thinking that everyone in publishing is out to get the poor, struggling writer. But hop on over to the editor's side, and it quickly becomes clear why most of these writers aren't getting published. Allow me to enlighten you.
There are three ways to get published in Toasted Cheese: open submissions, contests, and Best of the Boards.
BEST OF THE BOARDS
Best of the Boards is our break-in category. It ties the writing community to the literary journal, giving our community members both a chance to get a work-in-progress published, and to participate in the editorial process by voting for the best piece.
Since BotB pieces are works-in-progress, readers are looking for potential, rather than perfectly polished pieces. That said, you're far more likely to be nominated if you treat a post as you would a submission. Spellcheck and proofread your work, format it correctly, and check for continuity errors and other mistakes before posting. It's a good dry run and your readers/critiquers will appreciate this extra effort. Post junk, and that's what it'll get treated as.
To participate in BotB, you must check the small box that says "consider my postů" when posting. This allows others to nominate your post, and gives us permission to publish it if it wins. If you don't check the box, your post can't be nominated. What we've found is that most people don't check the box. We're not sure why. Maybe it's a lack of self-esteem, or conversely, maybe it's because they feel this category isn't "good enough" for their work.
Newsflash: Any credit is better than no credit. Here, you have the added satisfaction of knowing your peers admired your work. So why not check the box? If you do, you're already one step closer to publication than someone who doesn't. You have nothing to lose, and a writing credit to gain.
We run four contests a year: the "speed story" contests in spring and fall, and theme contests in summer and winter. At present, we do not charge entry fees. That's right, it's free to enter. Free! The editors choose the best from the entries received, and the top three stories in each category are guaranteed publication. Guaranteed! Three stories! What are you waiting for?
No, seriously, what are you waiting for? These are good--no, great--odds, much better than your chance of winning the lottery or being hit by lightning. It's really hard for us to feel sympathy for writers who whine about being unpublished, or under-published, at the forums, but then don't make the effort to enter the contests right here in their own backyard. (For the record, entries are blind-judged; we don't learn who wrote what until after the winners have been chosen.)
Newsflash: You can't be discovered if you're not putting your writing out there. Hackers aside, no one's going to go snooping around your hard drive looking for the Great [Insert Country-Of-Choice Here] Novel.
Contests are an excellent way to break into publishing. No cover letter is required--which comes as a great relief to many writers--but you MUST follow the contest rules. Don't, and your work might be discarded before it even gets read. At best, you've prejudiced the editors against you before they've even read your work. Is that what you really want? Following the rules is basic consideration for those you are trusting with your work. It shows the editors you have a brain and know how to use it, and believe me, that goes a long way.
You've probably heard the term "slush pile". Perhaps you laughed and thought it can't be as bad as those whiny editors make it out to be. Well, it is. And we've only grazed the tip of the iceberg; it's hard to imagine what it's going to be like as our submissions grow.
"Slush" is a pretty accurate description of what arrives in our submit box over the course of a submission period. It's gray, it's gritty. When it melts, it reveals icky bits we'd rather had stayed concealed. And we spend much of our reading period wishing it would go away. But we keep reading because we hope we'll find a pristine bit of snow amidst all the gunk.
Newsflash: If you're thinking that because Toasted Cheese is an ezine, we'll publish "anything", you're wrong. On the contrary, we're trying to build a good reputation, and we can only do that by publishing quality writing. We publish only a small percentage of the submissions we receive. We don't publish something simply because it's the "best of what we got". We only publish pieces we believe deserve to be in Toasted Cheese. If nothing does, that's what we'll publish: nothing.
Want to jump out of the rejection pile and onto the page? Start by submitting your work in a professional manner. Read the guidelines. Follow the guidelines. Treat a submission as you would a job application. After all, that's what it is. There's something about email that makes people think it's okay to be cutesy or cozy regardless of who they're writing to. It's not okay. In fact, it's rude. A good rule of thumb when submitting: If you wouldn't put it in a hard-copy submission, don't put it in an email version.
SUMMING UP: Five Steps To Writing Like A Pro
- Believe that you are a writer. If you don't, no one else will.
- Take time to learn your craft. Don't submit "the first story you ever wrote".
- Start small. Submitting work to big-name competitions/publications early on is just setting yourself up for failure.
- Treat the publications you're submitting to with the same respect you expect to receive from them.
- Write, Edit, Submit. Repeat.
Writing is hard work. If you're not prepared to work hard, I suggest you choose another profession. Perhaps neurosurgery.
The Beav can be reached at beaver[at]toasted-cheese.com.