As we near the end of the semester, many students have produced a body of work they are proud of and excited to share with their professors. But why stop there? Writing is something we can share with the world. But maybe you’re hesitant about this. Should I publish my work? How do I know if it’s ready? What should I know about publishing? How do I do it? After speaking with Writing Arts professors, I’ve compiled a list of tips that students should know if they want to get their work out there for the world to see.
Tip #1: Your work is important, regardless if you publish it or not.
We all crave external validation, especially as writers; we want to know our work is good! Whether or not you publish your work, it’s still important. In writing your piece, whether it’s a poem, story, essay, or even full length work, you have improved your skills and learned things along the way. Writing is a process, and I believe that the process is just as, if not more, important as the product. What you did to get to and through your work was important. The piece will remain in place, but you will move on. I think knowing this is central, especially when you do decide to publish your work. Whether or not your piece is accepted, what you learned and how you grew through the process will help you in the future.
Tip #2: Find publications you enjoy reading
Reading is essential to being a writer. If you want to get your work out there, you need to go see what’s out there! Not sure where to start? Websites like NewPages and Poets & Writers Magazine have lists of literary magazines you can explore. Find publications you enjoy and devour them. There are so many out there, it can be overwhelming! But if you find pieces you enjoy, remember where they were published; those are possible places to submit your work! These magazines will often include a “submissions” page (you might have to dig around to find it) where you can read about what they are looking for. If you have the means, buying previous magazine editions can be pretty cheap (like ten/fifteen bucks). Buying previous editions will give you a clear idea of what they are looking for and has the added benefit of supporting their work. This tip is an ongoing process — keep searching and keep reading.
Tip #3: Let others read your work before you submit it.
Before you let go of that piece, give it to others and ask for their honest feedback. It’s best to give your piece to at least two people so you’ll receive a variety of feedback. They can be friends, writing partners, family members, whoever you can, get it to them. They’ll let you know what’s working and what’s not. Even if you don’t agree with their feedback, it’s important to “try it on.” See how they came to their conclusions, there’s bound to be a gem of insight you weren’t able to see. I spoke with Megan Atwood who echoed this point, “Be willing to listen to feedback and to incorporate it. That doesn't mean changing your entire piece or compromising your overall vision! But it does mean listening to people who aren't as close to your work as you are.” Then, start revising. Take your time with this step, because...
Tip #4: There’s no rush
The real work begins in revisions. For me, this is one of the hardest parts. The process of drafting can have it’s ups and downs, but the critical, important work comes in the revision phase. So it’s important to take your time. There’s no rush. Let go of the anxiety of trying to make it perfect, and just keep chipping away to make it better. Heather Lanier provided this helpful list of questions to consider while you’re in the revision phase:
“#1: Have you exhausted all your hunches and plans and visions for the piece? Is it exactly how you want it? Are you BS-ing yourself anywhere, with an easy sentence or plot-twist or a line or idea? Is there any place where you know you're selling your imagination or intellect short? Be ruthlessly honest about this.
#2: If the answer to the above indicates all green lights, and if you've taken the piece as far as you humanly and creatively can, then share it with two people. What is their response? Do they see anything you didn't? Do they offer any helpful understandings that make you want to take something a step further?
#3: After addressing #2, go back to #1. When you get all green lights, OR, when you just feel plain DONE with a piece and believe it has something to say to people, some reason to exist in the public eye despite its imperfections, send it out there. Then get back to work on something new.”
Think of these questions as you go through the feedback and revision phase. But remember...
Tip #5: Really, there’s no rush.
You might need to step away from this piece for a while, and that’s okay! Take the time you need. Come back with a fresh pair of eyes, be critical, and revise. You really want to make sure you’re ready to submit. But once you are, go find those publications you admire and submit! It’s okay to submit to multiple publications at once (most publications are fine with this), just make sure you inform the publications you are doing so (“this work has been simultaneously submitted to multiple publications”). Then, wait. Wait for acceptance, or for a rejection.
Tip #6: Embrace rejections
It’s part of the job! Keri Mikulski had this advice for rejections, “My advice would be to try to keep your balance. Don't get too excited when you receive an acceptance, or too down when you receive a rejection.” Getting published takes perseverance, and even if your work has been accepted, you’ll likely get some rejections down the line. Remember that writing is subjective, so don’t take rejections personally — just keep trying. You’ll experience ups and downs along the way, so it’s good to maintain a level head and focus on the heart of your work: the writing.
Keep this process in mind: read, write, receive feedback, revise. Keep that up, and you’ll be out there in no time. But remember: your work is important and valuable, whether it is accepted or not! Embrace those rejections, they’re part of the job. Learn from them, keep reading, keep feeling inspired — that is what is most important.
Below is a list of journals exclusively for undergraduate students (courtesy of Heather Lanier):
Thank you to the professors who helped me compile this list. Their names are listed below: