The Cold Hard Facts

Getting Published – The Cold Hard Facts

Here’s the coldest, hardest fact of all to start with: unless you are the acknowledged world expert on some highly focused subject you have only a miniscule chance of getting published in the ordinary course of events.

Reading a couple of blogs earlier this morning I learned that one publisher chooses
approximately 1 in 1100 of the pieces of submitted work each year. They were poetry publishers so perhaps things are better in the prose market? The second comment I read was from a publisher of ‘hobby and interest’ articles; they reckon they publish about 1 in 1500 submissions.

Of course, we all know there are lies, damned lies and statistics and the rates quoted above are only statistics. If you are really determined to get published you have to figure out how to improve the statistics.

There are two ways you can do this: you can put out more work or you can target your submissions more accurately. Putting out more work doesn’t actually change the statistics it just produces the same result more frequently. In the first case mentioned above if you lift your submissions from 1 a day to 2 a day you should get more frequent publication.
It’s plain, though, that you’re still unlikely to make a living even with the improvement. Perhaps targeting more accurately is the way to go.

There are two main ways to improve targeting. The first is simple: read the label. If a magazine says it’s looking for articles on axemanship you aren’t likely to get anywhere fast by submitting a poem inspired by a portrait of the Mona Lisa.- or even a portrait of George Washington for that matter. The second is a bit more complicated: you have to research your potential market more thoroughly. Where is the magazine published? Who does it say its target audience is? What competition does it struggle with? What do outside commentators and/or other writers say about the journal, its work and its performance in the marketplace?

If it is important to do all this work you only want to have to do it as infrequently as possible: in an ideal world once is enough. To ensure you’ve done your homework and you don’t have to repeat it unnecessarily the next major task is thorough and accessible record keeping. There are various ways in which you can achieve this, ranging from notes on the back of envelopes to recorded recitations of the facts you’ve gathered on YouTube. As usual, the best way is somewhere between to extremes.

If records are to be available for consultation they need to be reasonably permanent. On paper or computer would seem to be the best bets. (Actually the computer alone is clearly the best but not every poet starving in his or her garret can afford a computer of their own. Before you start building your records take a bit of time nutting out the essential things you want to record and the best way to record them. Just as a simple example, if you think some markets are better prospects than others you want to highlight this fact.
You might choose to record best markets in gold and least likely ones in grey, or you might give ach market an identifying number indicating the group you assess them as falling into. It doesn’t matter whether you assess 1 as best and 10 as least likely or vice versa as long as you remember which way your scale runs. You can then decide on the different characteristics you want to record and how you’re going to manage each of them.

I hear groans and mutters of disbelief from those disinclined to put in this preliminary work but I assure from experience that it’s the only way to go. You are. In fact, a one man business and you have to operate as a business. The difference between you, a writer, and most other businesses is that you are all the departments in one person. General manager, production line worker, marketer, accountant, advertising manager, salesman and sales manager and dispatcher – you’re all of them rolled into one.

For many writers this will all be too much; they will prefer the way they are rather than the way they could be. That’s OK. The more of those who claim to be poets who choose to stay in the dark cellars of ‘unknown’, the greater the opportunity for the rest of us to improve on the basic ‘1 in 1,000’ or worse.


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