Getting published is a phenomenon with many angles. There's getting a book published, getting an article published, getting self-published, getting published online. People even publish stage plays so theatres around the world can perform their work. Whatever your genre, whatever your medium, as a writer, you will likely want to get published in some shape or form. While there are few magic bullets and many different "rules" depending on what you write, there are also some things to keep in mind that can help advance the odds of your being able to see your name and your work in print.
- Don't be afraid to start small and work your way up. When I come across new screenwriters sometimes, I am amazed that they really believe in a few months they will have their scripts on Steven Spielberg's desk. Without getting into a huge discussion of how tough it is to break into film writing, I'll say just that it's really, really tough and usually takes years to do. I don't want to crush anyone's dreams or tell them they likely won't be that one in a million script that gets through, but I do suggest they may want to have a backup plan, like writing and producing their own short film or maybe sending queries to small production companies.
I have the same advice for new writers of all sorts, especially new article and short story writers. While it's great to aim high, also realize that the most competitive magazines often don't work with unestablished writers, and if they do, are flooded with submissions. Getting published in most "big markets" in any medium is tough for a newbie - it's tough even for an oldbie! Keep in mind you will likely not sell your first freelance article to The New Yorker. You will likely not get your first mystery story published in Ellery Queen. Instead, as you hone your skills and work on your piece, look for small markets that will offer you a chance to "break in." These can include local papers, websites, newsletters, and small, independent literary magazines. These aren't sure thing markets, by any stretch, but many of them give you better odds at publication. And the more you publish, the better your odds at breaking into the next tier of markets. Keep in mind "smaller market" (smaller company, smaller circulation, etc.) usually means smaller paycheck, or maybe no pay at all. Only you can judge if working for cheap or for free is worth doing for a byline and a clip (published piece for your portfolio). For a website with writers' markets, see the link list below.
- Learn their rules. By "their" rules I mean the rules of whomever it is you'd like to publish your work. If you want to publish a magazine article, check out their submission guidelines on their homepage or ask for the magazine to mail them to you. If you want to publish a book, check out or query the guidelines of publishing companies. If you want to try to get an agent to do the hustling for you (mostly necessary for book publication), find out how they take queries (or if they take them at all). Sure, you might have your idea all outlined or your book or article already written, but that doesn't mean you send the finished or partially finished piece to the would-be publisher - not unless they say you can. Check out the requirements of your publisher of choice and make sure to follow them every step of the way. Commonly, you will be asked to do things like send a one-page synopsis of your potential piece; send a query letter talking about your piece and your own background; send a sample chapter or chapter outline; or "don't send anything- we're not accepting new authors at this time."
Take care to put your best foot forward when querying and/or submitting work to a publisher. This is your introduction, your "calling card," your interview, your audition. It's your shot at getting a "yes, send us the book, we'd like to work on it with you" or the "yes, send us the article, we can use it in our issue." For information on how to write a query letter, check the link provided.
- Persevere. Rejection is a part of writing professionally. While some small markets take anything they get sent, most publications and publishers have at least some standards, and more submissions than they can use. You will, eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, get rejected. Don't let this stop you. Don't take it personally. In fact, be happy about it. I don't think you can really consider yourself a professional writer unless you've been professionally rejected at least once. And consider yourself in good company: Chances are your favorite author was rejected many times before he hit it big. Read Stephen King's book on writing and you can read all about his rejection experiences. J.K. Rowling also had a lot of rejections before she became the best-selling author of, what is it again? All time.
Getting published takes effort, not just on the writing end, but on the post-writing, self-marketing end. So get back on the horse, find new markets, send new queries, and don't give up. If you don't believe in your work and keep pushing it into the world, no one's going to do either of those things for you. Be your own biggest fan and refuse to give up.
- Self-Publish. While self-publishing a book can be expensive, any blog-runner knows that self-publishing on the Internet can be quite quick and easy. While publishing yourself doesn't quite have the glitz of getting accepted by some big name publication (with a payroll...), it can still be a great way to express yourself and a great way to get your name and your writing out there into the world. Writing with the knowledge (or at least the hope) that someone will read is good practice, too, for writing with some kind of audience in the back of your mind. You may even get feedback. Self-publishing a book can also be a good way to get your name and your story out to the public. Self-published authors can be sold in bookstores and entered into various contests like any other writer. A company may see your work and decide to bring you on board. You never know.
- Remember that it's ultimately about "the stuff." What is "the stuff?" The stuff is the writing, the work, the pieces we as writers produce. And, really, though there's a lot to be said about the respective roles of luck, perseverance and connections when it comes to getting published, I really believe the biggest key of them all is making sure you have the best possible stuff to send out there. All the professional queries, networking, marketing, stick-to-itness and rabbit-foot-rubbing in the world will not be able to compensate for poor writing. Doors that a good query letter opens will shut on a poorly written submission. So, be sure, in the flurry of queries and finding out "how to get published" that you spend enough time on what really matters: the writing, the stuff.
Few things thrill writers at any level more than seeing their name and their words in print. You can join the ranks of the published if you work hard, find the right market, follow the right guidelines and no matter what: Don't give up.