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If you’re a writer whose dream is to land a publishing contract with Random House and see your book in stores nationwide, consider creating a strong writing bio first. Building publication credits before querying a literary agent is a strategy that gets your foot in the door, and based on our years of experience preparing submissions, writers who can boast publication of shorter works tend to have an easier time getting an agent’s interest.
Build your publication credits by submitting short stories, poems, or essays to literary journals and magazines. Some folks believe it’s not important to have published any short works before approaching an agent. With a fantastic novel that can stand on its own, you may well be able to find an agent without any publication credentials at all, but there are a number of reasons publishing your shorter work can help you get ahead.
1. Being published shows agents that you can manage submission deadlines and guidelines and that you are a serious writer with serious goals. You establish yourself as savvy and in-touch by being published in smaller markets, and you lay the groundwork for a career in lengthier fiction.
2. If editors like publishing your short works, it means they believe their readers will enjoy your writing. When an agent sees that other people are getting excited about your writing, he or she will be more likely to want in on the action.
3. Having credentials in the small press market may help you get a leg up on the competition. Most agents are aware of how difficult it is to secure one single publishing credit. It may be enough to sway an agent into representing you. If an agent is offered two books of equal merit—with the only difference being that one author has a history of publishing short works and the other doesn’t—you can guess which book will get the contract.
4. Not only will publishing your shorter works make you a more interesting prospect, having those publications is emotionally rewarding. Acceptance letters from literary magazines go a long way toward keeping you motivated as you write your book. A short story can be written in less than a week, whereas the novel can take years. Keep your dream alive with smaller publications of short fiction.
5. Publishing in literary magazines might help you directly with getting an agent. A number of our clients have been approached by big New York agencies because an agent read a story in a literary magazine. Getting your work, your name, and your bio out there can get you noticed in the same way that a model might get noticed simply by hanging around at the hottest nightclubs. Add a blurb to your bio that you are “currently working on a novel,” and those who have enjoyed your work can be on the lookout for future projects.
At Writer’s Relief we help our clients build their portfolios as they work toward publishing a book. Some of our clients publish stand-alone works from within a larger book in order to show that their book is marketable. Others write stories that are entirely separate from their books.
Short story and essay collections are especially difficult to place for writers who have not published any of the works within the collection. Because collections are generally not considered as lucrative as other book-length forms, agents and editors like to be assured of an author’s potential for “popularity” by seeing some selections from the longer work published.
There are literally thousands of journals and literary magazines out there, and it should not be an impossible task to find a home for one of your short stories or poems—provided your writing is strong and your submissions are targeted and professional. At Writer’s Relief we have an up-to-date database containing detailed information on hundreds of nationwide publications, their editors, and their guidelines, and we’ve helped hundreds of writers reach their publication goals. (Read How to Submit Poems to Literary Journals and Magazines.)
Here are some general tips for submission.
Research carefully. Find the perfect home for your work by submitting to magazines and journals that publish work like yours. Don’t waste your time (or an editor’s) by not doing your homework or blindly submitting to any old publication.
Start small and work your way up. Naturally, if you’re confident, feel free to go straight for the big guns, but most writers start with the smaller markets. You may have to forgo paying markets at this time in order to get your foot in the door.
Follow guidelines to the tee. If the magazine is looking for work under 4,000 words, do not submit 5,000 and hope that your work is good enough to be accepted despite the length; and do not assume that the editor will be willing to cut it down to size for you. Pay attention to submission dates, formats, seasonal themes, the genre and style the magazine accepts, and any other rules they set forth. Follow them carefully.
Submit to the proper person. Again, do your homework and make sure you have the most current editor’s name for your submission. Details like this go a long way in impressing an editor and can increase your chance of being noticed.
Call Writer’s Relief (or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’d like us to help you build up your publication credits. We’ve helped writers fine-tune their personal submission strategies since 1994. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!