Small press magazines are a great little institution, and still one of the best ways to get your writing work published. They may not have an audience of millions and they may not pay out a great deal for your work, but having small press magazines on your writing CV will mean a lot to publishers, agents and other writers, who understand just how important they are to the grand scheme of things in the writing world. Ignore them at your peril.
If you are thinking of approaching small press magazines as a way of getting your work published in hardcopy form (and it comes highly recommended, as there is nothing in the online world that feels as great as seeing your work in print), then follow these guidelines to submitting your work to the small presses. Your work could be accepted and in print in no time:
1) Always read a copy of the magazine you are submitting to before you send your work off. This may sound obvious, but there are plenty of writers who simply send their work in without reading the magazine and knowing the type of work you should be submitting to them. You could find yourself in the embarrassing situation of being declined because you’ve sent a hard boiled sci-fi detective story into a teen romance magazine. So read those guidelines more than once and get it right first time around. You may not get a second chance.
2) Submission guidelines are there to avoid the embarrassment mentioned in the first point. Read them and stick to them. If they are asking for under 3,000 words don’t go one single word over.
3) Only submit one story at a time to the magazine unless they are asking for more.
4) If they are asking for more than one story, send them your very best work. Quality over quantity every time.
5) Never submit the same piece of work to more than one publication at a time. You could find yourself in a very tricky situation and you could end up with neither magazine publishing you on this nor any occasion.
6) When submitting your work, make it stand out by printing your work on quality paper with full ink (poor paper with varying degrees of black and grey because of your dodgy ink cartridge isn’t going to help sell your work) and by having wide margins, 12pt text and double spacing. Plus, number your pages if you use more than one page per story.
7) Always include a well written covering letter with your story. It should highlight your experience (credits, academia and workshops attended) and introduce your work. Always make sure the letter is formal, and don’t try to be “crazy and kooky” just to try and stand out. It won’t work.
8) Personalised submissions are always likely to be better received, so find out the name of who you should be submitting your work to and address the envelope to them.
9) Include a stamped addressed envelope with your submission to ensure you get the work back at the very least. It could also improve your chances of receiving a response.
10) If the submission is being made via email, make sure you follow the submission guidelines and include everything that they ask for.
11) Don’t expect to be rich and famous overnight. Many small press magazines will pay you via a free copy of the magazine, or simply in ‘free publicity’ for having your work published. The topic of money should be in the guidelines (if there is going to be any). Also, be wary of any publication that wants you to pay to have your work in print. No writer should have to do this, unless you are 100% sure that it is going to pay off in the future.
12) Small press magazines are not the internet, so don’t expect to find your work in print the very next day. These magazines often have a backlog of accepted submissions that are chosen to be in keeping with a particular theme that the magazine is showcasing a particular month, and some are just simply flooded with entries! Give it three months before following up to see if they have received your submission. It seems like a long wait, but you’ll soon discover how fast time flies when you’re sending your work out to various publications and have to keep track of everything.
13) Be prepared to pitch to magazines or newspapers, particularly the bigger ones. The Huffington Post and The Guardian are two of the most popular high circulation places to get published in the UK, and they will often ask to be pitched to first (usually by an editor) before asking to see the work you have written. Whether the pitch is by email, post or by phone, you should be prepared and ready to sell you and your work.
14) Do your research. There are hundreds of magazines out there, and your work will be better suited to some rather than others. Take a look around on the net or visit a library to get an idea of what is out there and what is right for the kind of writing you produce.
15) Rejection. It hurts, but it is a part of being a writer, and should never be taken personally. It is highly unlikely that your writing is ever going to be rejected because it’s “rubbish”, it might just not fit that magazine. The next outlet could accept your work and be head over heels for it. You can’t please everyone all of the time. Remember that and you won’t go into a deep depression every time you receive a “thanks but no thanks” rejection letter. Take rejection on the chin and never reply to a rejection letter or email. You won’t receive a reply, as the editor’s decision is final.
Now you have 15 guidelines to follow for when you decide to take the plunge and start writing for small press magazines. Also remember to keep a look out for competitions and online versions of magazines. There are some great opportunities out there for writers, and the same 15 guidelines will apply to them, too. The main thing to remember is to make your writing the best it can possibly be. There aren’t many great writers out there who go unpublished for long.