The (less obvious) Keys To Publishing Success By Amy Laprade

I’ve been submitting my work to literary journals since 2013 and have, thus far, made moderate progress—while operating under the belief that the act of doing so is a cut and dried task: familiarize yourself with the style of writing each journal publishes, follow what it is editors are looking for, edit the heck out of your work, and then make sure your cover letter sounds polite and professional before hitting SUBMIT.  

What I hadn’t realized, before registering for Beth Filson and Michael Goldman’s, “Making Effective Submissions Online Workshop,” are the ways in which organization, visualization, and understanding the motive for engaging in said process can play a vital role in publishing success, beyond the said basics—and can mean the difference between receiving a “Congratulations!” or a “We regret to inform you,” in an email headline—the difference between a modest publishing record and an impressive one.

Having had the opportunity to meet Michael and Beth at literary events of the past, I took this course because I was curious to know what their publishing journeys have been like and what insight they might have to offer. 

While much of what they shared with us was not new to me, there were fine details I had yet to consider. As I reflect on these fine details I now realize that I’d been going through the motions of submitting to this journal and that journal, this contest and that contest—throwing my work out into the universe without a clear motive as to why.

“What is your goal? Why do you want to be published?” These were the first questions Michael asked us to ask ourselves, and what brought my mental merry-go-round to a screeching halt.

As rudimentary as these questions may seem, I realized that I didn’t have a clear-cut or ready answer because no one had ever asked me this. I had never even asked myself, let alone taken the time to contemplate an answer. My unrefined motives have muddled my movements, shadowed my choices, and rattled my subconscious—making the words ‘what’ and ‘why’ feel as uncomfortable as the pebble tumbling inside the toe of my shoe. 

“Is your goal to feel validated? To launch a career?” Michael’s further questioning offered much to think about—a lot to sit with. For now, I can only say that I write because I feel I have something to say. Because I feel I have something to say, I want to be heard. And the way for me to be heard is to be read. And the way to be read is to get published. And the way to get published is for someone to find value in what it is I have to say. 

But, even this answer feels over simplified and dissatisfying—as there is more to what Michael is asking us to ask ourselves—and will take some time for me to articulate. When I do, I will continue to revisit and to revise the big “Why?” throughout my writing and publishing career. 

“What commitments are you willing to make?” was another question Michael asked us to think about, and another I had yet to consider—as I have found myself submitting on an intermittent basis—my ambition rather sporadic—and even then, contingent upon the “Open For Submissions!” notifications I’d receive from journal mailing lists that crop up in my mailbox—contingent upon having the good sense to blow off doing laundry, watering the plants, running errands—all the while knowing that not only getting published, but getting published extensively is paramount  to self-actualization—and yet not a question I’ve thought to ask myself. “What commitments are you willing to make?” is a question that asks me to ask myself if I am doing enough to protect my art, my career. It begs me to be more protective of my time. 

“The more editors say “yes” the harder it is for other editors to say “no,” Michael explained.  In my mind I translated his words into that old adage: success attracts success. I also internalized it to mean that if one or two—or three or more—editors validate my work by publishing it, the easier it is to sway that editor who may be on the fence about my work. Approval can be contagious. 

I also took that to mean that more acceptances means that the writer has created a buzz around his/her work, has established him/herself in the literary world in a way that makes it difficult for folks in the industry not to notice.

We were also asked to think about a budget when submitting our work. In other words, “How much can you—or do you—want to spend submitting your work to journals and contests?” 

Though this may seem like a simple enough question, it is a loaded one that not only challenged me to become more organized with my submission process, but offered me the freedom to shorten my list. I know myself well enough to know that when my submission list is manageable in size, I am more likely to follow through with it. Also, I believe that if I create a budget—in advance of the submission deadlines—for how much I can reasonably spend on contest and submission fees, the more likely I am to have the money set aside for said purpose—and am thus more likely to follow up with my submission goals. 

In the past, I might decide to drop $20.00 or $30.00 on the occasional contest, but then hesitate to submit more of my work because I hadn’t budgeted for multiple fees ahead of time. In turn, this would hinder me from submitting more than I would have liked. That having been said, I’m glad Michael broached this subject, because it’s not one I’ve heard others mention during craft talks. I now believe that budgeting ahead of time—treating submission fees as I would any other monthly expense, and then having a concrete figure as to how much I am willing to spend, will help me to establish a routine, which could bolster my publication success. 

Beth inspired me to become more organized in the way a writer can keep track of his/her publishing history, and the way writers can keep track of the editors he/she is waiting to hear from. She did this by showing us the excel sheet documents she created, which were, according to her, an alternative to using the account platforms provided by Submittable and Duotrope.  

Lastly, this workshop has made me realize that I’ve been overthinking the submission process. Overthinking fogs my thought process and causes me to feel stuck: “Am I stating this well?” “Does this sound dumb?” “Will the editors be annoyed?” “Am I forgetting something?” And on and on. Overthinking knocks the wind out of my sails and ensures that I will feel less inclined to approach the process with regularity. Michael assured me that what matters most to the judge or the editor is the writing itself—that the cover letter can be kept super short and still be effective.

He also recommended, when I inquired, that I do away with the header often used in formal writing when uploading cover letters to Submittable. To many this may seem obvious, but to me—and the way that I overthink everything—it is not only a dose of clarity but welcoming news! 

Amy Laprade – Winner of the Michael Doherty Award, Amy received her MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and has, for over 12 years, coached writers of many ages and backgrounds. Her work has appeared in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Canyon Voices, Plum Literary Journal and Write Angles Journal, to name a few.  So Nice to Finally Meet You… is her debut novel.