- Follow the trail of writers you admire, whose work has at least one of these: a similar tone, content, POV, or theme as your own. Check out these writers bios, websites, etc. to see where else they’ve published their work.
- Social media is your friend. Twitter in particular, is a great place to research publications and get a sense of who they are and what they like. Each one links to their publication so it is an easy way to check out content and style.
- Look for themed issues of journals/magazines/reviews. If you have a story that can wedge its way in, even with the slightest relationship to that theme, go for it.
- Study the submission lingo of the venues you’re considering. If their words don’t resonate with your sensibility- too poetic, too ironic, too highbrow, too dopey- consider passing.
- Visuals matter. Make sure you’re comfortable with the publication’s format. Some smaller ones are spectacularly formatted and worth having your story in, even if they don’t get the same amount of action as some of the larger, more popular ones. And you may have a better shot with them.
- Keep submitting. For every rejection, send another submission out. Immediately, if you can. It helps keep that sinking feeling of failure at bay.
- Submit widely, but selectively. If you have a story you think is your best, that all your writing partners, friends and family have told you they think is spectacular, send that one out to your wish list of top drawer publications first.
- Be patient! Some of these places (especially the ones in #7) take forever to respond.
- Be impatient. Consider submitting to publications that will give you a quick response for a nominal fee.
Q: Thanks for visiting The Backstory Cafe this week, Alice! You’ve shared such solid advice here, especially your tips on getting to know literary magazines. They can vary greatly in style and content. Do you have a list of magazines you’re targeting before you write a new story? Or do you write the story first and then find a match?
A: Thanks for inviting me, Windy! I hope my advice is solid, especially in the murky-WTF-am-I-doing world of story submission. Even though I have strategies, it still mostly feels like I’m searching for a needle in the haystack.
I’ve never written a story with a magazine in mind, but that sounds like an interesting approach! I always write the story first. Often the story writes itself away from my original intentions and ends up an entirely different beast. It’s only after I know what kind of beast it is that I try to find a possible publishing match. Perhaps more than the proverbial needle, I’m searching for a good home for the bizarre child I’ve birthed and no longer want living with me.
Q: Perfect analogy, Alice. Marketing a story is all about the search to find it a perfect home. You write books and shorts. How do you split up your writing time?
A: I seems to focus on one genre or the other for extended periods of time, weeks to months. I need to harness a different sensibility and voice for the books, which are for kids and the stories, which are for grown ups. At the moment I’m waiting for one of my novels to be published before I start any other kid stuff. I’m leaving that slog to my agent, who’s fantastic and believes in my kid lit writing, maybe more than I do myself at the moment. I could write a War and Peace length epic on my almost and maybe experiences in the kid lit publishing world.
Q: I’m looking forward to your book! Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A: Sure. The book that is currently being ‘shopped’ is WAVEHOUSE, my YA novel. It’s about a super talented, but pathologically shy surfer named Anna who lives in an East Coast beach town who contends with her dysfunctional family while confronting her deepest fears. You know, light stuff. It’s considered a realistic contemporary novel, but any surfer familiar with East Coast waves will agree that the surf is never as consistent or good as depicted in WAVEHOUSE, so I like to call it a fantasy.
Q: You and I met in a class taught by the amazing flash fiction writer Kathy Fish. I’m always searching for new opportunities to improve my skills, and that seems to be a theme among multi-published writers. Writers I know who volunteer at lit mags and take classes and read craft books are getting published. How important is it for someone like you, who already has an agent for her books, to continue the learning process?
A: First off: Kathy’s class was amazing!!! She’s amazing!!!! And we were all amazing!!!
Q: Agreed!!! I generated seven new stories during that class. SEVEN! (For those of you who wish you could get in on the awesomeness of studying with Kathy Fish, you can. She teaches two-week flash fiction intensives every month or so. Details at www.kathy-fish.com.) So, what about those skills?
A: As for structured opportunities for improving skills: That is so important, and difficult to find, at least for me. It’s hard to find ongoing classes for advanced, published writers. I’m basically self-taught and don’t really know what I’m doing, why some of my writing works, or why it doesn’t. If I’m going to be in a class I want to be with folks who I can learn from, as much as from the teacher. When I first decided to write short fiction a few years ago, I took an advance short fiction class with Jan Clausen at NYU. It was a lucky move. Like in Kathy’s class, the other students were all super talented, and had more formal training than I did. I wrote my first short story ever for that class, STAGGERWING. It’s still my favorite story (FYI, you can find it in the “Love Stinks” issue of Atticus Review). The students continued to meet as a critique group after the class ended until life took us in different directions. I miss it terribly. Writing groups are also important for keeping up your chops. But I love assignments! Prompts! Craft exercises! Bring it on!
Another thing for the advanced published writer to research is the occasional master class with a true Master. Usually you have to submit work to get in to those. Ugh. Another forum for rejection, right? I lucked out last year and got accepted to a class with Allan Gurganus. Two hours listening to him talk about my work and that of the other lucky few in the class provided me with a much needed boost. It’s worth applying to those if there are good ones in your geographic area.
Q: Great advice, Alice. There are so many great mentoring opportunities out there!
Your writing has a varied audience. Some of your work is for kids, some for young adults, and some for us grown ups. I’m curious about working in all of these categories at once. Do you have any advice for keeping it straight? Do you have to work on a different voice for each project? And what about the platform aspect. Does a writer who writes across age groups need to have separated platforms?
A: Like I said before, I don’t really work on all at once. I tend to immerse myself in the voice and world of my characters when I’m creating. I can’t go from being a twelve year old mermaid to being a sixty five year old man in the same day. That said, I worked on edits for WAVEHOUSE while writing a story about a psychotic mother, BIGFOOT. Editing is one step removed. It’s a more critical kind of writing, uses a different part of my writerly self. I worked on the story in the morning and the edits in the afternoon. I’m best at creating in the morning, the new stuff gets me at my sharpest.
As for the platform question. I think it is better to have separate platforms. I’m not an example in this department, sorry. I developed my kid lit platform before I started writing for adults. I honestly never knew I would get so in to this short fiction thing. Never thought I’d have stories published. I have a separate page on my very peppy, kid-friendly website that links to my more sordid, ironic adult stories. It is less than ideal. I think eventually I’m going to have to figure out what to do about that…
Wishing you luck with all of your projects this year, Alice! Thank you for spending some us at The Backstory Cafe today and letting us hear about your writing life.
A bit more about Alice: Alice Kaltman writes novels for kids, and short fiction for adults. Her stories appear in Across the Margin, 34th Parallel Magazine, Storychord, Luna Luna Magazine, Dialogual, The Stockholm Review, the Atticus Review, The Victoria Rose, People Holding, Chicago Literati, and Joyland, where her story STAY A WHILE was selected as a Longform Fiction Pick of the Week. Alice is represented by Zoe Sandler of ICM Partners. You can connect with Alice here:
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