Autumn Toolkit for Writers

Monday, October 17, 2011

After the past week of Indian-summer weather, fall has officially arrived in Chicago. Since I’m a fiction writer and also a sucker for organizational tools, autumn usually means book release events, and registering for the AWP conference. But this year, I’m also trying to apply my organizational zeal to my reading and writing life.

To that end, I set up a “literary” list in my Twitter stream, downloaded several new, free e-books, and am taking stock of my literary magazine-submissions (or, if I’m being honest, the lack thereof).

There are two schools of thought about submitting creative work for publication; one is that publication should not be your ultimate goal—that you should only submit a piece when it’s been through dozens of drafts, and feels “ready” beyond a shadow of doubt; (if a piece of writing is ever really done is another story). The other says after giving a piece due rewriting, it’s best to get the thing out the door while it’s still a living/breathing document, and not strangled by revision. The best approach likely depends on the writer’s personality. Since I tend towards obsessive editing and shyness with my work, for now I’m taking the “get it out the door” approach.

Which brings us to submission logs. Do you other writers keep one? I have an Excel spreadsheet that lists titles of works to submit, magazines to submit to, dates submitted, and the responses. If you haven’t yet created this terribly useful tool, this blog post explains how, noting: “The key to getting published–besides having tight stories and cultivating good networks of relationships with editors and publishers–is simply to have lots of pieces going out all the time.” And Nanci Panuccio, founder of NYC’s Emerging Writers Studio, provides detailed advice (per local writer Joe Meno) here.

Everyone’s lists of desired publications will be different, but lists for you to pull from abound online; see here, here, and here.

The most helpful provide context and depth, like this site, which ranks magazines according to how many Pushcart Prizes were awarded to each over the previous year. 

Poets and Writers also maintains a large, alphabetical list of mags that specify genre, the reading period dates, and if simultaneous submissions are allowed. Choose your favorites, organize them by tier, (you might not be quite ready to hit up the New Yorker) and you’re off and running. Well, almost. You still have to actually write.

Which reminds me—the danger with “organization” is that it sounds a lot like “procrastination.” And if I'm going to come clean, here I must admit: my own organizing sessions cluster oddly around deadlines.