Are you a writer?
Your first instinct might be to say “no” or “I wish!” but before you stop reading, hear us out. Every time you write a paper, a social-media post, or even just some random thoughts in a journal, you are writing. Writing isn’t just writing stories or books—in fact, every time you take ideas in your head and translate them into words on a page or screen, you are being a writer. And, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a student as well.
As students and writers, we work hard to write our essays, outlines, and whatever else our professors assign us, sometimes staying up all night in a Red Bull–induced spurt of motivation to get them done in time (when really, the paper was assigned three weeks ago but we just had to marathon Friends for the fourth time running instead of doing our homework). But what happens to our papers after they have passed under the threatening gaze of the teacher’s red correction pen? After the grades have been entered in Canvas, GPAs have been salvaged, and we all but forget about them entirely?
Should we forget about them?
The straightforward answer is no. As college students preparing to get careers and work in the real world (or as college students who already have careers and work in the real world), it only makes sense to think about our work in the context of them being looked at by other people—being used as texts to inform, instruct, and inspire a wider population than just your professor and a handful of bright-eyed freshmen. How, then, are we to go about garnering an audience for the work we create? How do we transform publication from a far-off, unattainable goal to something actually within our grasp? How should we go about getting published?
The answer is a lot different than what you may think.
So. Here we are. You’ve been convinced that maybe you should be thinking about writing for publication, but you’re not sure where to start. We can tell you right now that publication does not begin by you submitting your papers and essays and whatever to contests or magazines—it starts much sooner than that. It starts before you’ve even written a word on the page. Writing for publication starts by changing the way you think about writing as a whole.
For example, say you have an idea that you think would make a really cool essay or story. What is the first thing you think of when you think of getting published? If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably thought about who’s going to actually read your work. When writing for publication, it’s a good idea to think about who your intended audience is and keep that audience in mind as you write. That way, you will be able to think about the things they like and relate to, and shape your project around those ideas.
Genre is an important aspect of changing your view of writing, too. Publishers of National Geographic will not take your paranormal romance piece, no matter how glorious or well written. National Geographic is focused on teaching people about the world around us: that’s its genre, and that’s what it publishes.
Basically, being aware of genre means being aware of the conventions of that genre. For example, a nonfiction piece will contain true, factual events. You are generally not expected or wanted to make things up. On the other hand, a fantasy piece is expected to have events, places, or characters that are far away from what you would find in real life. Things such as magic, other worlds, or fantasy creatures are norms of the fantasy genre. Some book agents represent only certain genres, and some publications only publish a certain genre—like National Geographic. It’s helpful to be mindful of genre so that you can submit your work to publishers who are looking for it.
Thinking about genre is important when thinking about your intended audience. Clint Johnson, in his essay “On Genre,” states that “knowing the genre makes communication in that situation easier. You know what people expect in your writing and how to give them that.” For example, an instruction manual will typically contain step-by-step instructions with pictures. That’s the expectation of that genre. If you were to omit the instructions and write a poem instead, readers would no longer consider it an instruction manual. When you are aware of reader’s expectations, you are able to communicate so that your writing project can accomplish its purpose more effectively.
If you’re a novice writer looking to learn more about the conventions of a certain genre, our advice to you is this: read a lot of pieces in the genre you’re looking to write in, and take notes of what they have in common. If you want to write books, read books. If you are trying to write an academic article, read academic articles. If you are looking to write an instruction manual, look at examples of instruction manuals. As you read more and more, you will find that it gets easier to recognize the conventions of genres. Eventually, you’ll be able to make a conscious decision about whether or not to break a genre convention by deciding how you’ll best be able to communicate with your audience.
Finally, those who are trying to get published, what you write when you get published will be circulated longer than a few weeks, a semester, or a year, and people will continue to look at it even when you’ve forgotten what you’ve written. What you write will ultimately matter in the long-run, so be deliberate about it. Think about how your work will be seen in the future, and use what you gain from thinking of that to write whatever project you end up writing.
Not everything gets taken for publication, and that’s okay.
Writing is rewriting. The first draft should never be the final draft. When you are first writing down the ideas for a poem, academic paper, or a thoughtful scholarship-application essay, it is not about being perfect, but it is about getting something on the page. Once you have that first verse or first page you will be able to revise and change what doesn’t work.
Lisa Bickmore puts it like this: “I, sitting in front of a messy draft, can have some hope: if I’m willing to dive in, look at the connections (or lack thereof), the order (or patent absence of it), the words (imprecise, not quite right), and hack away, I might find myself with a better draft at the end.” [See “Revision IS Writing. That Is All.”]
Sometimes we think of failure as being anything but perfect as a writer, but that’s not true. Published writers are imperfect all the time, but the thing they all have in common is that they have written words on a page. The only failure when writing is not writing at all.
Sometimes you get rejected from being published, but that is not a reflection of your writing skills. Writing is very subjective. One person might absolutely love something that somebody else hates, and vice versa. Maybe the publisher you submitted to just happened to not like your writing style, but maybe another publisher would absolutely love it. J.K. Rowling, author of the world-famous Harry Potter series, received twelve rejections before the first book was picked up by Bloomsbury. (Read her full story here.)
And even after she got successfully published, she still received rejection letters.
You never know when you will write something that will get published, and just as long as you keep writing you will be able to get something out to the world.
Maybe you have an idea that you think is awesome, but not everyone else agrees with that. You might have a reader that does not like the genre you are writing in. That’s okay because not everyone likes the same stuff. That does not mean your writing is bad; it just means that it is not right for the audience that you are trying to submit to. Just because you get one or ten or even a hundred rejections does not mean that you are not a good writer. Getting rejected is normal. When you are looking for a place to get published, you never know what piece will get accepted. So keep trying, and never give up.
Get feedback, and take it as you will. We’ve had our fair share of uninformative, unhelpful, and simply dumb feedback, just like everyone else, but we have also had our fair share of useful and insightful feedback. You just have to know where to look.
To get good feedback, find people you trust and who know how to write in your genre. If you are writing a fiction piece, you do not want someone who writes only science articles to be your only critique partner. However, it might be helpful to have them look over the piece to see if your writing has the first impression you want it to have. Then, you can bring in the expert to help you figure out how best to change it. Find someone else who is writing the same thing as you are, or someone that has knowledge about various genres of writing. If it’s a class paper, talk to your classmates and see if you can read over each other’s work before you turn it in. You also can go to the student writing center at SLCC and work with a tutor on your paper, if you feel like it needs that extra work. There are so many options you can explore to find what kind of feedback-getting works for you.
The internet has made it easier to share your work than it was ever before. You can start a blog and write about your passions, or you can use Twitter to share your ideas in 280 characters or less. If you like writing long fiction, you are able to post it for free up on websites like Wattpad. You can go to websites like Submittable to find places to submit your work. You can also self publish your work through Amazon. When you do it through Amazon, your work will end up on their Kindle store, which gives you pretty cool bragging rights.
You might even be thinking that you want to traditionally publish your work—meaning that you want to submit your work to an agent or editor and have them publish your piece. Getting traditionally published takes a lot of work and a lot of patience. It is the practice of writing, revising, submitting, getting rejected until you finally get accepted that helps you develop as a writer. If you want to learn more about traditional publishing we recommend that you checkout sources like Alexa Donnes Youtube channel, or the blog PUB(lishing) Crawl.
It might be daunting to actually find a place to submit your work to; that’s why we suggest that you start submitting to small prints and then slowly work your way up. As a student here at SLCC, you might want to first look at all the opportunities we have here at SLCC to get published with, such as Folio, the Anthology, and Chapbook. Submitting to publications like these will give you valuable experience with submitting that will help prepare you for when you submit to magazines, literary journals, agents, and more.
As a student, you can submit your work every spring and fall semester to SLCC’s Folio Magazine. You can also take the Publication Studies class in spring and fall semesters. In that class you will read through students submissions, help decide what will be accepted, and work together with your peers to publish a collection of SLCC pieces. The fall and spring collection is SLCC’s Folio. Check it out here.
Then in fall the publication class works on the SLCC Anthology, and you will be able to submit to that at the start of fall semester. The SLCC Anthology is different from Folio because it is not only a collection of students’ work, but also anyone in the SLCC community. So anyone with a connection to SLCC will be able to submit to this Anthology. Students are also the main readers for this publication. Check that out here.
Then, at the end of fall semester, you will also be able to submit to the SLCC Chapbook contest. With the Chapbook, unlike Folio and the Anthology where students decide what to publish, a group of faculty will read all of the submissions and send their favorites to a judge. At the end the judge will pick the winner. The winner, as well as the runner-ups, will get to work with the students in the Publication Studies class to publish their project.
Getting published is hard work, but it’s worth it to be able to see your name on a piece that more than your class, your friends, or your family will read. In college, we are constantly learning how to rise up. We are constantly told that we have the ability to change our lives, our communities, and even the world. Just think—something you write could teach someone something on the other side of the country. Someone’s life could improve because of the work that you do.
I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty worth it to us.
When it comes to publishing, we have no control in what happens. We have no control over what pieces will get accepted, or where. But always remember even if you can’t control what happens, you can still control what you do. Continue writing and getting words on the page. Sit down, write, revise, and submit, because the only guarantee of not getting published is not putting yourself out there.
Every now and again you might run into someone who will tell you that getting published is impossible, that you shouldn’t even try. To those people we like to quote the great Robin Williams: “I’m sorry. If you were right, I’d agree with you.”
Don’t listen to the haters. If you continue to submit your work, you will get published one day. Simple as that.
Bickmore, Lisa. “Revision IS Writing. That Is All.” Open English @ SLCC: Texts on Writing, Language, and Literacy, 1 Aug. 2016, https://openenglishatslcc.pressbooks.com/chapter/revision-is-writing/.
Johnson, Clint. “On Genre.” Open English @ SLCC: Texts on Writing, Language, and Literacy, 1 Aug. 2016, https://openenglishatslcc.pressbooks.com/chapter/on-genre/.