I’ve been submitting work to magazines since the days of paper submissions. If you’re too young to remember that period of time, this is how it worked:
1) Buy the latest copy of Writer’s Market.
2) Spend hours looking up markets accepting unsolicited work, who happen to accept the genre you’ve written in, and are looking for your style. If they pay anything, that’s a bonus!
3) Order a pizza every night for a week and stay up until midnight each night crafting fantastically generic, but personal, cover letters for each submission.
4) Address all the envelopes and lovingly stuff in your masterpieces, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope.
5) Double check all envelopes for pizza stains.
6) Drop everything off in the mailbox and raise the little red flag (I lived in America, land of the flags).
7) Wait three to six months for those self-addressed, sometimes waterlogged, envelopes to start showing up in your mailbox (one magazine sent me a form letter telling me the response time was three years!).
8) Pull out the fantastically generic rejection letter and weep.
9) Spend at least a week wallowing in self-pity. Threaten to never write another word as long as you live. Lament the end of the world as you know it. Contemplate burning the letter. But keep it because for some reason writers like tormenting themselves.
It wasn’t all dismal. Occasionally you’d get little comments and you knew you had something special, especially if they were handwritten comments. Like the time one editor told me he wasn’t a fan of stream-of-consciousness, but would love to read something else by me. Sometimes you’d even get envelopes back without your handwriting on them. Envelopes with your name and address typed out with professional font and stamps you’d never seen before. And inside would be the letter that made you burst into an ear-splitting grin. It came with a contract to sign and shortly after you’d get a check, along with a copy of a magazine. On page three, or sixteen, or page twenty-three, you’d find your work. You’d stare it a long, long time. You’d tell all your friends. Shove it into your husband’s face. Make Aunt Martha read it over and over. You’d leave copies in the bathroom, conveniently flipped open to your work so guests could find it. Okay, I never did that, but I see nothing wrong it!
I still have a copy of the last Writer’s Market I purchased, though I haven’t opened it in years. For the past three years, I’ve worked on my novels. I didn’t need short story market information. But lately I’ve gone back to writing shorter pieces. Perhaps it’s my need to finish something. When I get about 14 chapters into a novel, I start to feel desperate for validation. In the case of a novel, I’ve still got 15 or so chapters to go, not to mention all the months I’ll spend in the revision process. The shorter pieces have given me a sense of completion around the midway point of bigger projects. I like that. And since the shorter pieces are spontaneously generated, I don’t feel like I’m stealing time from the novel.
I don’t use the old method of submission anymore, though. I’ve moved on to a digital submission tracker.
Duotrope allows me to sift through thousands of markets for the perfect place to send my work. I can search by genre, subgenre, markets which accept electronic submissions, markets which accept simultaneous submissions and a range of other criteria. When I find a market that fits my specifications, I can report a submission with that market and track the response. I can even check to see what types of responses the market is providing to others (form letters or personal responses), the average amount of time for a response, which markets are the toughest to break into and which have the highest acceptance ratio. I’m loving this! I guess I should mention the site costs $5.00 a month. Totally worth it.
Looking back, I’m happy I went through the paper experience. I went through an age of publishing many others will never experience and that’s special. But I’m so relieved we’ve moved on to a digital format. I’m also in love with Duotrope and hope they never go away =).