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The Writing Life – The struggling writer

By Staff | Feb 28, 2014

This is a monthly column on the writing process. Topics will range from books and authors to writing conferences and workshops to the writing process itself.

Sometimes good things come to those who wait.

My most recent good thing was a copy of Struggle magazine that I received last Friday. It was June 2012 when the Detroit-based literary magazine told me they were publishing my short story, “Unoccupied on Wall Street”, a story of how two homeless veterans help each other survive on the back streets of Manhattan.

Since the story is a takeoff from the Occupy Wall Street movement, it fit well with the magazine’s mission which is to help the disadvantaged overcome adversity.

If you’d like to submit poetry, fiction or nonfiction to this very interesting magazine, check them out online at www.strugglemagazine.net.

How much do they pay?

This is a question I get asked quite a bit about what literary magazines pay. The answer is usually zilch.

Except for large market publications such as The Atlantic, Harper’s or The New Yorker, in which the competition is incredibly fierce, the vast majority of literary magazines pay in copies. Once upon a time, some of them paid a slight honorarium, and that’s still true to some extent. But publishing in literary magazines isn’t going to let you quit your day job.

Getting your work published is an accomplishment in itself. And if you publish your short fiction in enough literary magazines – whether they pay anything or not – is the best way to build the credentials and eventually attract a book publisher.

Someone told me once that, while nonfiction comprises about 90 percent of what’s getting published, 90 percent of writers are submitting fiction. I suspect those same numbers are pretty much true today.

When I first started submitting nonfiction to magazines, I was hitting about a 60 percent acceptance rate. I’ve tapered off the nonfiction submissions in lieu of submitting fiction. It took 37 submissions to get an acceptance, somewhat better than the one in 100 chances a person has in publishing a story, according to a lot of people in the know. So I guess I feel pretty lucky.

Literary or “little” publications are a good place to start if you want to send your fiction around. Writer’s Market is a good source for markets, and it’s really expanded in recent years with a continuously updated database that keeps abreast of current markets. FW Media, which publishes Writer’s Market, also publishes books on marketing novels and short stories, poetry and finding a literary agent. They’re all good, but the main thing is to keep sending your stuff out. It isn’t going to get published sitting in a drawer.

If you’re a nonfiction writer and are looking for a home for your work, why not try close to home. Regional publications, like farm, trade and travel, are always looking for freelance articles. If you can provide decent digital photos, it will at least triple your chances of getting something published.

After driving truck in the 70s and early 80s, I decided to submit my work to some trucking magazines and hit with Truckers’ News, Overdrive and Truckers USA. Truckers’ News was originally based out of Sioux City before moving on to Des Moines while Overdrive and Truckers USA were then part of Randall Publishing out of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

I had some pretty good luck with other trade and specialty magazines, like Hot Bike, Snowmobile, Western Business and the feature section of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

I wish I could say that magazines are paying more now than when I first seriously started sending around my work, but if anything, the pay is only marginally better. A lot of publications have gone strictly online – but they still pay. There are practically no longer any general interest magazines in the tradition of the Saturday Evening Post, if you remember that iconic bastion of Normal Rockwell and other great writers and artists. The vast majority of magazines have become increasingly specialized.

Regional and trade magazines, and a combination of the two – regional trade magazines – really seem to be a good place for writers to break in with their nonfiction.

Whether you’re trying to publish nonfiction or fiction, the best approach is to find a good market directory – like “Writer’s Market” – or a writer’s magazine like Poets and Writers (probably the best), Writer’s Digest or The Writer. Don’t rely on the directory listing, though. Go online to see what the publication’s current needs are, the type of material they want and if they’re currently open to submissions.

A lot of getting published is sending the right stuff to the right people. Beyond that, a lot of luck is involved. And to beat the odds, you need to submit your work – again and again and again. That’s the only way to do it.

So good luck.

Michael Tidemann’s author page is available at: www.amazon.com/Michael-Tidemann/e/B008THMTIW