A guide for getting your shorter works out into the world.
Someone asked me this question on Quora and I thought I’d answer it with a post:
I have written poetry and short stories ever since I could remember, I would really like it if a publisher could have a look at it, do (you) have any recommendations for me ?
First, I’m going to be very honest and clear right up front. I don’t have any hacks or short cuts to offer. If you want someone to publish your work, you have to do what everyone else does — send it out to agents or publishers.
There are no guarantees in publishing. The fact is that most work is rejected. The only armor you have against that rejection is to keep trying. Perseverance and a commitment to learning to be a better writer are powerful tools that work together.
You can bypass agents and publishers by indie publishing. I’ll talk about that, too. But if you want to be traditionally published — if you are a regular, unconnected writer and you want a publisher to choose to publish your work —this is how you do it.
Publishing Single Poems or Stories
I recently attended the AWP Writer’s Conference in Portland and came home with so many fliers and postcards and brochures from small presses looking for poems and short stories that my luggage was over weight.
Two huge bags full.
I’m slowly making my way through them, creating a database for Ninja Writers. You can see that here. But if you’re serious about this, you’ll want to head over to Duotrope and use theirs for $5 per month or $50 for a year. They have more than 7200 resources listed and help you to track your submissions.
The process for looking for a publisher for an individual poem or short story requires some research into which publications are looking for what you’ve written.
Every publication will have submission guidelines on their website. Follow them as accurately as you can. You don’t want to be rejected because you didn’t follow directions.
Some publications charge small to moderate reading fees. Most that I’ve seen are less than $20. Many are less than $5. The fees allow them to pay contributors for their work.
While you want to avoid book publishers and literary agents that charge reading fees, it’s common for literary journals and an accepted practice.
Usually those publications that don’t charge a reading fee also are not paying markets. You’ll usually get a couple of free copies of the journal (if it’s a print publication), perhaps an annual subscription, and bragging rights.
You can also search out contests, which often have higher entrance fees and also higher cash rewards. Winners are sometimes included in print anthologies.
Journals that accept short story and poetry submissions are often student-run publications affiliated with colleges and universities. These often take submissions from people who are not students.
Publishing a Book of Poems or Short Stories
If you’ve written a book of poetry or short stories, you’ll take the same route as a novel or memoir writer if you want to be traditionally published. If you want to attempt to be published by a major publisher, you’ll need an agent.
If you want to go with a small press, you can approach those publishers without an agent.
If you want to sign with a literary agent, start at Querytracker.net, a site that supports you in your search for a literary agent. For $25 a year, Query Tracker offers a maintained list of nearly every literary agent in the world. You can sort them by location and genre.
Each agent has a page on the site with a forum where other writers can leave notes about things like response time and their experiences with that particular agent. The site also helps you to track your submissions.
Write a one-page sales letter called a query. This post written by Zach J. Payne is a good starting point.So You’re Ready to Query Your NovelSome Encouragement and Last-Minute Tipsmedium.com
You’ll need a literary agent if you want to try to publish with one of the big houses.
You can approach smaller presses directly. Duotrope and Query Tracker both have information about publishers who accept unagented submissions. Again — be sure to look up the submission guidelines and follow them.
Usually, if you’re approaching small presses without an agent, you’ll write a query letter and ask the editor or publisher if they’d be interested in reading your manuscript.
There is nothing fast about publishing. Once your book of poems or short stories is out on submission, you’ll have a lot of waiting. Use that time to start your next project.
Being immersed in something new will help when rejections start rolling in — which they will. Even successful submissions that end with a contract involve a staggering amount of rejection. It’s just part of the game.
Skip the Whole Thing and Go Indie
Publishing poetry and short stories on Medium allows you to be paid for your work, if you are part of the Medium Partnership Program. It’s also a way to start building a readership.
If you write a collection of poetry or short stories (or if your short story is novella-length) you could indie publish on Amazon. You could also collect your poems and short stories that have been published on Medium into an indie-published book.The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Your eBook On AmazonI have personally published three eBooks on Amazon, and I’ve found that when…writingcooperative.com
There are hybrid publishers who allow you to maintain the rights to your book and pay for the services you need (cover design, editing, layout.) You’re left with a professionally edited and designed book that maybe have a publisher’s imprint. You may have to go through a query process if your book carries the publisher’s imprint, but many hybrid publishers also offer their services to strictly indie authors.
A hybrid press I’ve worked with in the past is Lucky Bat Books.