Little Pieces

Up to now, I’ve pretty much dealt with both writing, publishing, and marketing one’s books. What I haven’t addressed is the subject of articles and essays, and the task of getting them into print. My own experience has been spotty, with some high points over the years mixed in with lots of rejections. Maybe my own history will prove useful if you’re trying to get some shorter pieces into print.

Back in the 1980’s, when I first started submitting articles to publications, I had some pretty grandiose notions about where I could be showcased. This resulted in a series of rejection letters from some of our finest publications of the day: New York Magazine, The New Yorker, Omni, Playboy, California…all on their lovely stationery. Usually these form missives began with “Dear Author” and went on there to note that either my material wasn’t “quite” right for their august pages or, occasionally, the dubious and likely faux politesse of, “We get many submissions and, unfortunately, cannot publish them all…”

I used to save all these letters, feeling I might someday paper my bathroom wall with them. Recently, however, I gave up on the idea and threw them out.

After receiving a certain number of these rejections, I began to see things in more realistic terms and, looking to a couple of my hobbies – amateur (“ham”) radio and model airplanes – wrote several articles for hobby-niche publications which, in fact got printed. I also wrote for a medical “throw-away” publication called Medical Economics, got a number of letters to the editor into a local newspaper and the L.A. Times. My latest success is that I will have an essay published this summer in a medically-oriented literary journal, The Pharos. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a fair number of these sorts of published pieces – enough to keep me encouraged in my writing while working on my two books.

So, what are the lessons to be taken from this? I think they’re few in number but highly valuable.

First, unless you’re a well known writer or have some high level contacts, you will likely end up on the slush pile of major magazine editors if you’re submitting to them cold. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but you need to be realistic. I’ve still never gotten a story into Playboy, even though I’m egotistical enough to think that the few pieces I’ve sent to them over the years are at least as good as some of the fiction they’ve printed over the same period of time. Send targeted pieces to smaller, niche publications, many of which will likely be happy to publish your work.

Second, and there’s nothing original about this suggestion, write what you know even if it’s not really what you want to do. There’s nothing wrong with writing an article about servicing left handed veeblefetzers if that’s what’ll get you into print in the American Journal of Applied Fetzerology. You won’t make much money at it but you’ll be a published writer, and that’s at least part of your goal fulfilled.

Third, write letters to the editor of newspapers and magazines. You might or might not get printed but, if you do, people will see your name, and that’s important.

Fourth, no matter what you submit and where you submit it, expect a fair share of rejections. It’s going to happen, and if it’s going to upset you, you should probably be doing something else.

Fifth, no matter what, continue writing. The worst thing is to stop. The more you write, the better at it you are likely to become. And don’t be afraid of feedback and criticism. It will sharpen your focus, increase your insight into what you’re doing, and tell you much about the perceptions of your audience. If you’re going to succeed, you have to keep at it and develop a thick skin.

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