Tuesday, March 27, 2018

5 Essential Truths You Need to Know about The Path to Publication

By Mandy Wallace, @mandycorine

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Getting published takes work, but for those starting out, knowing what to work on isn't always clear. Mandy Wallace visits the lecture hall today to share some tips on finding a clear path to your first publication.

Mandy Wallace is a writing coach who shares tips and free tools with new writers. Her blog has been named one of the 100 Best Websites for Writers three years in a row, and several of her posts have clocked over 50k social shares each. Pick up a free copy of her Free Tools for Fiction Writers. Because the writing life should be easy (and fun!).

Website | Twitter | Pinterest | Landing Your First Publication

Take it away Mandy...

It’s easy to underestimate them.

But those tried and true basic steps toward publication can help you accomplish your writing goals faster than the juggling act so many think they have to do.

You don’t have to reinvent the metaphorical wheel. You don’t have to do backflips to get noticed. And you definitely don’t have to wait to be discovered.

If you want to be published or if you want to be a career writer, you just have to follow the few simple steps so many professional writers have followed before you.

I didn’t make up these publication steps. I just researched how successful writers did it, copied the steps myself to land my first publication, and then compiled it all into an interactive book of writing prompts, worksheets, templates, and submission trackers so other writers could do the same.

The result is my publication strategy guide, Landing Your First Publication. And not everyone loves the approach I take in it.

That's because too many writers and hopefuls prefer, instead, to romanticize the writer life. Too many buy into the faux mystique and grandeur. But let’s cut through the myth of the writer—just for today—and talk to each other straight.

Like accountant or teacher, writer is just a career title. It takes a skillset you can master. And there’s an established path to breaking in if you haven't yet. Knowing these truths can remind us our writing goals are within reach.

Here are 5 more essential truths you need to know about your path to publication.

#1 You Need a Roadmap

After the fourth or fifth rejection, it's easy to get frustrated or lose your way. So know the steps in your publication strategy ahead of time.

If you don’t have a publication system or blueprint like the one in Landing Your First Publication, do some research on how writers before you broke in. Write down the steps they took in common, and follow them every time you submit.

It’s possible to follow those same tried and true steps to your first publication. But in the midst of the process, things can sometimes feel discouraging. That’s when new or frustrated writers tend to fall prey to the costly commercial gimmicks and empty promises on the market.

A roadmap keeps you oriented when you’re down that dusty path alone.

#2 Publishing Isn’t about Luck

You can write an amazing story. You can find it a home in the perfect publication.

That takes some work. And sometimes it isn’t your first or every submission that gets published. But professional writers know one thing in common at least—you’ve got to write a lot of stories and you’ve got to submit them if you want to see them published. That isn’t luck. That’s just numbers.

#3 Use Writing Prompts the Right Way

One of the best ways to write a lot of stories? Well, primarily you should get to know your character inside out. But to get that far, writing prompts are incredibly invaluable.

Too many writers take writing prompts for granted. Even more use them wrong.

Resources like Landing Your First Publication that offer a wide range of prompts can be seriously valuable to both new and established writers. So many story ideas in one place offers a good reminder that no one story can make or break you. And it ensures you’ll never run out of ideas.

But that’s only true if you know how to use them well.

The key is to write down the first image that comes to mind the second you read a writing prompt. That’s because first drafts go smoother and easier the less you second-guess the images and ideas your subconscious and instincts bring to mind.

Those first images that appear when you read a writing prompt spring from the core of who you are as a writer and person. This is how writers find their unique viewpoint and the unique voice that separates them from other writers.

And if you trust those first images enough to get them down the second they spring up, you’ll find the questions they leave unanswered are the key to where your story should go next.

Don’t take writing prompts for granted.

#4 The Cover Letter Isn’t As Important As You Might Think

The cover letter throws a lot of writers. It feels like a sales pitch, and it’s never easy when the thing we’re selling is ourselves.

Thankfully, the cover letter is often more a formality when it comes to short story submissions. Many a lit mag editor admits they read the cover letter last. And even then, that's only if the accompanying story is good.

That being said, the cover letter still needs to be done, and it needs to be done right.

The worksheets and templates in Landing Your First Publication can walk you through yours. At the very least make sure to include the basics like:
  • the title of the story you’re submitting
  • something that lets the editor know you read the magazine
  • any expertise you might have as a writer
  • and where (if anywhere) you’ve published before
Much more than that, and you’re probably overdoing it.

#5 Track These 5 Things If You Don’t Want to Annoy Editors

Once you’ve got the basics of storytelling down, publication is often an unromantic numbers game.

You have to submit a lot. And tracking those submissions is vital. One reason?

As you probably know, many magazines say simultaneous submissions are okay if you withdraw your submission upon its publication elsewhere. If you aren’t tracking submissions, you won’t know who all to notify. Letting even one slip through the cracks means risking your reputation with editors.

You also don’t want to risk submitting two stories to one publication at one time or submitting the same work to the same publication twice in a row. Either can further earn you a bad reputation.

So what information should you keep track of? Tell me if you’ve heard these before ;)
  • the name of the story you submitted
  • the publication you submitted it to
  • the date you submitted it
  • whether it was a simultaneous submission and when you should follow up (check their submissions guidelines for how long it usually takes them to reply)
A simple spreadsheet will do this job quick and dirty. Landing Your First Publication offers attractive, downloadable spreadsheets with fuller features.

And in case you're interested in picking up a copy of the publication strategy guide, Landing Your First Publication, I've put together an exclusive 20% off discount code for Fiction University readers (that's you!). The code is fictionuni20, and you can redeem it here.

Happy submitting, and good luck! Your first (and next!) publication is just around the corner.


  1. Very helpful advice, Mandy. Looking forward to reading your book!

    1. Glad to know it was helpful, Jarm! Thanks!

  2. Thank you! Good thoughts.

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