As we near the end of the semester I’ve been busy having conferences with students finalizing their senior theses. A lot of these conferences include a conversation about whether students are ready to start submitting their work for publication and what the risks/benefits of that process might be at their stage of development as a writer.
Rejection is a major part of submitting so I think one important question for writers to consider is whether a rejection will make it hard for them to keep writing or not. A lot of newer writers admit that they still feel vulnerable about their work and suspect a rejection might make them question whether they can or should keep going. I admire that kind of self-awareness and think it is really important to protect your psyche as you develop both your voice and confidence as a writer. It is okay to keep your attention on the art itself and save publication for later.
Other students are hungry for an authentic audience to read their work and feel that the idea of an editor reading their work, even if they ultimately decide to pass on it, would be invigorating to their writing and revision process.
Whether or not you are seeking publishers for your work, studying the publishing landscape can be a really helpful way to imagine how your work might speak to its readers. There are so many fantastic magazines with such a diversity of aesthetics flourishing right now. But this abundance can make it hard for emerging writers to find the writers, publishers, and readers who will be most inspiring to them. To help navigate this terrain and find their place among the many writers flourishing right now, I give students the following assignment:
Finding Your Readers by Reading Your Writers
Start by reading a single literary magazine published in your community. (I used to assign my students Pleiades: Literature in Context, because it was the magazine affiliated with my university and many students worked as interns for the publication. Now that I am in Minnesota I might recommend Conduit, Mizna, Water-Stone Review, or Great River Review, though Pleiades continues to be an reliable source of brilliant new work I will never stop recommending.)
Pick 1-3 writers whose work you enjoyed. These form the trunk of your reading tree. If you’re using Pleiades 40.1 to start this project it might look like this:
Look at the bio notes for each of those writers, identify other literary magazines where their work has appeared. Branch out and read a bit of those literary magazines, looking for more writers whose work you like. Your tree will begin to look more like:
Just keep reading and exploring:
Eventually you’ll run out paper and have to let this process of branching and discovering become an ordinary part of your reading and writing life. As a practical matter, this list will help you know which magazines you are most likely to have success submitting to, because if you like what the editors choose to publish, it stands to reason that they are more likely to be drawn to what you are writing. But reading with an eye towards finding those writers who can be models and inspirations to you will also make you a better writer, someone whose craft is always deepening and growing, which will in turn, make your work more likely to be published when you decide to submit.