Posted by on Aug 21, 2006 in Uncategorised | 3 Comments

If you want to be a writer …

You have to play the number’s game.

This means that you have to learn to look at the world of writing through the eyes of editors and publishers. The average literary journal (non-paying but providing copies to published writers) gets between 2,000 and 4,000 submissions a year. They publish around 1.5% of those submissions.

Do you feel depressed?

But, having spent a while wading through those slush piles for Canadian, American and British magazines, I can tell you that probably half those submissions were never, ever, ever going to get published by the journals they were sent to because:

– they were genre (horror, sci-fi, fantasy or historical stories) sent to a journal that doesn’t publish genre
– they dealt with a theme that had been covered in a previous issue of the journal
– they were stories about coming of age, the failure of first love (or first sex) or dead dog stories
– they were set in coffee shops
– they had a writer as their central character.

And that’s before we even began to look at writing quality!

So the numbers game goes like this:

1 – keep writing. Just because your deathless gem is out there with the New Yorker, don’t stop writing and sending other stuff out. With any luck, when the New Yorker says no, you’ll have a couple of lesser successes under your belt to cushion the blow
2 – when you sit down to write, remember that just because we all have a writer story or a dead dog story in us, doesn’t mean it will get published. Keep those stories as examples of your craft; polish and hone them – when you win the Nobel prize for literature you can drag them out and make a fortune from them, but until then, try something a little fresher
3 – when a story comes back, send it out again asap. Maybe you want to work on it for a day or two, but get it back in the publishing round before it cools down
4 – remember it can take forty tries to get an acceptance. And that some of the world’s greatest books were rejected time and time again …


  1. Linda Donovan
    21st August 2006

    May I ask a question here? It becomes both irrational and expensive to buy a subscription to every magazine you wish to submit to, so how would a writer research a magazine to see if the “theme has been done?”

    Good point about keeping our writing circulating! My problem is WHERE. I suppose that’s the problem for all of us, actually.


  2. Kay Sexton
    22nd August 2006

    Damn good question! It took me a long, long time to work out how things can be managed so you keep in touch with what magazines are publishing without investing a fortune in the process. I’ll post my solutions tomorrow, but I’ll bet other people have more ideas they can share – I hope they do.

  3. B.A. Goodjohn
    22nd August 2006

    I visit my local liberal arts college library every month or so and read their copies. They carry about 30 literary titles.

    And Kay will have loads of good ideas, right, Kay?


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