When I was a child, I was greatly inspired by Canadian author Gordon Korman who wrote his bestselling This Can’t Be Happening At Macdonald Hall when he was thirteen years old. I thought that I too would become an overnight child success, but I did not. Although I wrote story after story, I never had the courage to send them away anywhere, or to enter contests, or to ask if there were periodicals or contests for children’s stories. I assumed some trusted adult would eventually take it upon himself to introduce me to the literary world. I assumed wrongly.
Rule 1: Write. Write a lot.
Thus, it was not until I was 20 or so that I finally dared dip my toe in the wide Sargasso Sea of publication and sent two poems to the most intelligent of the University of Toronto student newspapers, The Gargoyle. They were accepted, and so before my dazzled eyes appeared in print my deathless verses beginning, if I recall correctly, “Ophelia didn’t jump/Hamlet pushed her.”
Rule 2: Send stories, poems, opinions, book reviews, etc., to those journals and magazines that welcome them. Publications belonging to your immediate community, like your college newspaper, are ideal.
After that, I took to the Spoken Word stage where, instead of reading poetry, I read comic short stories, often of dubious taste, suited to my raffish audience. And because I was surrounded by other writers, I finally got the courage to send my stories to short story magazines. They were all rejected.
Rule 3: Read your writing aloud to people who care about writing, and listen to them read their work aloud. This could be at “Open Mic” events, or in a Creative Writing club. Become known as a good writer but also, very importantly, as a good listener and supporter of others’ work.
I most liked being rejected by The Atlantic. I preserved their rejection letter, typed on exquisite paper, for years. I least liked being rejected by Blood & Aphorisms, for the then-editor sneered, “Have you even read Blood & Aphorisms?” I meekly replied, yes, it was my favourite fiction magazine.
Rule 4: You will be rejected. Over and over again. Possibly for years. Keep on writing, and keep on submitting. Read every publication’s submission rules VERY carefully and OBEY them.
To this day, I have not had a short story published in a literary magazine. And I am absolutely sure this is not because my stories are rotten. My stories are works of genius, and this thought keeps me sending them out. I tell you that “The Affectionate Cat” shall bellow so loud that his bellowings will fill the world.
Rule 5: Insane self-confidence is very helpful.
The fact is that short stories are not in as much demand as they were in the days before television and, especially, DVDs. Your stories very much have to fit the spirit of a journal or they will be rejected. If you like to write horror stories, buy horror story journals. If you like to write Catholic stories, buy Catholic literary journals. If you like to write literary fiction, buy literary journals. If you like to write Catholic opinion pieces, read your diocesan newspaper.
Rule 6: Familiarize yourself with what publications want BEFORE you submit your writing.
As a matter of fact, the current phase of my writing career began when a professor asked me if I could review a book for the Toronto Catholic Register as she was too busy. The idea of a free book appealed to me, so I read it with interest and sent my opinion off to the Books Editor. The Books Editor accepted it with thanks and sent me another book. Emboldened by this success as a reviewer, I began to send opinion pieces (aka Op Eds). These proved so successful that, when an elderly columnist retired, I was offered my own column.
Rule 7: When opportunity knocks, open the door.
By then I was having quite a lot of work published–by myself. I began a blog in 2007 and over seven years have attracted a fair number of regular readers. As my blog is primarily aimed at single Catholic women, many single Catholic women in all kinds of places, including Catholic radio stations, Catholic newspapers and Catholic publishing houses, know my writing. I blog six days a week. I do not accept ads.
Rule 8: Publish a reader-focused blog, updating it every day.
Most of the writing I do is “for free”, but as I love to write even more than I love to talk, I don’t mind. I write for myself, and I write to be read. I write to make people laugh, think or be comforted. I hope, however, that they don’t laugh inordinately at my typos.
Rule 9: Don’t submit anything with mistakes. Get a sympathetic reader to check your writing before you submit it.
I type quickly but inaccurately, and I find it more difficult to read print on computer screens than on paper. Thus I often find mistakes in my blog posts only an hour or more after I publish them. Whereas my blog readers are kindly souls who never complain, I would never be so careless in my submissions to editors. I edit for length, read, reread, check facts, use spell check. But I do not polish my submissions so hard that my voice gets lost. “Too much Dorothy,” once complained my late lamented professor of prose, but I begged to differ. Just enough Dorothy, I think!
Rule 10: Make your own unique voice, your style, heard in your writing.
You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned novels yet. The reason is the reluctance of publishers of novels to take a chance on complete unknowns. Unless you are submitting a novel to a special contest for beginners, you should have, not just a manuscript, but a proven record of published writing and a ready-made audience to offer for the publisher’s consideration.