Breaking into Print: The Basics

  • Respect submission guidelines. If an editor wants humor, he or she isn’t going to buy your essay about the death of a pet, no mater how good it is. If the guidelines state that 700 word essays are sought, longer or shorter pieces won’t make the editorial cut.
  • Study the magazines. Guidelines can give you a general idea of what editors want, but nothing substitutes for reading back issues of a publication. If you can’t afford to buy these, visit your library or read the work posted on magazine websites.
  • Submit to the magazines you enjoy reading. Chances are your essays will be more on target here since you already have a clear affinity for the sort of pieces the magazines run.
  • Start small in the beginning. When you market to a magazine that pays in contributor copies, you build a file of clips, copies of your published work. Online and literary publications usually don’t pay for the work they print, but they offer prestige. Even the church newsletter is a start. Once you have clips, you can send them with query letters to editors in order to get paying assignments.
  • Proofread your work. If you can’t get those commas and spellings straight, find someone to correct them for you.
  • Prepare a professional manuscript. That means standard, eight and a half by eleven, white paper printed with clear, black type. Double space your work. Put your full name and contact information on the first page in the upper left corner and insert your name and article title as a header on every page that follows. Don’t forget to number the pages. Use a paper clip, not a staple, to keep them together.
  • Follow editorial etiquette. Unless a magazine’s guidelines specifically state that multiple submissions are accepted, market to one publication at a time. Always enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the return of your manuscript or for a reply.
  • Learn to play the waiting game. Most magazine editors receive many more submissions than they can ever use. Reading through the slush pile, their stack of unsolicited manuscripts, is a low priority. Resist the urge to call or write the editor when he or she doesn’t respond immediately. Keep busy by starting to work on another essay.