The perils of publication

My first published work appeared in a weekly magazine.

The letter offering money in exchange for publishing my short story arrived on April 1st 1996 (making me slightly suspicious) and I was cleaning my teeth as I opened it. Nearly choking on toothpaste, which involves a deeply unpleasant scorching of throat and nostrils, was a tiny price to pay for the attendant absolute euphoria.

I ran laps of the house, ‘Weeeh yeahhhhh!’ I screamed at bleary-eyed family members, ‘IsoldastoryIsoldastoryIsoldastory!’ (the post was delivered much earlier in those days), I rang my mum (who can be relied upon to be up early) and I fell over my dressing gown in my urgent need to switch on my computer. Then I wrote my acceptance letter, literally shaking with joy.

Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to replicate that joy, at various levels, on selling short stories, articles, serials, courses, novels and ‘how to’. I never get tired of it and would recommend it to anybody.

But the joy of acceptance is far from being the whole story of being a writer. There’s harder-to-live-with stuff, too:

  • Work rejected – sometimes with a ‘what on Earth are you thinking of?’ overtone or ‘make it half as long and twice as funny and we’ll think about it’ editorial advice. I had pretty much assumed that once I had a story accepted, EVERY story would then be accepted! This was not the case. And still isn’t.
  • Fees that don’t arrive or have to be chased.
  • Revisions.

Though I’m philosophical, take the rough with the smooth, accept the realities of life –  I know that for some people, the non-joyful stuff comes as quite a shock. Which makes me think that it would make an ideal subject for an article for a writing magazine. The emphasis there is often on how to get published – but I think that what to expect from the experience and how to deal with it would be helpful, too.

So, can any of you help me with material? What came as a surprise to you, when you got something published or had success in a competition? Were those surprises good or bad?

Rewrites …?

Cover art …?

Or have the recent changes in the publishing world  turned things upside down for you?

I’d love it if you’d let me know.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “The perils of publication

  1. First of all the usual thing – just how little writing actually pays and how extremely hard you have to work to make it pay, whether you’re writing non-fiction, short stories or books (and I do all of that). And associated with the books, is the huge gap between ‘finishing’ something, then going through the long process of editing to production, then waiting until you’ve earned out and actually see some royalties. In some cases this can be years and not months. A beginners guide to manage expectations would have been a absolute godsend to me four or even three years ago. In fact, I think it’s the sort of thing that might actually put all but the absolutely determined off! Would it have put me off? No, but it would certainly have influenced some of my decisions.

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  2. rebeccaemin

    I actually think rejections are a good thing, even if they hurt. If everything a writer penned was accepted, it would surely be easy to get lazy as the motivation to constantly improve would disappear.

    I had my first taste of the world of publishing when I was 15 and a magazine published a poem of mine. I was absolutely horrified that they changed two words in it. Ha ha! I look back now and think that was actually quite good, but as a teen I was so angry that they “messed with my poem”.

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  3. Sue
    When I had my first short story accepted for publication in Bella (about 20 years ago!!), it was as the runner-up in their competition. I got a prize AND payment for the story and I thought that was it – I was made, I was a writer! The truth was slightly less exciting. The next story I sent them was rejected – and the next and the next. And although they did eventually publish another story from me (I was determined to prove I wasn’t just a ‘one hit wonder’), nothing much has changed over the years. I’ve been published in Woman’s Weekly, People’s Friend and the Weekly News and I have had articles in Writing Magazine but I still get as many rejections as acceptances. Just this morning, People’s Friend returned a story that they’d asked me to change and resubmit, back in January. The editor said “I still like many aspects of this and I can see that you have done a lot of work….but I’m very sorry but this time it’s a final no.” It’s disappointing but you just have to pick yourself up and keep going. It’s all part of being a writer.

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  4. My first surprise after having my first novel accepted in 1998 was to discover how much the cutting process can improve a book. Good cutting is like good tailoring – makes all the difference to the end result, and after my first gasp of horror and alarm, I surprised myself by falling in love with the revisions process. It’s so exciting to make something better and to have someone there to hold your hand while you do – you just have to let go of that old feeling from school and university that your work is being ‘marked down.’ It really isn’t – it’s being boosted.

    I think the other big surprise is that it’s so difficult to get a good cover. Authors don’t have alot of input, and I think that’s probably quite right, because we can’t see our work dispassionately. However, it is distressing if you don’t like the cover, and then you find, once it’s published, that readers don’t either. But cover art is very, very difficult – it’s certainly not clear what makes a good cover, and everyone in the process always aims to do the best they can. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer – more author involvement could be just as damaging as less, but it is frustrating. However it’s quite common to hear one author saying to another ‘Your cover is lovely, mine is dreadful, or the equivalent’ so maybe this is just an area where authors are never satisfied.

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  5. Penny

    Interesting to read your blog and the replies, Sue! My ‘first’ published magazine story was actually my second acceptance… so actually I’m never sure which one to count – that one, or the first acceptance that appeared second! I just felt incredibly lucky with both.
    I’d have to admit the rewriting angle came as surprise at the start, although it seems so natural these days!

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    • Penny, my first acceptance appeared later, too. It took two years to make it into print, by which time several others had hit the shelves. In fact, that first story came out in a PF Christmas Annual, I think.

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  6. Great post, thanks Sue.

    When I got an email saying Man or Mouse was being considered by the Judges as a potential finalist in the Writer’s Forum short fiction comp, of course I was delighted, most of all because the first two stories I’d sent (which I thought were brilliant) were rejected as ‘average’. As I’d worked so hard on Man or Mouse, rewriting and rewriting and being brutal killing my darlings, I’d told myself that if this wasn’t any good I’d eat my own head, because it was the best I could do. So when it won, naturally, I was up there with the cow jumping over the moon.

    The job of having to rewrite it to make it acceptable for print in a general interest magazine was a tough decision, as I feel strongly about strong language, and love the power we have imbibed it with. However, I figured readership was more important – and as I’d never won a comp before, it was definitely worth the extra work.

    AS regards cover art, I love the fact that self-publishing is so easy nowand that if we do self-pub we can have a say about the design. And I totally believe that if we have the marketing skills or invest in someone who does and if we have the determination, and of course have worked hard on the craft and the product, absolutely anything is possible online. The world wide web is our oyster.

    Here’s to success on the web !

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  7. Kath

    Hi, Sue. I’ve had just a handful of stories published in magazines and have nothing really to complain about – editors have always been helpful and payments have gone through smoothly. I have sometimes been disappointed by the illustrations however. I suppose I imagined somebody lovingly preparing the artwork based on what I’d written (and most writers will have a pretty clear idea in their heads of what the characters and places they create look like). In reality the magazines probably use stock images and, as a result, the pictures used can sometimes contradict the words. I won’t quote any actual examples but imagine writing a story about someone in their sixties and they choose an illustration of a relatively young woman to go with it. That sort of thing would annoy me as a reader never mind as a writer. But it’s a pretty trivial gripe and I’m just grateful to be published at all really!

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  8. I was in a cafe on the road to somewhere when I received a call asking if I would allow my short story (a highly reccommended in the competition) to be published in the anthology. Would I ??!!! Close behind that was an email advising another story had been accepted for publicaiton in a literary magazine. I danced around the house for hours after that, and had wanted to do that in the cafe!
    Ironically after receiving a letter (and contract) advising I’d won an unpublished novel competition, the main feeling was sheer panic at reading the contract and 1) wondering if it was real, and 2) worrying that I was signing my life away. Everyone else spent the day on cloud 9 while I worried, and by the time I’d had some advice on the contract and signed it I wanted to dance around, but they were ‘over it’.

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  9. I remember that feeling from my first acceptance – I did a two hour Zebedee impression, I think! My next sub (to a different mag) was accepted too and I thought I’d made it. Then I got about 78 rejects in a row.

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