When Writer Unboxed held their unpublished novelist search back in April ’10, the first post I submitted for consideration was called, “Do You Need Minor Writing Credits to Publish Your Novel?”

Back when I started writing my novel, I had a number of concerns about spending my time trying to get some minor writing credits:

  • Short stories are different to novels. What I really wanted to write was my novel, and seeing how the process of writing a novel and the process of writing a short story are very different, I didn’t think the experience would be that relevant to my long-term goals.
  • Snail mail submissions. The literary magazines I was familiar with took only snail mail submissions. What’s worse: I’m a Canadian living in Australia, and overseas postage was brutal. Even after I got my mom to send me a roll of Canadian stamps for my self-addressed envelopes, some of the journals still never got back to me about my submissions.
  • Exclusive submissions. The same magazines that only accepted snail mail submissions also had very definite policies against simultaneous submissions (where you send your story to more than one magazine at a time).
  • Long response times. With typical response times of 4-9 months, along with long mailing times and exclusive submissions, I figured I’d be 90 before I got a single credit.
  • Online journals=settling. Because at one time online literary journals were thought to be created solely for people who couldn’t get published in print journals, I was reluctant to bother trying those venues.

Essentially, after a handful of failed attempts to get my short fiction published, my position was that achieving print credits would be irrelevant, expensive, and potentially take years, and that online credits would be sub-par and not worth my time anyway. 

To make myself feel better about the situation, I quoted literary-agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford who once said:

If you don’t have publishing credits: do not worry. They’re not necessary. The ranks of people who have been published without a single credit to their name are legion…the focus should be on the project you are querying about, not on your credits.

Although I still agree with that advice, my tune has changed a whole lot.

Why?

Because getting writing credits is getting easier (sort of):

  1. More journals are accepting electronic submissions. Many magazines (perhaps even the majority) now have online submission managers for general submissions and writing contests. So while you can’t just shoot off an email with an attachment to an editor, you can fill out a short form, submit online, and avoid postage costs.
  2. Submishmash is taking over. Submishmash is a handy submissions manager used by an increasing number of journals and small publishers to keep track of submissions. When you submit to several journals at once, you can sign in to your Submishmash account and see the status of each of your manuscripts. So, the system benefits both parties.
  3. Response times are getting shorter. Although in most cases you’ll still endure long response times, online submissions makes it easier for editors to get back to you quicker, because you’re not waiting for the rejection or acceptance letter to arrive via the post.
  4. More journals are accepting simultaneous submissions. Online submission managers makes it simple for writers to withdraw pieces should they be accepted elsewhere, which means magazines are softening their policies against simultaneous submissions. Even Glimmer Train says, “Although we had a policy for 17 years against simultaneous submissions, it’s gotten harder and harder to support that position when it is so darned hard to get one’s work published.” We definitely appreciate that, Glimmer Train!
  5. Online journals are gaining credit. As the publishing industry moves toward the digital age, online journals aren’t just for newbie writers anymore. Sometimes print journals also offer online-only content, which means that if your work isn’t suitable for the print edition, it still might qualify for online. Some online-only journals are now doing Kindle versions of their editions, too.

Top off these reasons with Duotrope Digest continuing to offer a free database of literary markets, and you’ve suddenly wiped away most of the impediments to getting published in magazines.

So, what’s the ‘sort of’ bit all about?

There’s still the issue of writing an amazing story.

The bottom line is this: the process of submitting to journals and getting responses from journals is getting easier, but to get published:

  • You still have to write well. In fact, you may have to write better than ever because there’s more competition. All those literary geniuses, who for years had no postage money, are now forces to be reckoned with.
  • You will still face rejection. You’ll get even more rejections than you used to get, because you’ll be submitting to even more magazines than you used to. You might even get two rejections on the same day if you’re simultaneously submitting.

Sure, it may be relatively easy to get accepted by small start-up magazines or amateur online journals, but most still require the same sheer literary awesomeness they always did.

But the good news for writers like you and me is that when we achieve that sheer literary awesomeness, the opportunity to have our work considered for publication will have grown exponentially.

Now, instead of sitting on the sidelines and only focusing on my novel, I’ve got one short story in print, and two others on submission.

Although you don’t need previous writing credits to publish a novel, it’s a great feeling to finally see your writing in print, and it does give you a little something to put in your query letter.

Want to avoid the most common pitfalls? Lynne Barrett, editor of The Florida Book Review, shares this in-depth article about getting yourself published in journals:

What Editors Want: A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.

In what other ways do you think it’s getting easier to get writing credits? Are there any ways in which you think it’s getting more difficult?

Photo courtesy of Flickr—Joel Bedford

About Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Suzannah Windsor Freeman is a Canadian freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Writer, Sou'wester, Grist, Saw Palm, Anderbo, The Best of the Sand Hill Review, and others. She is the managing editor of Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing and Writeitsideways.com. She lives in Ontario with her husband and four children.