Q. Should I enter my work in contests? Should I pay reading fees?
A. Money should flow toward, not away from, the writer. If you’re new to publishing, don’t enter contests that charge entry fees or submit to publications that ask for reading fees. Most venues holding contests still read regular submissions for free. If the venue uses Submittable software in place of postal mail, do pay the two or three dollars that is asked of you when you upload your work. That’s what you would have spent on postage anyway. Odds of winning any literary contest range between 200:1 to 1200:1. Writing contest entry fees are commonly $10 to $30. Would you put that kind of money on a horse with those odds? I do it once or twice a year for the sport of it.
Q. Where should I send my work?
A. I know your first impulse is to send to high-paying national venues and work your way down, but be honest with yourself: No one in any profession starts at the top. For best results, begin by finding and reading journals based in your home area and submit to those that publish your type of work. Rejected? Never give up, and go to local open readings and read and listen and meet people. Build a good local reputation and network, and you will be invited to give readings or teach workshops, and as you circulate you will also meet local editors, publishers and bookstore owners. A network is as important to a writer as it is to any other professional. After conquering your home area, submit to the journals in your state, then in your region.
Q: Can I submit my work to more than one journal or venue at once?
A: Most now allow that, but some don’t. Find the journal’s website and click the button or tab “Submissions” or “Writers’ Guidelines.” That’s where they give their requirements. Follow the instructions precisely.
Q. Which venues are the most prestigious, and which are less so, and how can I tell?
A: Look at the publication credits in the latest book by your favorite contemporary writer, or in his or her online biography. Those are probably high-prestige venues—or at least they were. In the digital age, journals are born and die every day, and likely half the names on that list have folded or lost their standing; the three or four big established names have probably barely survived digitization. Truly, the most prestigious journals are the ones you read and admire. I subscribe to a “poem-a-day” emailed from a journal I’d love to publish in. Each day I learn more about what it might take to get published in that journal.