Every published piece of work has its own readership, its own audience. The bedtime story you make up for a three year old is different (I trust) from the poem you write to communicate your grief at the death of a friend. This is of course a dramatic difference, but I choose it to try to show you that the destination, the readership, the audience to which your work is directed, really really matters. And between the work and the audience sit the publishers – and the publishers know what they think the audience will want, because usually the publishers are proposing to sell the work to the audience.
You have heard the old advice ‘know your enemy’ – that’s a good one – but it’s also a good idea to know your audience, to befriend your audience, and the gatekeepers between you and your audience are publishers – so in a sense you need to ‘know your publishers.’
What you as the producer of the work need to know is – what kind of things do publishers A, B and C like to sell to their audiences?
How do you discover this? It is not a secret. The publishers make it clear every time they publish something.
You have to study, to READ what publishers put out.
You want to have work in Fiddlededee Journal? Then READ a few copies of FJ. You want to have your novel published by MishMash? Then you simply HAVE to read some books by MM. I mean READ them. Take the time to read them.
I know all this sounds so obvious – and you are probably thinking – yes yes yes – tell us something we don’t know – BUT – in my experience (vast)** I have observed that although writers KNOW what I am saying is true, many, many writers ignore the whole idea, and just go ahead and bombard journals and publishers with their writing which is DOOMED to be rejected because it is going to the WRONG PLACE.
Look, I know what I have just said is not the be all and the end all (funny expression) to getting work published, but it is just about the first rule.
Other things that will get in your way are publishers who ignore every approach you make to them. You could try barring their way to the exit at a writers’ festival (publishers are notorious for not answering emails – this is not necessarily personal – maybe they just don’t like email). You will really have to work out your own strategies for getting their attention – but I can tell you the first rule of having work published really IS – know your desired audience, and realise that the publishers are the LINK between Beautiful You and your Beautiful Readers.
So that was One Thought – but a good one.
**Sometimes I think that writers might have a secret desire to get work rejected. They will come to me in woe and say their bedtime story has been rejected by Fiddlededee Journal.
Me (astonished): But why would a journal for young violinists consider publishing the story about a family of mice living in a drawer full of embroidered tablecloths?
Writer (also astonished): Oh, I didn’t realise Fiddlededee was for violinists.
Me (weeping): Oh, right, yes, right, I see.