Who am I to dredge up this chestnut, me, a para-middle-aged writer with one book in print (officially as of September 2009)?
I could argue my way out of addressing an often painful and mystifying topic, but I recently followed an online discussion about this ongoing rite-of-eternal-spring for poets and writers, and decided my experience might help someone.
Which, my publishing experience, is symbiotically attached to my life experience, which, my long journey from the dark well, I will have to trust you, the reader, to believe has had its challenges. Nonetheless:
I used to ask this of published writers. How do I get published? I'd feel both insulted and privy when they sidestepped an answer. No one owed me a hand up, I knew, and it was and is simply something each writer discovers for herself. Some get published before the ink is dry. Some never. Many in-between instantly and never.
The thing is: Send out your work, something made so much easier in our Internet age. My publication history spans twenty years. When I started out, in addition to marching to school in thirty-foot snow drifts and having to rub flint to spark up the television (and this was L.A.), I typed every single submission letter. Also every single draft of my stories - and I wrote many drafts.
I started out writing fiction - pursuing a mystery novel that's gone through almost a dozen permutations and never come to fruition. Soon after I began writing, I also began writing short fiction and that's what I submitted to various journals, whose names and addresses I usually culled from the journal itself or one of those handbooks for writers.
Each submission included an SASE with enough postage to return their rejection note and my story. That was a lot of postage, many 8 x 12 envelopes and hours of typing.
And hundreds of rejections. After a while, I started getting little notes scribbled on the rejection slips: "This one almost made it." "Please try us again." "Sorry, try again. We ran out of room." And so on. And now and then - not all that often, a story of mine would be accepted. And that's how it went. I only wrote short stories and failed mystery novels until some date in the early 1990s, when I popped out of the bathtub to write a poem.
(I had written a few poems in college, but managed to bury my every creative instinct - except those for casual self-destruction - until I was in my thirties.)
With poetry I was equally aggressive in sending out work. I had some early luck - the luck of proximity. One poem was accepted in an editors-only edition of ZYZZYVA and another poem was grabbed up and edited by an editor (and friend) at Fine Madness. He'd heard me read it. History intercedes, because I went to grad. school, became embittered, had to work at personal survival and various other challenges, and stopped writing poetry for some years.
But when I started again four or so years ago, I began submitting right away. As when I started writing fiction, I have the impulse, the need to be seen. That's not the full story behind publication - why we want to be published could probably fill volumes of conjecture - but most of us do.
I send off work to what are perceived as "good" journals and to inaugural issues of (therefore) untested journals. I get rejected much of the time, although I think my percentages - about seven percent acceptances - are decent.
The thing is, I don't hate an editor or journal for rejecting my work. I just send the poem out again. I congratulate myself when I am accepted. I want people to read my poems. While I am, I admit, proud to be published in some of the perceived "good" journals - Threepenny Review, Mississippi Review, Minnesota Review - (stories in Weber Studies, South Dakota Review, Tampa Review and others) - I am most proud of the poems themselves. (Let's back up. Those "good" journals ARE good. Just not necessarily better than all others.)
You never know. The very new journals my work has been featured in include but are no means limited to Fogged Clarity, Willows Wept Review, Flaneur Foundry, Fifth Wednesday, and each journal is a revelation of artistry and excellent writing.
I mean - really good.
And while some journals are closed to new poets, or to old poets like me, so what. If those journals choose to be selective, again, so what. We, as poets and writers, make decisions about what we believe to be "prestige" journals. Can a journal be good if it doesn't remain open to new voices? Do I want to be part of a club that excludes? Why consider that journal desirable or worthy?
Why would anyone want to join that club to begin with?
So keep submitting. On the Internet, it's easy breezy. No paper, no printing costs, no postage. I observe editorial guidelines. If the editors don't accept simultaneous submissions, I don't submit my poems or story to any journal but theirs until hearing back. Or I can choose not to them at all.
But I keep at it. After submitting my poetry collection to three or four contests, I realized I just didn't have the money to keep at it. Having redirected my energy, I found a publisher who read and liked my work. Hence:
The Future Is Happy. BlazeVOX [books]. 2009. Buy it and see my list of publications which includes the good and the unknown - either way, those poems are now in print.
Go to http://www.blazevox.org/bk-ss2.htm to buy my book.
Go to myspace.com/sarahsarai for a more full list of my pubs.
Not discussed above: Writing is a spiritual journey. The whole deal of life is a spiritual journey.