How to Build Your Publication Credits

When most people decide that they want to be a writer, they dream of seeing their book on the bookshelf. They picture a freshly printed book, a beautifully designed cover, and their name in the perfect font. That may happen right away for the lucky few, but for many writers, the study of craft is a lifelong endeavor. Most published books have been edited by developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. Usually what ends up on the shelf is very different than the first draft submitted by the author. Publishing a book is a long process and often not the easiest way to build publication credits.

One of the things editors look for in a pitch is publication credits. A great way to get them is to submit your work to literary journals. Literary journals or literary magazines are periodicals devoted to publishing literature. There are many literary journals. Some focus on fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or all three. Some focus on concise nonfiction, flash fiction (a few hundred words or less), nano-fiction, and so on. The one thing that all literary journals have in common is that they are looking for well-crafted material.

This is the world in which devoted students of writing hang out. This is the world where many well-known writers got their start. Sometimes a piece in a literary journal will gain so much momentum that the author will get a book deal. Most of the time, writers slowly build their writing credits by consistently submitting to their favorite literary journals.

Now, most literary journals use an online submission tool called Submittable. Submittable allows writers to create a free profile that makes it easy to submit to the literary journal of their choice. Because literary journals do not have a team of editors, they are looking for polished, professional work that will fit well in their magazine. It’s important to read through a few issues and carefully read the submission guidelines before submitting your work. Often journals are not open for submissions year-round. It is imperative to submit a thematically-appropriate piece that is the right genre and word-length.

Although literary journals are highly competitive, studying the craft, polishing your piece, and carefully researching the appropriate journal to submit to is the recipe for acceptance. There are hundreds of literary journals and magazines. The top ones are ranked yearly, and the rankings are worth considering. Here is a general ranking of the Top 50 Literary Magazines. There are additional rankings online separated by genre.

Another way to potentially get your foot in the door is to submit to writing contests, grants, and awards. Poets & Writers is an invaluable resource when submitting to contests. They offer a list of upcoming contests and deadlines in each genre. Most contests require a submission fee and have a short submission window.

What we don’t see when we flip through a new release on the bookshelf is all the hours the writer spent studying craft, researching, writing, editing, and submitting. We don’t see their list of publication credits. But if you take the time to wander over to the magazine aisle and flip through some of the literary journals, you will find stories that are as good as anything in a book.

Advice from CALYX Authors to Inspire You to Be Your Most Awesome Self

CALYX Journal, the feminist literary periodical, was founded forty years ago on March 11, 1976, by four women intent on providing a forum for the many wide-ranging and diverse voices that make up women writers and artists. To celebrate, CALYX and Ooligan Press have been diligently working to ready Memories Flow in Our Veins: Forty Years of Women’s Writing from CALYX, an anthology of poetry and prose handpicked by the CALYX Editorial Collective for publication in April 2016. CALYX has won numerous literary awards and has served as a launching pad for a host of female writers, from Julia Alvarez to Sharon Olds to Barbara Kingsolver, among four thousand others. Here are sixteen brilliant quotes from CALYX writers to guide you toward being an even better, kinder, and smarter person than you already are.

On Wandering:

“There are ways in, journeys to the center of life, through time; through air, matter, dream and thought. The ways are not always mapped or charted, but sometimes being lost, if there is such a thing, is the sweetest place to be. And always, in this search, a person might find that she is already there, at the center of the world. It may be a broken world, but it is glorious nonetheless.”
―Linda Hogan, The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir

On Learning:

“If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.” ―Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

On Purpose:

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” ―Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

On the Body:

“This body is yours. No one can ever take it from you, if only you will accept yourself, claim it again—your arms, your spine, your ribs, the small of your back. It’s all yours. All this bounty, all this beauty, all this strength and grace is yours. This garden is yours. Take it back. Take it back.” ―Jean Hegland, Into the Forest

On Morality:

“Do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

On Worry:

“Don’t create snakes out of ropes. You have enough to worry about.” ―Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

On Spontaneity:

“Don’t plan it all. Let life surprise you a little.” ––Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies

On Crying:

Tears have a purpose. They are what we carry of the ocean, and perhaps we must become the sea, give ourselves to it, if we are to be transformed.” ―Linda Hogan, Solar Storms

On Seizing the Moment:

“This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait.” ―Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life

On Self-Care:

“Take your vitamins. Exercise. Just work to love yourself as much as you can—not more than the people around you but not so much less.” ––Sharon Olds, “Advice to Young Poets: Sharon Olds in Conversation,” interview by Michael Laskey

On Control:

“Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make it so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, or drop a jar of applesauce.” ―Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life

On Reading:

“Even the worst book can give us something to think about.” ––Wislawa Szymborska

On Writing:

“Allow yourself to release the emotions you have struggled all your life to contain.” ––Ellen Bass

“I have learned over the years that all I can do is reach for something difficult—try to get the colors right and the negative space, the angle of the light. And if a few people can see it, that has to be enough.” ––Molly Gloss, Falling from Horses

“Words aren’t simply words. They represent something. As I would say, take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.” ––Colleen J. McElroy, “‘Make the Ordinary Extraordinary:’ Interview with Colleen J. McElroy,” interview by Sampsonia Way

And, Most Importantly:

“Do NOT copy John Grisham.” ––Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “In the Footsteps of Achebe: Enter Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigeria’s Newest Literary Voice,” interview by Ikechuku Anya

Short Stories and Small Presses

Short stories have long been considered something of a necessary evil in the world of publishing. It is a truism that “short stories don’t sell,” and the major publishing houses are usually reluctant to take on any anthology that doesn’t feature at least one superstar author. A small-scale press, on the other hand, can be an ideal fit for short-and-sweet literature—indie publishers tend to value quality over mere profitability, and they are more likely to take a chance on new writers and unconventional forms of storytelling.

One of the best ways to get a short story published is to submit it to a literary journal or magazine, most of which operate out of their own dedicated presses. In fact, it’s common for aspiring writers to break into the literary world and start building their reputations by submitting their work to such journals. Many famous authors—such as Mark Twain, John Updike, George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Raymond Carver—began their illustrious careers this way. Even several of the writers published by Ooligan Press have contributed short pieces to various literary publications, including The Bushwick Review in New York City, San Francisco’s ZYZZYVA, famed feminist journal CALYX, and the cutting-edge online magazine Guernica.

Ooligan Press itself has developed discerning taste in anthologies, which has proved to be one of the most flexible mediums for showcasing the diverse voices of the Pacific Northwest. Ooligan’s most recently published example is Untangling the Knot, a provocative collection that explores the often mixed opinions about same-sex marriage within the LGBTQ community. Ooligan’s next anthology coming down the pipeline is Memories Flow in Our Veins, a joint project with CALYX, Inc., celebrating forty years of writing from the best women authors in the country. The tradition continues with Ooligan’s most recently acquired manuscript—a family-themed short-story collection by emerging writer and Ooligan alumna Kait Heacock. A complete list of the press’s anthologies can be found on its website.

Graywolf Press is another small publisher that has made a name for itself in the short-story market. Originally a press dedicated exclusively to poetry, Graywolf has since diversified into the full range of genres and acquired a reputation for producing high-quality literature. Short-story collections from Graywolf Press consistently win the Bakeless Prize for Fiction and garner rave reviews from big-name publications like Publishers Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, Library Journal, and The Huffington Post.

If there is such a thing as a perfect union between the small-scale publisher business model and the short-story genre, then Pushcart Press has surely achieved it. Pushcart Press is the publisher of the Pushcart Prize series, which annually collects the year’s best short stories, essays, and poems produced by small presses all over the world into a single volume. With this one book, readers gain access to some of the highest-quality literature available from the most innovative indie publishers. In recognition of this legacy, Publishers Weekly has dubbed the Pushcart Prize one of the most influential players in the history of publishing.

The big houses in the publishing industry often regard anthologies as throwaway extras, but small presses dedicate just as much time, labor, and love to their short-story collections as they do to full-length works. In fact, the little publishers seem to be the biggest supporters of the short-story genre—journals printed out of their own presses are the primary medium for shorter works and emerging authors, and the foremost short-story prize not only accepts submissions exclusively from small presses but is itself run by an indie publisher. It seems fitting that smaller-scale presses and short stories would work so well together.