If you’re reading this blog, you’re either my mom (Hi, Mum!) or a writer looking to get published. The problem? There’s a hell of a lot of writers out there, my friends. It’s no easy feat to get published.
Here’s the thing: Pursuing a writing career is risky at best. If my graduate classes in Book Publishing have taught me anything, it’s that writers have a tough row to hoe–even if they nab a publisher. Most can’t live off royalties, and blockbusters are a tiny percentage of total titles produced annually. It’s like any other art medium, and the few who rocket to fame hit the liberal arts jackpot.
But come hell or high water, we’re writers. It’s our end game, our love child, our genius. Published or not, writing will always be our thing, and most of us will try to find careers at least surrounded by it, like publishing or teaching. The catch? Finding a publisher even affects our ability to land those related day jobs.
Case in point. While completing a magazine editorial internship, I recently watched my employer wade through a stack of editorial applications and reject them all, even though we desperately need another editor’s pen. Why? Bad writing portfolios. According to my editorial director, the samples have to 1) be good (damn good) 2) explore a variety of topics and 3) be published pieces.
The first two–fair enough. But the third? That’s a thorny bastard.
Fortunately, I’ve had luck publishing across the gamut, and I’ve learned a few things about how to build a published writing portfolio.
First, determine to publish in all medium and genres. A strong portfolio is a diverse portfolio.
Submit to literary journals–like us! Check out Publisher’s Weekly database to find the right journal for you, which includes searches based on payment, genre, and format. There are also bookish blogs like The Poetics Project, which regularly spotlights journals and publishing opportunities. Follow the submission guidelines, and be familiar with the journal style and content.
Submit to newspapers. Letters-to-the editor are great pioneer pieces into publishing because they have high rates of acceptance. Landing a regular columnist position, however, is more difficult. Craft a clear, compelling pitch, and draft a mock piece that represents the column’s theme and personality. With their frequent publication schedule, columns are extremely valuable for writing portfolios and can lead to other opportunities like local celebrity podcasts and syndication. Columns also generate a readership, facilitate discussion, and teach authors to meet deadlines and work with editors. Be smart, be witty, be fearless. I found my readers responded most to hard questions and just plain pluck.