by Lisbeth Coiman
Where writing has become a self-employment enterprise, tracking expenses is vital for the emergent writer struggling to build her brand. Conferences, books, subscriptions, writing courses, memberships, tracking sites, and submission fees all add up quickly to a limited writing budget.
Arguably, artists can create great work without ever attending conferences, reading peers’ books, or participating in workshops, but writing great pieces is only one step in the process of getting published. Unless the emergent writer enjoys the benefit of a well-connected literary circle, a consistent flow of submissions to literary journals, contests, and online magazines is the only road to publication. Gaining access to information about submission calls takes up most of the money set aside to submit work. For that reason, submitting to publications on a regular basis on a shoestring requires a well thought submission plan.
To avoid wasting time scouting the Internet for submission calls, it is important to set aside a specific schedule to search for publications accepting submissions and sending work out. Submitting work to one single journal can take up anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours depending on the guidelines. Opening a folder on the desktop, or a database log, or even a simple excel page to enter the information found helps keep track of deadlines and other details such as links to the submission guidelines.
Limiting submission expenses is essential to a well thought plan that takes into account the income sources of the writer.While many publications do not charge a reading fee, the top tier journals and magazines require reading fees that go anywhere between $3 and $25 dollars. Fifty dollars a month set aside for submissions may seem reasonable for most employed writers. However, an unemployed artist may be able to spend only a fraction of that amount in submissions. Realistic expectations help avoid disappointments in this aspect of the process.
Another important expense is membership to writers associations because they provide well-organized, timely information. PEN Center USA and Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) among others provide unique insight into the world of writing for about $80 or so a year (VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and Poets and Writers offer writing resources without a membership). A good strategy might be to time memberships to an extra annual income such as tax return season, or include it in a wish list for gift-giving seasons -birthdays, Mothers Day, or Christmas. For instance, I got my AWP membership for Christmas last December.
Then there is the issue of numbers tracking. Upon reading a piece, a publication might ask about the writer’s numbers. Duotrope is a website that tracks down how many readers a published piece has had, what the traffic is at a particular magazine, what the average wait time is for a response from a journal, and other such services. Although it seemed luxurious to me at the beginning, after two different publications asked for numbers, it became necessary to use a tracking system. The Duotrope membership is $50 a year (or $5 a month), so unless it becomes absolutely necessary, this is something an emergent writer can live without for a while.
Perhaps the most effective way to gain access to submission calls is through networking.
The luxury of literary conferences or writing retreats may pay off in unexpected ways. True, there will be writers bragging about their accomplishments, the sheer amount of ego in one place might be overwhelming to some, but there will be immediate access to publishing houses, journals, information about contests, and the opportunity to network with literary agents, publishers, and fellow writers. That Christmas present may become handy when it’s time to register for a conference.
Fortunately, the most important networking is done for free, by attending readings and other literary events in the community to support local writers, or by becoming active and contributing members of grassroots movements like Women Who Submit.
In a writing community, writers are eager to tell each other what magazines might be interested in a particular type of writing, what journal might be the home for that dark and difficult to place piece, and even share tips to move a submission up the slush pile.
All this valuable information circulates among people who share love for writing and words, supporting each other through the emotional toll of rejection, and cheering for the success of peers. When submitting work on a budget, this word-of-mouth information is free, doesn’t take time from the actual writing, and has the additional benefit of placing the writer at the center of an engaged and supportive community.
Lisbeth Coiman is a bilingual writer standing (unbalanced) on a blurred line between fiction and memoir. She has wandered the immigration path from Venezuela to Canada, to the US, and now lives in Oakland. Her upcoming memoir The Shattered Mirror celebrates friendship among women and draws attention on child abuse and mental illness. She also writes short fiction and poetry, and blogs “irregularly” at www.gingerbreadwoman.org