So many places to submit writing. So many places to (hopefully) see it published. Hundreds, maybe thousands of venues.
Overwhelming is the word I hear most often from fellow writers--and the word that buzzes in my brain often enough, too.
To combat feeling paralyzed by choice, I just keep moving along, trying to learn, adjusting my submission strategy (not even sure I'd call it a strategy, maybe more a process), making mistakes, figuring out what's important to me (intelligent editing, respect for the work, an indication that the venue won't disappear), what I want to avoid (snooty precious attitudes), and what's a bonus (venues that promote their writers, are connected to some bigger literary project/cause).
One thing that helps me is to have a small number in mind. For me it's six. I want a list of six possible submission venues for each piece, to start. On the whole (considering that I so often simultaneously submit), those six should be places I'd be equally happy to see the work appear.
Usually there's a number one pick at the top, and I will sometimes exclusively submit there first and wait a few weeks (or only a few days if it's a newsy, timely piece). But then I move on to the next five. Having a finite number on a list is, for me, the way to narrow down the hundreds of venues to a few I can hold in my mind. As soon as that initial batch of sim subs go out, I choose the next six, put them on the spreadsheet, and wait. When rejections arrive, another submission goes out, so at all times, I have six submissions (for each individual piece of work) always in the pipeline.
How do I decide on that initial six? And the next six?
I do all the expected things: sign up for newsletters and email listservs that track open calls for submission; check out the columns in magazines and online and in blogs that do the same; make good use of submission tracking/database systems. Read. Study. Investigate.
But even with all that, mostly I follow my nose. Usually, it doesn't let me down, though there have been a few stinkers.
I start with the venues I read regularly, and hunger after. But--I am honest with myself: not everything I write merits submitting to my wish list. Depending on the piece, I add those venues that I have read and admire, those that writer-friends have been published in, those that I've discovered via a link and liked, venues that I remember with a fondness. In any case, no matter how I found a venue, there has to be a feeling of, I'd like to see my work there too.
Sometimes I'm more tactical and set out on a deliberate search. I look for venues that publish only particular subjects, that want pieces with certain themes, that are prominent in a particular area of the country, that serve a particular readership.
Then there's my *stalking* approach.
I happen across a writer whose work I like, a writer who, for any variety of reasons, gives me the sense that we're at roughly the same level of ...something. Something sort of unnameable. Not writing skill exactly; something more slippery. Maybe it's aesthetic, or publication achievement, or career trajectory; maybe it's sensibility, or style, or ...whatever it is, it's something I don't completely understand myself, but I know it when I read it. When I read that person's work, a gong goes off: this is a writer whose work is in the "same lane" as mine. Something about this other writer's work tells me: follow. And so I do.
I read the writer's bio at the end of the piece carefully, noting where else she/he has been published. I go to the writer's website for a fuller list of publishing credits, past and forthcoming. Then I set about investigating those other venues, reading, considering, evaluating, sometimes eliminating; but most of the time, I come away with the feeling that confirms what I intuitively sensed in the first place: if this is a good venue for X's work, it's a good place for mine. Those venues then usually wind up on my "submit to in future" list, one of the first six, or the second six. Or the third. Or...
I've done this at least a half dozen times, and mostly had good luck getting acceptances.
I don't think I'm unique in this way. I've heard other writers tell a version of this story. And of course, over on Facebook, where I'm a member of many *super secret* pages where writers share submission intel (and, I'm guessing, quietly *stalk* one another's publications), it's no secret.
This sometimes makes for apparent serendipity. I've had writer acquaintances message me to say, Hey, I see you're in X this month...I was published there a few months ago.
Yes, I say, isn't that a cool coincidence!