Occasionally I teach a class on Submission Strategies, and from the start, I passionately insist that for every time I get an acceptance from my top-pick, first-choice venue, without sending the work anywhere else, there were at least three instances of sending a piece around to a half dozen (or several dozen!) markets before it landed in a good literary home.
And though everyone dutifully takes notes and nods, I'm guessing some are quietly thinking, well maybe for her, but that won't be me. Few people ask questions at this point.
But at the next session, I bring in a couple of printed out 11 by 17 worksheets from my (long, tedious, but vital) Excel spreadsheet that I use to track all of my submission, cross-sorted by venue and piece of writing, dates, outcomes, editor notes, etc. When this starts to make its way around the table, eyes widen, jaws drop a little, questions erupt.
Did you really send 8 (or 18 or 28) pieces to X before you got a yes?
Did you really have to submit that piece (the one got nominated for an award, the one that won an award) to 8 (or 18 or 28) journals before it was accepted?
But now that you have lots more experience, it's easier right?
Ha. No. And, yes.
You learn stuff. You get better at this enterprise, this business, this game of figuring out where your work will succeed. You develop instincts, learn from mistakes, know more about what editors want based on what they've already published (because you read and read and read). You also learn more about yourself and what you are interested in accomplishing by publishing, what you can live without, what you don't care to negotiate. This takes time, commitment, some analytic skills, gut instincts, and a little luck. Not to mention (but oh let's mention) that this only happens if along the way, your writing craft is also consistently improving, even if only incrementally.
When it all works, when the venue you are after wants what you have to offer, after you pat yourself on the back, it's worth figuring out what you did right that time.
That's what I do in a guest blog post running over at the Brevity blog -- analyze what I did that got my essay into the Fall 2016 special issue of the literary journal Brevity Magazine. The post is divided into nine steps. I hope it's helpful to any writer wanting to break into any market that's personally meaningful.