This Submissions Tool Led to Publication in 23 Magazines
Despite following writing and submissions advice to the letter, investing in courses and even a writing degree, the acceptances came in dribs and drabs. When my mentor saw how discouraged I was, she shared a small submissions trick she’d been using for several years that had helped her reach her own monthly publication goals.
After hearing how it worked, I realized that I didn’t need to learn or “know” anything more. My writing skills and knowledge weren’t the problem. That day I went home and completely changed my submissions approach. It involved one index card and a completely new strategy.
Why common writing & submissions advice isn’t enough.
You can accumulate all of the talent and pitching skills in the world, but if you freeze up before or after submitting a piece, it’s going to slow your progress. For many writers I know (ahem), a big obstacle to submitting isn’t the know-how: it’s pushing past the fear of rejection and consistently submitting enough work.
For a long time, I tried pushing through the fear by focusing on where I wanted to go: publication in a national magazine. I’d focus on that in order to work up the courage to hit “send”. The problem was, I’d then get stuck in waiting mode. I’d check my email over and over and re-read the pitch, obsessing over what was wrong.
Why not just submit someplace else, or work on something new? Nope. I always froze in hope/fear mode.
Occasionally an editor would email back, but mostly I heard nothing at all. In the meantime, I’d get discouraged — and mad at myself. I’d read more how-to books in search of the golden nugget that would improve my response and acceptance rate.
But the problem wasn’t that I didn’t know enough — it was psychological.
If you get stuck in a similar pattern, my mentor’s tool could work for you too.
Get unstuck by taking action.
We’ve all heard the stories about success being a numbers game: how Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times and how Babe Ruth struck out more times than any other player in Major League Baseball. It’s one thing to know that, and another to use it to your advantage. That’s where the index card comes in.
Take an index card and split it into 31 squares. Each square represents a day out of your month. Now decide how much you want to earn per month (a realistic number, for this stage in your career), and divide it by 31. Write that number in each of the squares.
If I want to make ~$2,000 to $3,000 per month, my card looks like this (I use 30 days and leave one freebie):
Here’s the important part: a $100 block represents the dollar amount of submissions you need to make. So, on day one, square one, you need to submit $100 dollars’ worth of work. This could be a guest post pitch that pays $50, plus two $25 reprints emailed to regional magazine editors. The following day, you might submit one $100 pitch to a website. The act of submitting is your goal, not responses, acceptances or money made. Eventually, the money will follow.
Once you’ve submitted the dollar amount for the day, you can cross off the square — it’s DONE. No obsessing over what happens next. The next day is a new day, new square, with another $100 to be submitted.
If you miss a day, just do extra work on another day — or leave the square undone (though I never could). If you notice a lot of missed days piling up, expect less acceptances too.
This method was so integral to my mentor’s process, that she carried her index card in her purse.
The process reminds me of a cold calling job I had in my 20s. I worked at an insurance agency, and had to spend an hour each day offering insurance quotes to people on their marketing list. There was a definite pattern: out of every 100 calls, about 10 people would answer the phone. Of those 10 people that I talked to, one would agree to getting a quote. My pitch to all 10 people remained the same — what led to the positive response was the sheer number of calls I made (although I acknowledge that at a certain point a better pitch = more success).
I always imagine each editor as one person on that old marketing list.
The results are in…
The index card increased my acceptances, but even better, I feel so much better about writing because I’m more productive and have less anxiety. The act of crossing off the day’s work feels satisfying, and submitting to multiple places takes the pressure off of any one pitch or piece. As the months pass, the consistent work really does snowball into more acceptances and payments.
I haven’t been published in a national magazine, and that’s okay. The 23 magazines (and counting) were regional parenting magazines in the U.S. and Canada. Really the only limit is the one you set based on where you submit to.
Colleen Wright has a tendency to take the path less chosen, and likes to share unique perspectives on personal finance, living frugally and more.