Advice, Fiction, Goals, Novel, Poetry, Publish, Questions, Short story, Tips, Writing

What is your writing worth?

Today, I’m thinking I should add another post category called Reality Check. But that might be too discouraging—to me as well as you. Even though I’ve been querying my novel for a while, it took Duotrope to make me say, “What was I thinking?”

I made my decision to seek publication in ignorance. I had no idea how hard reaching my goal would be because I had no idea how many other writers would be in competition with me. Now I know—there are at least a gazillion. And half of them are better writers than I am.

My goal this year was to see a story I’d written published, so I‘ve been using Duotrope to search for magazines I think might accept my work. No easy task that. I can eliminate those who only publish sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, thriller, erotica, western, etc. It’s just as easy to weed out some others by their rejection rates. If their acceptance rate is in the single digits—or less—I don’t even bother. Many of those magazines publish well-established authors; what chance do I have against the Joyce Carol Oates of the world?

Duotrope shows a description for each magazine, usually taken from their own website, and often I read this description and think the magazine sounds perfect for my work. Then, I go to the site and read samples of what they publish and my hopes are dashed. It’s either completely different in style or tone from what I write, or “too literary,” or “too amateur.” So those are more mags I can ignore.

So now, I’ve established what magazines I need not apply to, but how do I choose among the rest? One big question is whether I want to receive payment for my story or poem. Of course, searching for magazines that pay even a token amount turns up many I’ve already crossed off. And if my search term is “semi-pro and up” I’m going to see a lot of those names I’ve put on my too-elite-for-me list.

Do I need to receive payment to feel good about having a story or poem published? What if a magazine’s acceptance rate is over fifty percent? Some show over ninety percent! How would I feel about being published in one of those magazines?

I think to answer those questions, I have to ask another. Why do I write? It’s clearly no longer for my own entertainment or I wouldn’t be querying agents with a novel. I want my work to be read. But do I only want to be read? By how many people? If I don’t care about payment, and I don’t care how many people—or who—reads it, why not just publish on my blog? What is my writing worth to me? Questions, questions, questions.

Do you have an opinion to share?

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38 thoughts on “What is your writing worth?”

  1. Boy, Linda, you raise good questions.

    For me, I would love to see more of my work published, with or without pay. I think getting your work out there is just as important and – for me – just as boosting to a writer’s confidence. I try to limit the number of places I submit to that ask for reading fees, but sometimes I just can’t resist. I like the pain of rejection, I guess 🙂

    I don’t study a magazine’s statistics too long. As a writer, I fight my inner editor too often, and sometimes she tries to throw those kind of impossible odds my way too. She should know by now that I’m no good with numbers. ANYway…on Duotrope, they list the number of subscriptions for each magazine or journal, so sometimes I search there for places that might not pay but have a decent subscription base.

    I say keep submitting, one way or another. Like you, I want my work to be read 🙂


    1. Agreed, Christi, I need the encouragement far more than I need a few dollars. 🙂

      And I don’t base my submission decision just on the acceptance rate. There’s one mag I’d like to submit a poem too because I feel it would be a good match, even though their rejection rate is something like 90%.

      I hadn’t noticed you could see subscription numbers on Duotrope. Thanks for that info.


      1. Woops – I was wrong about Duotrope posting subscription numbers, Linda. I checked it out after I posted my comment. I think I was remembering The Writer. In each issue, they highlight one lit journal (under Literary Spotlight), complete with circulation numbers. Too bad Duotrope doesn’t do the same.


  2. All that work to toss away? Not so! If I can’t find a publisher for my novel, I may publish it on my blog one chapter a day! I would go to the trouble to promote it ahead of time and then birth it onto the web. No, it’s not all about money, is it?


      1. I would considered it if I had money to invest with an equity publisher. I wouldn’t use my funds foolishly. I would do a lot of homework first. Would you consider self-publishing? There was a time when I wouldn’t even think of it. However, I have learned that royalties are a small percentage of the proceeds on a book and are delayed. With self-publishing you stand to gain more if your book is successful. On the other hand, that cash coming in would have to cover your investment, so it would not be all black ink like an equity publisher would like to paint it. And if unsuccessful, it could be all red ink. With me, Ms. empty pockets, it’s back to the blog. Ha!


        1. I’m Ms. Empty Pockets too, Carol. I’ve been following Michelle Davidson Argyle’s venture into self-publishing her novella Cinders. It’s available for the e-readers as well as print-on-demand. In one of her blog posts she broke down her expenses. She did all her own formatting, which is different for various e-readers. She also created her own cover, which was her biggest expense, even though she’s a professional photographer, because she had a custom dress made for her cover model. Her cover is gorgeous and completely professional. I could design mine, I think, using a stock photo, because I think my novel would require a simpler cover.

          But would I consider self-publication of a novel? I’m not sure. I think it works very well for non-fiction because you’re more likely to have a ready-made platform. But not so well for fiction … unless you’ve already developed a sizable following from earlier traditional publication, or have influential friends, or maybe just a thousand everyday friends who will commit to publicizing for you. I’m 0 for 3 there, so I don’t think you’ll see me self-publishing anytime soon. 🙂

          Another option is a smaller, indie publisher. Some of those you can still query directly.


  3. I tend to take a number of things into consideration with my submissions: depends on the piece – my first flash fiction piece, I wasn’t sure how I’d done so I sent it somewhere that had a reasonably quick turn around and that offered feedback, that was very helpful. Another story was a ‘reprint’ because it had been on a blog for awhile, automatically you can rule out bigger markets, and most of the paying ones at that!

    Otherwise, I start with places I would love to have my work, and work down from there. Being paid is excellent, but being published is pretty awesome too – as long as the site looks professional and the stories on it are ones I can enjoy, I’m happy to submit.

    I automatically avoid places with extremely long response times, or low response rates (who has time to sit around for a year waiting to see if a piece got accepted? I’m just not that patient). It can take a lot of work figuring out where to submit to, but the more you do it, the better you get at it – as for all things, it takes practice 😉

    Good luck!

    I LOVE Duotrope too, can spend so much time on that site.


  4. Linda,

    I’ve found duotrope to be a valuable resource. I keep track of all my submissions through them.

    My writing seems to come in spurts. Some months I can put out a couple of short stories and flash fiction pieces but find myself “stuck” on the novel. Other months, the novel is all I can think about.

    I must admit to doing a happy dance the first time a short story of mine was published. Somehow I felt more like a “real” writer. The money didn’t matter to me either. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be nice…


  5. Recognition is very important, to feel that someone else out there “gets” your story so I know what you mean. I haven’t tried any magazines yet, I haven’t tried submitting to anyone actually, I am more interested in polishing my novel and whilst I’d love to have something published in a magazine, it really is not a priority to me at all.


      1. I’ve read more than once that it is not tremendously important if you do NOT have a publishing record before you submit. What really matters to the agent is how good the story you are submitting is and how you present that on the query letter. I’ve heard this from more than one professional writer/agent in both of the publishing conferences I have attended. Good luck with it though, let us know how you get on.


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