Finally Getting Published!

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted – over a year. A lot has happened since then, yet a lot hasn’t happened as well. So much has changed in my life and the world that I feel paralyzed about where to start. The perfectionist in me says that I should post something about what I learned from my 31 months of travel or perhaps what it’s like to be “living my dream” of living in Munich, or maybe I should even write about perfectionism. Then there’s the voice that says, just write something, Christina.

So why not share my news that, after 34 attempts, I am a published writer! My essay, “My Uterus is Fine. Thanks for Asking” was picked up by the online journal, The Abstract Elephant.

When I set out to write my memoir, I had a pretty good grasp of grammar and had many great stories, but found that I didn’t know much of anything about being a writer. For starters, I thought it would be easy. I also thought I’d have all this time since I didn’t have a job. Ha! But time is a slippery beast. It expands and contracts in the most inconvenient means possible. Mostly, as I get older, it seems to contract. Remember how long summer break was or those long last minutes before recess when we were kids? Lately, I sit down to write in the morning, and before I know it, the day has disappeared in a blur, and I feel that I have very little to show for it.

So I started taking classes online at the University of Iowa because nothing motivates me like a graded deadline. I started writing personal essays. Up until this point, I’m ashamed to admit that I thought essays were just those bland research projects that I wrote for American Government class or Sociology. I had no idea that essays were something that people would ever enjoy reading.

So what is a personal essay?

There are many kinds of essays, but in essence, they all start as an exploration of an idea. Augustine Hippo said: “I write as my knowledge grows, and my knowledge grows as I write.” Personal essays draw upon the writer’s experiences to describe some event, struggle, or lesson that they’ve experienced. If done well, as Leslie Jamison wrote, the reader will, “Find flashes of themselves.” I’ve written essays about double standards, fairytales, horrible dates, imposter syndrome, and my decision not to have children. The most frequent and treasured critique that I receive is, “This is so relatable!”

First Rights

One reason I haven’t posted for so long is something I discovered called “first rights.” No, it’s not a primitive ritual you undertake upon reaching puberty, but there is a parallel to virginity because few literary magazines want sloppy seconds. If a piece has ever been published elsewhere, they don’t want it. It’s one of the many obstacles to getting published in a journal.

Here’s what getting published looks like.

  1. You must write a piece. If you’re writing a personal essay, aim for somewhere around 1,500 words (four pages double spaced).
  2. Edit said piece until it glows. No misspellings or grammar errors. The words should jump off the page and grab the reader by the gonads.
  3. Do not post said piece on your blog. Remember those first rights I mentioned a bit ago? Yeah. Anything you publish can typically only be published once and yes, posting on your personal blog is considered publishing in this context.
  4. Trawl the internet for literary magazines that might be a good fit for similar pieces. A good starting place would be Submittable.com and Duotrope.com – these are literary magazine databases.
  5. Pore over the submission requirements and make sure that you have exactly the right format they request.
  6. Many will request a brief bio and a cover letter for each piece. Have fun with that. (Keep it short and sweet.)
  7. Many literary magazines require a payment of anywhere from $2-$20 to be considered for review – the average rate is $4. This payment in no way guarantees you will be published or that you will even receive any kind of feedback on your piece. This was offensive to me at first until I realized that many literary magazines rely on underpaid or unpaid staff to read, edit and publish. They have costs to defray, so I get it. Now I like to think of my entry fee as a donation to keep the magazine in circulation.
  8. Send your piece off and wait. And wait some more. I have one piece that’s been out for review for 226 days. My average wait time is 50 days.
  9. Once you receive a reply, there’s a very high chance that all you receive is a form rejection email. Most of the journals that I submit my work to have a 1-2% acceptance rate. Competition for space in journals is fierce. Don’t take rejections personally.
  10. If you do have the supreme fortune of getting a piece accepted, you must immediately contact any other journals where you have submitted it and inform them that you are withdrawing the piece for consideration (see First Rights above).

Oh, did I mention that you don’t typically get paid for any of this? Yep…

So why do we do it?

Writing a book is a tremendous undertaking. I have been working on mine for something like 12 years. As Jane Friedman points out, smaller pieces can offer small wins and validation.

Did I mention one of my pieces was about imposter syndrome? Getting a piece published calms that voice of my inner critique that tells me I’m not a “real” writer and motivates me to keep at it. Plus, essays can be a lot of fun to write, there’s something satisfying about having a self-contained piece that can be read in one sitting.

I have been keeping my head down, trying to write my book and not get too lost in what comes next, but it’s hard not to freak out when I hear that many publishers expect authors to have at least 100,000 followers on social media. (Follow me here, please!) So, I was immensely pleased and surprised when I shared my first published essay on Facebook that the post received more likes, more comments, and more shares than ANYTHING I have ever shared previously.

It is my goal to finish my memoir, Magicians, Cross-Dressers, and My Uterus, this year. In the meantime, I’ll keep forging ahead with my goal to make five submissions to literary magazines each month and hope that the process is kind of like getting a job. It’s hard to get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without having a job, but once you do, the process theoretically gets easier.

Maybe I’ll even start writing here more often again.

If you, dear reader, are interested in getting published, my writing group, Happy Writing, offers free, online quarterly literary submission events and productivity sessions throughout the week. I’d love to see you there!

My Uterus is Fine. Thanks for Asking.

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About Me

Hi, I'm Christina. I love travel, cats, gardens, house sitting, birds, painting, dogs, museums, good food & drink, you know - all the good stuff! I've been working on my first memoir, Magicians, Cross Dressers and My Uterus while living my second!

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