If you want to get published, know your audience (and publishers). When I entered The Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Fiction Contest” (in which my story placed Honorable Mention), one of the guidelines was to “Think local. The Post has historically played a role in defining what it means to be an American. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future.” I implemented items emblematic of “Americana,” like community college, Post-It notes, Starbucks, Wheel of Fortune, and the concept of being a “Pollyanna.” Knowing how much The Sat Eve Post loves limericks (they hold a monthly limerick contest), I ended my story with one (the title of my piece was “The Post-It Poet,” after all). The day after I entered this contest was the day I started working on next year’s entry.
Before submitting your book manuscript to an agent or publishing house, build up your author platform. (Think of it as an online audition.) Here are some tips to get you started. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/10/08/12-ways-to-build-your-writers-platform/
Don’t use the “kitchen-sink theory,” meaning that you’ll send a publisher whatever just to see if it’ll stick. (It won’t.) Whenever I’ve gotten published, it’s been because I’ve not only tailored the piece to fit their needs, but I’ve gotten a feel for what they’re looking for by reading what they publish. You learn by reading and doing.
Have a submission schedule for the publications you write for regularly. For example, on the fifteenth of every month, I submit a poem to a certain publication I adore—one I’ve been published in before. Also, keep track of what you write. I have a master list of pieces I’ve written and where I have submitted each. I’ve written so much poetry, I’ve had to categorize them into Shutterfly anthologies.
Writing opportunities are everywhere: some consider publication as payment and others require payment simply to be read. Pick your poison. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/01/31/a-publishers-market-not-a-writers-market/
Identifying your target audience is important as it helps paint a picture for the publisher on how to market your novel. For mine, I’d say my target audience is college-educated women between the ages of 25–45 who have been a part of the Mormon experience or are familiar with the religion. It’s also recommended to list a few books (published by well-known authors) your target audience might like.
Let your piece marinate at least a week before submitting (if time constraints allow). Edit on hardcopy and read aloud. You will catch more mistakes that way because you force yourself to listen rather than scan.
Query letters must capture the attention of editors and publishers as many won’t read your manuscript without one. Just think of it as another writing challenge. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/01/17/query-letter-to-missouri-life-magazine/
Plan for writing contests a year in advance, so you never miss a deadline, and you’re always submitting quality work.
Trying to write for a publication or contest because it pays well or the entry is free when you have no interest in the topic, theme, or publication will take more time than writing two pieces you are passionate about for a publication you read. For example, there was a national women’s magazine on which the topic was, “What is the bravest thing you have ever done?” When I saw the previous years’ winning entries—serving in Afghanistan and other equally courageous things (i.e., larger than life achievements), I realized the bravest thing I’d ever done was get my wisdom teeth pulled without being put under, so I passed.