Publishing 101, or Be Prepared to Publish

By Susan E. Wagner

Before you begin to look for publishers, determine the category of your work. Not only do publishers want to see that you have some awareness of the markets, but they also categorize their own services into types and subtypes. Literary agents do the same.

The first step is understanding the differences between “literary” and “commercial” work. You can check articles like the two below if you’re unsure. They are general guidelines and some publishers are more particular than others in following the guidelines.

1. Whilst there’s crossover between the two, they are distinct categories. Literary fiction is often focused on artistry, with the story being driven by character and internal motivations. Commercial fiction is generally more plot driven, and read for entertainment rather than its art.
Commercial and literary fiction: what’s the difference?

2. Writer Magazine

The next step is to determine what genre or cross-genre your work is.  Hybrid work is popular so if your work is a mystery with some romance or children’s 8 -12-year-old supernatural historical novel, publisher’s will want to know that. It also increases the number of publishers to contact.

For general information, calls for submissions and other market opportunities for both individual or book length work, check below. Both offer good articles on the craft of writing and the current market trends.

  1. Poets & Writers Magazine
  2. Writers Digest Magazine

Newsletters with market information are also available and often free. Like:

Also, many publishing houses have their own newsletters these days, as do numerous authors who will share information. Organizations like Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writer, sand Mystery Writers of America can provide up to date market information and workshops. Joining these professional groups gives you support and a place to market your book.

For individual submissions to magazines, journals and chapbooks, has a free sign-up where you can access information in several ways. They provide information on current deadlines, specific guidelines, closures and fees (if any). performs a similar service.

Both have submission trackers for writers using their sites. Many publishers use one or both of these, and more seem to join every day. The specific guidelines for their submissions are also listed, which is important given the different formatting requirements for individual submissions.

Reading individual issues of the magazines, journals, contest winners, etc. is also important to understanding what a publication looks for in their submissions, especially for paying markets. But having publications can impress larger publishers.

There are still books you can buy, like Writer’s Market, and their Guide to Literary Agents, that will provide you the same type of help and in different categories, like poetry of children’s markets. However, you will still need to check publishers’ websites to confirm the latest submission requirements.

Finally, let me mention Facebook. There are numerous groups for all types of writers. Often they will share markets and/or their experiences with publishers or agents. A Facebook search or whatever your interest is will give you a place to start.

For other current information on business trends in publishing, publishing houses, try:

Susan Wagner is the author of Unmuted: Voices on the Edge, a collection of hybrid poetry on mental illness and families. She has taught professional and creative writing and is an editor with The Pearl S. Buck Writing Center. She will graduate with an MFA in Creative Writing in May 2021. Her poem, “The ER” was recently selected for Unique Minds: Creative Voices at Princeton University. To learn more about Sue’s books and her writing coaching services, visit her website.

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