Monday, June 23, 2008

A Road To Getting Published

Getting published, seeing your words in print, is possible. There are many avenues down which a writer can travel: letters to the editor, poetry, newspaper and magazine articles, e-zines, fan-fiction, as well as the brass ring that is a novel. The big question is, how do you get published?

How Do I Know?

So, what qualifies me to write about getting published? How can I claim to know how to get published. Well, because I’ve been published.

I’m thrilled that my novel, Endo, will be out in November, but it won’t be the first thing I got published. I’ve written for several magazines and newspapers: Equinox (so sorry it’s gone), Canadian Wildlife, Seasons, Canadian Sports Collector, Globe and Mail and Ottawa Sun among others. I was fortunate and honoured to receive a 2002 National Magazine Award for my work with Seasons magazine.

There are a few articles floating around the net with my name on them. Here are two stories you can check out at Forget Magazine: I Get It Now and Train Of Thought.

Does all of this make me some kind of expert? Not in the least. But, it does give me experiences to share with others. Maybe I can make someone’s road to getting published that little bit smoother.

How I Got Started

Telling the story of how I got published might give you some ideas of your own to explore.

I’d spent a dozen or so years in advertising and ended up working client-side for a home improvement retailer. One day I came up with fifteen different names for a toilet. That, and a few other things, was my cue for a change.

I’ve held many jobs but writing was what I knew and did best, so, I decided to try freelancing. I had a portfolio of radio and television, newspaper and magazine ads, point of purchase signage, posters, press releases, articles, and I’d even written a newsletter. This was great if I wanted to continue writing for the home improvement industry, but I didn’t. That was the last thing I wanted. I needed change. So, I looked at my interests, the markets available, and decided nature and wildlife was the way to go.

Part of that decision was based on my love of photography. I’d read that there are few writers shooting and few photographers writing. It would definitely be a positive.

I researched what it would take to get published and learned that a writer would query an editor at a newspaper or magazine with a story idea and the editor would decide if it was right for their publication. That was fine if you have a relationship with editors. I didn’t know any of them, and they didn’t know me.

So, I had no samples to offer editors of either my writing or my photography. My only choice was to write a full article and provide the photos. This would prove that I could write and shoot; it would give me legitimacy.

That decision made, I sat down to look at what had been written over the past five years so as not to regurgitate an old idea. Or, at least to give a topic a new spin or update it. I decided to write a story on the plight of the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake in Ontario - their last stronghold in Canada. I interviewed members of the Recovery Team. I went to Killbear Provincial Park and spent a few days with Chris Parent - better known in those parts as Snake Man - and his staff. I shot rolls of film and had a friend, Tony, visit another park to take as many photos as he could.

Armed with a ton of information, I sat down and wrote the article (it can be found at Brock University). Then, I wrote a query letter to accompany the article. I sent it to as many magazines as I could find that I felt would be interested (based on my research of their needs) in the story. No one wanted it. And, that was okay. I had even planned for that happening. Remember, the idea was to prove that I could do the job. It worked.

Though my story about rattlesnakes never made it to print, it gave me the opportunity to contact editors, who then knew my name. And, when considering the snake story, they were then comfortable receiving more traditional queries from me - here’s the idea in a few paragraphs, what do you think?

I owe a great big thank you (which I’ve extended personally) to Nancy Clark, former editor of Seasons Magazine. Based on my snake story, she gave me my first opportunity to write a feature article, How Light Pollution Affects Animals, which appeared in the Summer 2000 issue.

This was my path to getting published. It is just one method and you may try something similar. If nothing else, it shows that if you stay focused, do your research, and are open to new ideas, then you, too, can get published. Whatever you do, remember the three Ps when submitting your work and I know you’ll stand a better chance of seeing your words in print: Polite, Professional and Persistent.

No comments: