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Achieve Success as a “Serious Writer”

By Kat Bodrie

Kat Bodrie (c. Katie Dickson Photography)

In 2012, I became a Serious Writer. “Serious,” to me, meant showing my work to others instead of hoarding it on my hard drive, only allowing myself and my husband to bask in the Incredible Genius that I am.

I wanted to be published—to get the external affirmation that yes, I am enough, and that yes, my writing is good, and I am a Real Writer.

It wasn’t until much later, after cyclical bouts of self-doubt, self-assurance, and faux apathy that I learned I don’t have to take myself or my writing so seriously—and I can still get published.

I’d written poetry, short stories, and failed attempts at novels since high school. As a junior at UNC-Greensboro, I submitted two poems to the undergraduate literary journal Coraddi, each of which won an award in the fall issue.

You’d think success would have encouraged me, but I got distracted by finishing my degree, then making a living, and then going back to school. After getting my masters in literature and toiling at jobs I didn’t like, I donned the Serious Writer identity and started submitting some of my work to literary magazines.

Every part of the submission process was emotional, from the hand-wringing “Is it good enough?” and “Do they like me?” to the almost certain rejection. In order to keep going, to keep submitting, I had to purge all of the toxic and misguided thoughts I had about what it means to be published.

My education in literature had subconsciously convinced me that only the Best Literature was published; if my work was rejected, it was because it wasn’t objectively good. Was that true? I’d read terrible but popular work before: Stephen King is a great storyteller but could use more lethal editors. Hemingway’s short stories soar; his novels tank.*

First, I had to divorce myself from the notion that editors look for only the best. They’re people, like writers. They know what they like, and their tastes are subjective.

Next, I had to arm myself with distance. My writing is not a reflection of me as a person. Editors are not personally conspiring against my fame or my ideas. Getting published will not make my life better, and it won’t heal my perfectionism or my control issues or my self-doubt.

In 2019, I set a goal: 100 submissions to lit mags and contests. By the end of the year, I had achieved 50% of my goal, but more than that, I had developed a no-nonsense, nose-to-the-grindstone attitude. I think I’d numbed myself in some way. Sure, the highs weren’t as high when I got accepted, but the lows—which were much more plentiful—weren’t as low, and that kept me sane.

I also developed a dedicated list of resources for finding publication opportunities and for documenting submissions that I’m eager to share with other writers.

Duotrope was made by writers for writers. We’ll help you find publishers for your work, so you can get right back to writing. Photo by Milkoví.

Duotrope is a subscription service I’ve used since 2014 to do both of those things. The weekly e-mail newsletter collates recently opened markets (both paying and non-paying) and upcoming themed deadlines. When you log-in to the site, you can search for publications and agents, as well as track your submissions. If a publisher or contest isn’t listed, you can request they add it (as long as it adheres to their criteria), and you’ll hear back within a day or two. At $5 a month (or $50 a year), it’s been crucial to my success as a published writer. Last year alone, I placed nine poems, most of them opportunities I had heard about through Duotrope.

If you’ve submitted your work online before, you probably know that most publications use Submittable to read and choose writers’ submissions. It allows writers to see at a glance their submissions on the platform, broken down into active, accepted, declined, and withdrawn. The “Discover” link also shows upcoming deadlines to publication opportunities around the world; you can easily filter results according to what you want to see and bookmark the opportunities that interest you. (Submittable’s newsletter, Submishmash Weekly, with interesting literary news and curated opportunities, is currently on hiatus.)

I also take a look at the publication opportunities in NCWN’s Weekly e-Blast and Winston-Salem Writers’ monthly e-mail newsletter. Sometimes, I hear about something I haven’t seen on Duotrope or Submittable.

Of course, many Serious Writers like myself use good ol’ spreadsheets to document submissions, whether we use Duotrope or Submittable or not. Columns for genre, due date, date submitted, cost, results, web links, and extraneous notes help us keep our past submissions and upcoming submissions organized. I also have a sheet called “Did Not Submit” so I can copy over missed opportunities, whether deliberate or accidental.

This year, I’m focused on submitting poetry to higher-end publications and on getting my chapbook When the River Takes Us, about my friend’s suicide, published. With any luck, my creative vision and execution will resonate with editors, and I’ll be able to enter “Acceptance” into Duotrope, Submittable, and my spreadsheet.

***

KAT BODRIE is a professional writer and editor based in Winston-Salem. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry South, Wild Roof Journal, West Texas Literary Review, Rat’s Ass Review, and elsewhere. Her favorite quarantine activities are reading, drinking tea, watching baking shows, and hanging with her housemates, feline-friend Rita and human-husband Ryan. Read her writing at Katbodrie.com.

*Please note, all opinions are the author’s. This is not the official opinion of the North Carolina Writers’ Network! 

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