Strategy (and tactics) for fiction writers


I spend a lot of time coaxing (and coaching) writers into becoming prolific submitters of work (which, of course, requires them to be prolific writers - a useful by-product) and use my own record as an example of what a half-way competent but commited writer can achieve. This is called broadcast submission - basically it means having an agreed number of unpublished works (let's say ten) in hand at all times, and having all ten out for consideration at at least one publication, at all times.

But there's a step beyond this, and it's the tactical approach. The distinction between tactics and strategy is important for people who want a career in fiction. Strategy is high level stuff - for example, I'd love to be published in the New Yorker, so I send stuff to them three or four times a year. I have a rough idea what they publish and what format it has to be sent in, and a very clear idea that almost nothing they publish is:

1 - non-American
2- non-agented
3-not accompanied by a personal introduction to a high up honcho.

So my strategy is just to pick what might suit them, and stick it in the post, without hope or expectation.

But there have been a couple of places that I really wanted to get published recently - places that were more likely to be within my reach - and for them I had both strategy and tactics.

The strategy was the same, send them stuff that matched their publication ethos without hope or expectation, but the tactics were what mattered, and they were:

1 - to read each issue of each publication, noting the themes of their chosen fiction, the editorial commentary and the other places, events and people they chose to publicise - this gave me a clear idea what they liked
2 - to google each publication and see what was said about it in reviews and blogs - that gave me a clear idea of the readership for that publication
3 - to send something that matched the reader profile and the publication aesthetic EACH and EVERY time there was a submission call.

It took eight months to place with the first publication, fifteen with the second and twenty-two months with the third. As I'd given myself till the end of this year to succeed with them all, I have three months of 'targeted publication' 2007 left, now I've achieved my aims, which I shall spend eating grapes peeled by dancing boys and drinking deep from the fountain of literature!

Seriously though - deciding where to have a strategy, and where to have a strategy plus tactics, means that you focus your efforts on achievable success. If the New Yorker took something, it would be like winning the lottery, but my three sucessful tactical approaches have been more in the nature of Premium Bonds - not huge wins, but welcome all the same. And never forget that the New Yorker is more likely to publish successful writers, so every submission that succeeds moves you closer to that jackpot!

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