How to Keep Something in the Pipeline

 Don’t pin your hopes on one
narrow pipe to publication.

It’s been too long, readers, since I wrote about the mechanics and realities of getting published. The reason is that my own publishing trail is temporarily at a standstill, as I work on my longer project. But I’ve been thinking about what we all should be doing, and I’m reminded of a quotation from legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Asimov said:

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.”

This is a great quotation for writers to remember, because we can easily enter periods of frustration or distraction, in which we get discouraged and stop sending work out. The real difference between talented successful people and talented unsuccessful people is perseverance! So our publishing goals depend on keeping something in the pipeline.

Consider the best-case timeline.

Stop for a moment and remember what the timeline of even your best-case scenario is. Today, you finish a story and send it off to your first-choice magazine. If it’s good, it’s getting in print by next issue, right? So, so wrong. I’ve worked at several different presitigous literary magazines, and I can tell you that whether it is email or snail mail, the backlog in a typical slush pile at a magazine can range between three and six months. That means that today, an editor is only just now opening the envelopes that were sent six months ago! So six months from now, an editor opens your story and likes it. He or she passes it on to another editor for another read. Now it’s getting published, right? Wrong again. It might cycle around the office for another month or two, getting everyone’s approval. Then it’s time to find the right issue to put it in. Typically the next two or three issues are already planned and stuffed; there’s no room for you. So even if you receive a happy acceptance note after six months, you may wait another six to nine months (or longer!) before you see your name in print.

Now take a moment and consider that. Do you really want to wait six months, only to get a rejection? It’s important to keep stories going out so that you’re not left waiting for just one response for months. At any one time, if you receive a rejection in the mail, you should be able to say to yourself, “That’s all right — I’m still waiting to hear from magazine A, B, and C about my other stories.”

After the jump: how to keep stories going out.

How to keep those stories in the pipeline.

The important part of keeping stories going out of you is not to put all your eggs in one basket. One story might be rejected a great deal, even if you think it is good; so push yourself and write five good stories instead. If you call yourself a writer, then just one story isn’t in you; you’ve got other stories to tell. So while you are in the process of writing one story, consider using other days of the week to polish and edit other stories. Sometimes editing past work can be a great relief from the pressure of writing. Designate one day a week to be “editing day.” Then designate another day every few weeks to be “mailing day.” Polish up your stories for that big day. Take the deadline seriously. Make sure you have the right names on the addresses. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. And just keep them coming.


  1. Excellent advice that lately I have been guilty of largely ignoring.

    As to timelines, I recently received a response to a manuscript I sent out in 2009. Yikes! I’m not going to send it right out again, as they had an interesting suggestion for revision.

  2. mary brady says:

    Way to go, Margaret! If they suggested a revision, they believe you’ve got what it takes! Hurray! Otherwise, they’d have rejected you with no suggestions, I imagine.

    I sprained my ankle in a dog fight Saturday (you shoulda seen the DOG, though…) & today I feel low, mean, & untalented. (I often feel depressed when I do not exercise, which I can’t with this bum ankle.) I’m falling into the “Why Bother?” headspace, which is a BAD place for me to be.

    It is hard to remember that it’s the journey, not the destination. I do not create art simply to be admired by others–though I would not mind that–but because I have no real choice. I am compelled to do it. Each of us is an artist, each of us loves to create.

    In our particular culture, we point to a few humans & say: they are the best! They are the artists. But in other cultures, everyone dances, everyone sings, everyone tells stories & paints & creates.

    I agree with BLH that we must stick to a good routine of keeping things in the pipeline & being business-like about our writing. But there are some days when it is all I can do not to give up altogether, not to fall prey to those evil voices that whisper, “Why Bother?”

    And on these days, I have to believe it’s worth enough if I simply enjoy doing it. I’ll feel better when my ankle heals & I will be happier soon enough. I’ll edit then. Because editing always puts me back in the ‘Why Bother’ mode…

    That dumb dog…

    L&K, MaryB

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