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I'm a rookie writer, working on short stories thus far, mostly for practice and exposure. I need to get them out there somewhere. They're probably going to mostly fit into Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, etc. Genre stuff, in other words. So my question is this: at this stage should I enter writing contests or submit to magazines and journals? I want to get going on this but I'm stuck on issues such as these. Thanks.

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It is tough to get published in a magazine or journal, but if you want to be a professional writer, I think that's the route to go. Most writing contests are not terribly high visibility, and quite a lot of them are expensive to enter. A single solid publishing credit in a reputable magazine is worth more than a hundred awards from contests no one has ever heard from.

Sci-fi and fantasy are fortunate in that there are a number of genre publications devoted to them, some more general, some more targeted.

One caveat: Publications get so many unsolicited submissions that receiving any feedback at all is unlikely. If you're still at a beginning stage, you might want to join a writing group, or find some other source of criticism first. Otherwise, you might just be shouting into the void.

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When I was in graduate school, one of my creative writing instructors suggested we students name awards after one another, win them, and then tell magazine editors about it in our cover letters. The advice was flip, but served to point out that contests are often expensive to enter, whereas magazines don't typically charge reading fees.

In the interest of frugality, I usually steer writers away from awards and encourage them instead to focus on developing their skills in a writing group. Once developed by the group, a piece could be placed in a magazine.

I wish there were a more clear "ladder to success" for writing. Once upon a time, perhaps it was "Start with magazines, then move up to books," but these days I'm less sure. Time spent studying writing in college and graduate school can also be a path, which will improve writing and increase connections in the community of writers.

In more recent years, another mode seems to be developing in which writers gain an audience online with a blog, and then bring that blog to publishers with metrics describing how many unique visitors, etc.

I wish you the best of luck with your endeavors!

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    ...or take that blog audience and sell them some self-published stuff. Of course, that just shifts the problem to 'oh god how do I get people to read my blog?'. But, anyway, if I could give you another upvote for suggesting writing groups, I would. – evilsoup Sep 12 '15 at 15:02
  • It does seem like a divide in the road---people who are good at self promotion might do well blogging and making connections on social media, and people who are poor at self-promotion might seek out some of the more traditional modes, impressing editors at publications that will do some of that legwork. – Steven Arntson Sep 12 '15 at 18:56
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I think the best way to get started as a writer is to develop a portfolio of professional work.

You can start by doing jobs for free or on sites like hire writers. I wrote an article about how to use the site to get content created and how to use it to make money. Check out the article hopefully it will be useful.

Make Money as a Writer on Hire Writers Marketplace

Also there are articles about getting started as a freelancer on the same domain. They were written by a freelancer so it is sage advice.

To learn about creating a professional content portfolio check out the link.

After you create your portfolio with a professional looking website featuring links to your work, you can develop relationships with editors and pitch them ideas.

Although I fully support the idea of entering contests and submitting work to magazines, it might be more difficult to get paid this way.

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It depends on two things.

  1. What your skill level is.
  2. What you feel comfortable doing.

I began writing with fan fiction and fan fiction contests. (Note: these contests were loose and open. They were not professional, and were simply somewhere to practice and receive criticism.) That's how I learned to write. If you're a beginner, still honing and perfecting your writing process, I believe open community contests may be for you. I would also look into fan fiction on something you're interested in. It's very open, and a great place to test methods out. It also has the added bonus of giving you free criticism, in the form of your readers' comments.

However, if you feel like you know what you're doing, and are just looking to solidify your processes, I would say magazines and journals could be a good way to go. They will give you a good taste of what actually writing a book is like, including the publishing process. You will probably get professional feedback/editing on what you write, and all feedback is invaluable.

Summing up

So it comes down to where you're at, and what you feel comfortable doing. If you're just a beginner, I would recommend contests, and especially fan fiction. If you have a solid process that you use to write and are looking to solidify it, I would recommend magazines or journals.

Disclaimer: I have dabbled extensively in fan fiction and fan fiction contests. I have never gone near magazines or journals, simply because I never felt the need. I honed my processes entirely through fan fiction (and this site).

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The days when you needed to publish in a magazine are long over and thank god. If I had to keep fighting with those annoying lesbian, B- student refugees from Swarthmore over my use of the 3rd person singular anymore at my age I would probably kill myself.

Just go to a copy shop and start printing it. Haven't you heard of samizdat? The Xerox machine is your ticket to freedom. Don't forget to put contact info in the book, so people know how to buy more, but whatever you do, don't use your home address. There are some real crazies out there. Once, one of my friends and his buddy showed up unannounced on the doorstep of Kurt Vonnegut and scared the shit out of him; don't let it happen to you.

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