Should you submit your essays now, or build your collection?

I’m working with a client who has about ten personal essays in various stages of completion. She’d like to publish some of them in journals, but her bigger dream is to compile a collection of essays as a book.

On the surface, a book seems like a great goal. The essays are linked thematically, so we can see how they’d fit together.

But strategically, it makes more sense for her to work on placing individual essays now. She’s a new writer, and doesn’t have many publishing credits. An acquiring editor looking at the collection of essays will want to see credits in a variety of journals, especially those that are a thematic fit for the writing. And when it comes time for the marketing team to pitch the book to those journals for reviews and excerpts, the journal editors will already know her name and want to support the book.

We decided to focus on polishing two or three essays, and submit them to journals by the end of the year. That way, she can get used to sending out her work, and hopefully see her name in print (or online) next year. The process will build her confidence as a writer, and start to establish her presence in the literary world.

Our work over the next few months will consist of me reading and editing these essays, advising her through revisions, and helping her select and pitch to likely publications.

“Go for the low-hanging fruit,” I said. “If you’re writing about cold water swimming, for example, find the magazine that publishes personal essays on swimming, or outdoor adventures.”

When you’re setting out as a writer, it can be hard to know which goals to focus on. Publishing a book seems like the obvious one, but it can be out of reach at the start—like signing up for a marathon when you’ve only ever run after the bus. Be free in your writing, but strategic about your publishing decisions. “Success” for you might mean publishing one essay a year.

One response to “Should you submit your essays now, or build your collection?”

  1. Totally agreed with you. It’s more prudent to learn what’s involved in the process by putting out their smaller works first, and save the big projects for when they’re a bit more experienced. Thanks for sharing this story, and I’m wishing your client all the best!

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