Why we don't care if you've never been published before

In the last episode of the Firewords podcast we talked all about the submission process and everything it involves. The following question was one we received afterwards, asking us to delve deeper on a specific point.

“You mentioned past publishing credits briefly in this week’s podcast but I just wanted to ask a few follow-up questions as it’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. I haven’t had work published in many magazines yet, so will this make me look less desirable as a writer that editors will want to publish? And when I do build up more credits, should I just list them all when submitting?” - Sarah A

In short, ‘no’ to both questions. However, despite this answer and the title of this week’s article (and just to confuse matters), we don’t think that any past writing credits you accumulate are meaningless! Rather, they mean a lot to you and are something to be very proud of, but when it comes to submitting new work to magazines like ours – those which base publication decisions on strength of writing rather than you being a published writer – they become meaningless in the eyes of the editor.

For us, any past writing credit has no bearing on the likelihood of your new piece getting published. However, some more ‘prestigious’ magazines only publish known writers, and others only accept submissions from solicited writers. This halves the industry; there are those magazines where you will need to list previous accomplishments and those where you won’t. Having listened to our podcast last week, you will remember that this is a crucial case of knowing the ethos of the publication you are applying to.

The reason for us accepting submissions from all writers is clear – everyone has to start somewhere. Moreover, fresh ideas and creativity are strong when people are emerging. That said, seasoned writers have much experience and success to bring to the table. That is why our publishing decision comes from the writing alone, irrelevant of all the peripheral detail that might be out there.

So what does all this mean? 

When writing your submission intro/bio, remember that only the most cursory glance may be given to the writing credits of the past so please don’t spend too long listing them. In fact, feel free not to list them at all! We have read many pieces where the work doesn’t make it to publication but, from the credits listed in the introduction, the writer thinks it is a shoe-in already. This is in danger of appearing as misplaced confidence, which isn't always accurate when held against the number of strong, well-written pieces we receive each issue.

What are credits good for?

  • Getting an agent
  • Adding to your CV/resume
  • Publishing a short story/poetry collection
  • Getting into magazines that do care if you’ve been published before
  • Impressing dates!