Only recently a well-known magazine approached Writer's Edit for help with their new section. We were asked to pitch ideas on a specific niche, with the implication that after a few details were ironed out, we'd be more involved. It was an exciting possibility! To potentially reach more book lovers and writers, to be associated with a publication that had a dedicated following...
Our ideas were accepted with enthusiasm and we were assured we'd hear back about the next stage in the process. However, shortly after, we were sent a meeting agenda, where our ideas had been listed as someone else's... In fact, there was no mention of Writer's Edit on the agenda at all. Frankly, we were shocked and disappointed. Our contact came back to us, asking for more concepts. Safe to say, we declined. Unfortunately, these kind of incidents aren't unheard of in the industry...
Generally, we don't like to focus on the negative or uninspiring, but for the sake of this article it's definitely worth noting that not all people in this industry are in it for the love of words and the benefit of the writers. If you've been searching for a writing job in the last year or so, you'd have noticed the massive increase in 'internships' available for writers, and organisations that ask for 'contributors'. As a publication that runs on the generous contributions of writers, we're obviously not against this as such. However, what we are against is publications and organisations taking advantage of young writers - offering them 'experience' and 'something great to put on their portfolio', when really they're just after free labor.
Despite the stereotype that an intern is more or less there for the coffee run, the actual point of an internship is to (shock horror!) benefit the intern. An intern should be learning about the processes and different aspects of their temporary workplace, they should be given the opportunity to sit in on meetings, to watch someone in their particular field working, to ask questions and to be given advice or feedback on various roles.
Of course there are going to be times where you'll have to do the coffee run, or the photocopying, but the benefits should certainly outweigh these instances. We know a number of writers whose terrible internship experiences turned them off working for a number of high-end glossy-paged magazines. A general rule of thumb is: if you're feeling ripped off or uneasy about it, it's probably time to bow out.
Here at Writer's Edit, we're currently not in a position to pay our contributors, however, we do our best to compensate for this by offering extensive support/advice, detailed editing services and letters of reference as well as a platform from which the authors can promote their websites, achievements and projects. And when we are in a position to pay our writers, those who were with us from the beginning will not be forgotten. We honestly feel that we have our writers' interests at heart, and we do our best to show this.
However, with the explosion of online businesses, the calls for 'contributors' have increased wildly. These positions are often listed as unpaid, accompanied by exclamations like 'Get Published' and 'Build Your Portfolio'... Sadly, most of us writers will at some point or another 'work for free' to gain experience and yes, build our portfolio. Where you should be wary is if publications simply take your work and offer no dialogue and no feedback, if the website doesn't have its own domain name, if your work isn't edited before it's published... Us writers need to be wary of content farming, which is becoming more and more common online. Any contributions or internships you're involved in should be benefiting your work, and giving you the experience you'll need in the future.
It's Not All Bad
One thing we've come to learn about writers is that often, if our work is valued, we will contribute for free. We do this because we love our work, because we understand that sometimes we need to 'pay our dues' in order to open up new doors. If you choose where to contribute and where you intern carefully, you will find that being generous with your writing pays off. You will have an impressive portfolio, you will know what you're doing when you find yourself in the office of your favourite magazine, you will understand how to use content management systems... These are the reasons people do internships and contribute to publications - so they are prepared for the 'real world'.
So Where Should You Contribute?
Writer's Edit (of course!) - Click here to go to our submissions page.
You should also try: Meanjin, Heat, Island Magazine, Overland, Quadrant, Southerly, The Lifted Brow, Voiceworks Magazine (this one's for the under 25s), Seizure and Texture. Voiceworks also has a great guide to being edited, check it out here.
The publications listed above are most appropriate for short stories and essays. For information on finding publishers for novels and other works as well as a more extensive list of literary journals, purchase a copy of the Australian Writer's Marketplace.