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Three Ways Big Publications Could Improve

And what I learnt from running a tiny one myself

Big publications are suggested as a key part of your Medium writing dream, but unfortunately they can be a roadblock to creativity and consistency. They characterize themselves as careful gatekeepers, but examining their feeds seems to reveal that, in some cases, they prioritize big-name writers at the expense of new voices.

My perception of what it must be like to be a big publication editor changed once I became one myself (not of a big publication though, a tiny one). More of that later. For now, here are some positive suggestions of how big publications could improve the experience for writers.

Reduce Wait Times For Responses

Momentum is crucial in writing on Medium. “Get into a writing habit” is a feature of multiple “How To Make It On Medium” courses of both the paid-for and free variety.

Getting into a publishing habit is where the real progress lies though. Of course, no-one amongst us mere Medium mortals knows how the dreaded / beautiful / intriguing (delete as appropriate) algorithm works, but it’s fair to say that publishing as often and as regularly as you can, can’t be a bad thing.

A publishing habit is hard to establish if your article disappears into the ether for days, while one of the editor team on the big publications gets around to reading and responding.

Some publications say that if you haven’t heard back in 72 hours, you should presume it’s a no. It should be possible to do better than that. Putting a private note on an article only takes a few seconds.

There are ways big publications could speed things up. Here’s just one idea…

We constantly read that headlines are crucial. In which case, I’m sure many articles get rejected purely on the basis of the headline. That’s OK. All feedback is useful. But if this is the case, just reply with the letter H (this could be explained in the submission guidelines)— that takes seconds. Less time perhaps than even the copy and pasted generic reply. Which brings me on to…

Move On From The Copy And Pasted Generic Reply

It’s possible to give important, specific feedback with very few words. Here are some suggestions:

“Got similar already”

“More evidence. Tweak then resubmit”

“Too waffly”

I would honestly rather get any of these replies than a standard “We’re going to pass this time”. I wonder if this is the kind of thing which will bite back at big publications in the long run. Writers who can make progress without big publications will do, especially if they are getting generic responses or none at all. Look in the comments of Paul Ryburn, M.Sc.’s recent article about why he doesn’t often submit to big publications any more.

Like Paul, I’ve had articles published in big publications. The odd one has done well, but nothing like as well as you’d hope given how hard it seems to be to get published on their pages if you are a new or low-profile writer.

Correct Inconsistency Between What They Say They’ll Publish And What They Actually Publish

It’s hard to write this section without getting a little angry, because I do feel there is a gap between the often complex and specific submission guidelines of some big publications, and what actually ends up on the pages.

One big publication in particular seems to have a weak spot for big name writers. They seem to be able to publish whatever they want, even if the article barely meets the criteria of the submission guidelines. This doesn't seem fair.

Being An Editor Is Hard Work But Do-Able

I started my own publication as a place to keep my articles while I challenged myself to write 100 articles in 100 days. A few others liked the concept and took up their own challenges. For every article that came in I managed to publish it within a few hours, give feedback, give 50 claps and leave a comment (based on actually reading it). Yes it took time, but not loads. If this publication grows then I will either find people to help me, or if it’s taking too much time, not do it any more. Being an editor is a choice. I’ve seen editors on Medium be less than complimentary about writers, but I think it’s a two-way street.

If you ask for submissions, then I think it is reasonable to respond quickly, give just the tiniest bit of specific feedback and make your submission guidelines honest and simple.

The End Bit

I think there is a dividing line beginning to emerge between bigger and smaller publications along the lines of the experience for the writer. I don’t plan to be calling on the big publications much any more (I’m sure they won’t mind). Instead I will be self-publishing (I’m quite used to writing to no-one, don’t worry!) or continue to search out smaller publications that seem to actively encourage submissions.

I want to learn. I try to grow. I’d love to help.

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