Fiction Fundamentals Why do I Need a Sample Copy?

By Linda Adams

**** Beginner/Intermediate Level

If you look at magazine guidelines, you’ll see they offer sample copies of an issue. Many, in fact, specifically ask writers to purchase a copy before submitting anything. But is it worth the expense?

Let’s do a comparison. When you hunt for a job, you can send thousands of resumes to thousands of companies. You might get a few interviews, but chances are your resume will simply be scanned in and filed away. But now imagine that you’ve taken the time to research a specific company. Instead of sending them a generic resume that might not interest them, you can customize it to make it more appealing–because you took the time to learn about them.

Submitting a manuscript is very similar to sending out resumes. Like an employer, an editor may receive thousands of manuscripts. If you do your research, you can make yours stand out among all the chaff and increase your chances for publication.

A sample copy is a treasure chest of information. To start with, it can tell you if your story is what the editor is looking for. Every editor receives submissions that simply don’t meet their requirements. Why waste your time and the editor’s if your manuscript clearly doesn’t fit in? Your story is tied up for several months when it could have been submitted to magazines that are more appropriate.

The sample copy can also tell you if you want to be published in the magazine. You’ve probably encountered a company that looked good from the outside, but on the inside, it wasn’t a place you wanted to work. Just like that company, a magazine may look good in their Writer’s Market listing, but once you investigate further, you find that you really don’t want to be published in it. It might be as something as simple as the choices for the covers. Or the other kinds of material they publish. They could have a political agenda. The only way to discover this is to look at the actual magazine.

Finally, the sample can give you valuable information that will help you market your story. For instance, you request a sample of a magazine that takes poetry and fiction. As you look it over, you discover that they receive a lot of poetry submissions–nearly ninety percent of the content. That means there might be less competition for you when you submit a story–and a better chance of being published.

But you don’t necessarily have to buy a sample copy. Start by going to the magazine’s Web site, if they have one. Most publish some of their content online. You can also drop by your local bookstore; many stock a wide variety of literary magazines. It’ll give you a chance to look at the magazine and decide if it’s worth the purchase. If you’re a member of a writer’s group, you can swap sample copies and save on the overall cost.

Yes, it can be expensive purchasing sample copies. But it can be just an expensive sending manuscripts to magazines that are clearly inappropriate–the postage to mail it and your time. Treating your time–and the editor’s–as valuable is a sign of your professionalism and will ultimately help you build your reputation as a writer.

Copyright Linda Adams 2003


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