How I Got Published in The Sun

Posted on 06 May 2014

May 2014 My personal essay, “In the Twelve Years Since You Died,” which chronicles the time in my life following my mother’s death, is out now in the May issue of The Sun magazine. You can read an excerpt online. Here’s the opening paragraph:

In the twelve years since you died, I moved eleven times and saw five therapists. I hiked in the Grand Canyon, backpacked through Europe, and drank wine in the high, open window of a Montreal hostel. I took a train alone from Toronto to Vancouver, sleeping upright in my seat for three nights. I graduated from college. I fell in love. I hung your portrait above my desk.

My contributor copies arrived on sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago. I pulled the issues from the envelope and stared at the photograph on the cover, a black-and-white image of a little girl standing with her arms twisted behind her back, before flipping forward to find my essay. For so many years, I had read and enjoyed The Sun and, yes, imagined seeing my own name among the list of contributors. Now that it had happened, I felt somehow stunned.

So how did it happen? A few of my writing friends have asked me this very question. Some wanted to know whether I submitted to a particular editor, or if I had been solicited, or, basically, if I did anything special or flashy to encourage the staff to pluck my essay from the thousands they surely receive each year.

The answer to all of those questions is no. The truth is so simple and so expected that it feels unnecessary to even write it down, but here it is:

I read the magazine consistently for years while steadily improving my own writing, and then I finally submitted a strong piece that matched the magazine’s aesthetic.

That’s it. I had no secret formulas or connections or insider’s knowledge; I simply mailed my essay to the general submission address everyone else uses. But I can offer a bit more perspective:

Real Confidence vs. Blind Hope

In recent years, I submitted several fiction pieces to The Sun. When I look back on those earlier submissions, what makes me cringe is not that they were rejected, but that I submitted them at all. Truthfully, those stories were not right for The Sun. If I had been really, really honest with myself, I might have noticed that the stories I was submitting didn’t exactly match the tone, style, subject matter, or aesthetic of the magazine. Instead, I did what so many writers do: I closed my eyes against these realities, stuffed my work into an envelope, and sent it off while blindly hoping for the best.

As you can probably imagine, blindly hoping for the best isn’t a strategy you should count on.

The best response I received from The Sun in those earlier years was a personal rejection for “Living Arrangements,” what would become the title story in my collection. I still have that handwritten note somewhere in my files, and I remember how encouraged I was that someone at The Sun saw merit in this story. They weren’t going to publish it, but they had taken notice.

As time passed, I reevaluated my submission strategy and decided to get serious about understanding how my writing might align with what this magazine actually published. I noticed that The Sun publishes more essays than fiction, so I submitted a short personal essay. It was quickly rejected. (A regular form rejection, for anyone keeping track.)

I regrouped and kept writing. I wrote another essay that I believed to be quite strong, something I could envision in The Sun’s pages. In late 2012, I thought it was ready. I printed out the essay and the cover letter, put together an SASE, and addressed the envelope. But when it came time to seal the envelope, something stopped me. Was this really something The Sun would accept? I thought it was a good piece, but something still felt off about the beginning. Maybe it wasn’t ready after all.

The longer I sat there considering, the more I was able to push aside my blind hope. The truth was, despite the essay’s merits, I couldn’t imagine The Sun editors loving it quite enough to accept it. And so, because I only wanted to send this magazine something I wholeheartedly believed deserved or maybe even needed to be in those pages, I did not mail that envelope.

Instead, I wrote another essay. An even stronger essay. An essay that, after workshopping it with two of my very trusted writing groups and revising it several times, I knew was perfect for The Sun – for real this time. Less than two months after writing the first draft (which is an insanely short turnaround for me), I dropped that new essay in the mail. I didn’t even consider sending it to other publications; I knew for sure this time that the essay was the right fit for The Sun, and that’s where I wanted it to appear.

It took months of waiting for a response, and then some editing, and then some fact checking with helpful family members, and then some more editing and cutting, but that’s where the essay is now: in the May issue of The Sun.

Getting an acceptance from The Sun was about more than writing and submitting that one essay. It took years of developing my writing and gaining not only hard-earned confidence in my work, but also a true familiarity with the magazine itself. In this case, that advice every other writer has heard so many times really is true: Know the market you’re submitting to, and submit your strongest work.

What are you submitting?

14 responses to How I Got Published in The Sun

  • Downith says:

    Laura, you continue to be an inspiration. Hard, targeted work – that’s what you do.

    Your essay was powerful and heart-wrenching.
    Well well done.

  • Hi, Laura,
    Your essay in The Sun made me cry, but your bio made me smile.

    Thank you for this blog post, as well. I enjoyed reading about your publication process.

    Best wishes,

  • Oh, Laura. I hope to read this essay in its entirety soon. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  • Eliana says:

    I appreciate your honesty here and the uncomfortable look at the truth–that sometimes things are quite perfect but I send anyway. Love THE SUN and congrats on the publication.

  • Lisa Panepento says:

    Laura, when I read your essay in The Sun, tears of recognition rolled down my face. My father died three short months after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and the haunting emotions expressed at the loss of your mother really hit home with me. Thanks for sharing.

  • Harry Redlich says:

    Dear Laura,

    Your essay was powerful and so well written. And I really appreciated the story of how you got it published. Very important for aspiring writers to here the simple truth, “Know the market you’re submitting to, and submit your strongest work.”

    Thank you!

  • Karly Pitman says:

    Hi Laura,

    I agree with the other comments here – your essay was powerful, beautiful and well written.

    It grabbed me from the beginning and then continued to build and grab at me throughout the piece. I couldn’t stop reading it.

    Grieving is one of the tools I share in my work. After I read your story in the magazine, I felt so moved. I went online to see if I could find a link to your essay to share with my students and found your post here on how you got it published.

    I enjoyed this back story, too, and am grateful for all the hard work, editing, and effort that led to the publication of your story, so I could now read it and share it with others.

    I hope you continue to write.

    Warmly, Karly

    • Thank you for the kind words, Karly! I will definitely continue to write. I’m in this for the long haul, no question.

      While I don’t believe there is a full online version available (unless you have the digital subscription), I believe The Sun is okay with instructors photocopying an individual essay for use in the classroom — if that helps!

  • Laura, I was brought to your post here by my daughter. I subscribe to The Sun, then pass the issues on to her. (She is a poet. I am a memoirist.) Your essay in May’s issue was beautiful, and it brought me to tears.

    Years ago I was invited to speak to a writers group about “How to Get Published.” In preparation, I bought some dried white beans, and using the remnants of an Easter egg decorating kit, I dyed them various shades of pastel. I put the colorful beans in a velvet pouch. At the writers group, I passed them around. “Take a magic bean,” I told them. “It’s all you need to get published.” They understood the absurdity of it. There is no trick, no magic feather, no hope-against-hope that will cause us to break in. What you have said here is the absolute truth; we must study our craft and be willing to do the work. Congratulations on seeing your work in The Sun. I absolutely loved your essay.

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