By Cheri Lasota

I met David Witte in the first writing group I joined after moving to Portland, Oregon several years ago. His writing was always fearless, wry, and witty. I knew he had the talent, so when he called me up to break the news of his short story’s publication, I was thrilled, but not surprised. I asked David about his path to publication, and how his success story might help others.


1. From initial rough draft to publication, how long did the process take for this short story to see the light of day?

It took about a year. But I sent out twenty copies of the story to large publishing houses and was rejected by them all. Then I sent twenty more out six months later to smaller publishers and was picked up by Sub-TERRAIN. Normally, I would say it takes between six and eight months.

2. You are currently writing a novel. In comparing the writing processes of short stories and novels, which do you find easier, more fulfilling?

A novel takes a lot more work. It is more like a forty hour a week job, because you really have to stay close to the characters. Mine isn’t done. But I would say in the end it will be more rewarding because every time you work through a problem and find a way of relating it to the larger piece, there is the feeling that you have figured out an essential piece of a giant puzzle. So the short story is definitely easier to write.

3. What successes and failures did you experience in querying magazines about your project? How many rejections did you get? Any wisdom learned?

I think the most important thing is to know what kind of literature the magazine publishes. It could be the best written story ever, but if it doesn’t fit with their theme for that issue or it isn’t the proper genre for the magazine, they won’t publish it. I got a lot of rejections, but I lucked out because Sub-TERRAIN happened to be publishing an issue about “Bad Jobs.”

4. How does the overseas market differ from the U.S. market? Will you query out of the country for your next project?

I sent two copies to Canada and two to England. Sub-TERRAIN is located in Vancouver, British Columbia. I think the Canadians have a more cynical sense of humor, which works out well for me. It costs more to send copies out of the country.

5. What was it like working with the editorial department of Sub-TERRAIN magazine?

Nothing spectacular really. They sent me an E-mail with a few basic grammatical changes. I accepted the changes and that was it.

6. Any advice for newbies trying to break into the magazine market?

Know your audience and know your magazine’s audience. Like I said before, you can have a great story but if you send it to the wrong kind of magazine you’re wasting everyone’s time and money.

7. Is there hope for the rest of us?

There is hope for everyone. Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid of expressing that honesty no matter how strange at times it might seem or what other people might say.

One book that has helped me out a lot is called Little Magazines and Small Presses. There are some magazines in this list of publishing houses that are geared especially toward beginning writers. A good way to find out is by looking at the percent of manuscripts published. Some of them publish between 15% and 40% of manuscripts submitted, which can up your odds considerably of seeing yourself in print. It may not be the most reputable magazine, but everyone has to start somewhere.

David Witte relocated to Portland from Wisconsin in 2000. He has been writing and working in restaurants for fifteen years. He will try to publish his first novel at the end of this year. He is single and attends classes at Portland State University.

Sub-TERRAIN Web site