Why begin your publishing career with themed issues of magazines and anthologies? For those publications, editors are keenly interested in work by writers from a particular group or region, or work written on a specific topic. They tend to be much less interested in whether you have published before, or whether you are a well-known author. The editor(s) of the magazine or anthology might also solicit work from well-published authors, but that’s all the better, since your writing, if accepted, might appear side-by-side with the writing of an author you admire, whose reputation will also draw attention to the publication.
When you submit work to a theme issue or anthology, be sure to read the guidelines extremely carefully. The editor’s phrasing will give you a sense of how loosely or strictly the publication is interpreting the theme.
Here’s a call for submissions from the website of Slipstream, an excellent poetry magazine: “We are currently reading for another theme issue (#32) for which we will explore ‘Cars, Bars & Stars.’ A poem could include any combination of the subjects or only one. Creative interpretations are encouraged.” Clearly the editors are leaving the theme fairly loose, as they indicate by the phrase, “Creative interpretations are encouraged.” You have some leeway here.
Here’s an example of a stricter theme I saw on the website of Poetry Flash: “Windfall, A Journal of Poetry of Place is accepting poems about places in the Pacific Northwest for its spring issue. Submit up to five short poems that should not exceed fifty lines each.” This is much more specific. You don’t have to actually live in the Pacific Northwest to submit, if I’m reading this correctly, but you do have to write about its landscape and/or geography. The length requirement is also very specific, and would rule out any poem longer than a page and a half. You have to pay careful attention to those details when you are submitting, otherwise you are wasting your time and the editor’s.
Some journals, such as Slipstream, often publish theme issues, and those are ones where you might want to check their website regularly, to see what their latest theme is. Another good example of this is Spillway magazine, edited by Susan Terris. You may not think of a work you’ve written as being about a specific theme, but if you look with the lens of that theme, you may discover a side to the work you never saw before.