In the past few months, peers have been asking me questions about submitting to literary journals. This is something that I have been doing quite often for the past several years. I finally compiled a little list of things I think are important to know about submitting. Feel free to message / email me directly with additional questions or suggestions; I’m sure there’s something I’ve forgotten to cover!
1. READ ALL THE GUIDELINES. This is so important! While a lot of journals have very similar guidelines, a lot of them have a few weird ones that set them apart from the rest of the literary journals. For example, Arc Poetry Magazine requires that you submit each poem separately. Big Muddy asks that the subject line of your submission (generally where the title of the piece goes) be your first and last name. Some journals only read blind and ask that you not put any identifying information in the document you send them. Some journals will only read your submission if you have your name, mailing address, phone number, and email address listed at the top of every page. Basically, don’t give editors any reason to reject you as soon as they open your file; pay attention to the little things.
2. Get to know the market. This takes time. It has taken me years! Read a sample of the journal if you can. A tip for broke students like me: if it’s a print journal that doesn’t feature any work online, find the table of contents of their most recent issue. Google a couple of the writers in that issue. Somewhere, they have all probably published SOMETHING online. Read some of their stuff. It’s not the best way to do things, but it should give you SOME idea of the aesthetic of the journal. Also, remember that most journals will take at least three months to get back you. Some only take a month or two, but others, like Painted Bride Quarterly, can take over a year. Keep that in mind as you send work out. Know what to expect. Remember to be patient.
3. Always submit as much work as you can. This mostly pertains to poetry. If a journal asks for 3-5 poems, always send five! Your chances grow! This whole thing is just a numbers game, after all.
4. Keep careful records. Make an Excel sheet. Right now. Put in every piece you submit, and every journal each piece goes out to. I like to color code mine. Just make sure that YOU understand your chart. It is SO important to keep good records. Once you get an acceptance somewhere (and you will!), you need to be able to withdraw the piece from every other journal it is out at, and you’ll need to be able to do it in a timely manner. If you don’t, and ANOTHER journal ends up wanting to take the same piece, they’re going to feel super sour when you must decline them, and you’re going to feel super salty, since this makes you look disorganized and unprofessional. Everybody makes mistakes but try to avoid this one. You may think that you’ll never need to withdraw right away, since the idea of a piece getting accepted to TWO places is so foreign to you, but trust me, it does happen from time to time. Just keep good records and avoid the hassle.
5. Keep your cover letter simple. Please. I have a cover letter that I copy and paste in every submission:
The attached poems are for your consideration. They are unpublished. This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you for your time and effort.
Biographical Note: Charlotte is from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. She earned her MFA in Poetry from the University of Missouri -St. Louis in Spring 2018. She has poetry published or forthcoming in journals such as The Normal School, Salamander Review, CALYX Journal, the minnesota review, Potomac Review, and Puerto del Sol, among others. She is currently a contributing editor for River Styx. Charlotte recently moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Keep your cover letter and biographical statement short and simple. Your personality will shine through your work. If you don’t have any publications to list, that’s okay! Say if you’re in school! Mention if you’re involved with a journal or your local writing scene! Journals like fresh talent. Everyone starts somewhere.
6. Remember, submitting work is essentially a numbers game. Don’t expect a success story if you’re only out at four or five journals at a time. One poet and editor of The Shore Poetry, John A. Nieves, always told me that a good rule of thumb is to always have each of your polished pieces out at five journals. Really, I don’t think it matters too much how many journals each piece is out at if you can keep track of it all and if you remember to withdraw the accepted poem from other journals.
7. Stop obsessing. You are never going to think a piece is perfect. If it is polished, send it out. You can always keep revising it and have the final form in your first book. Don’t let obsessing over a piece not being “perfect” keep you from sending it out. You’d be surprised how many first drafts of mine ended up finding homes in respectable journals. And even then, I keep revising them! But if your piece gets rejected constantly, it may be a sign that you should consider tweaking some things. Again, writing is subjective. There’s a market for your work somewhere out there.
8. DO NOT post your unpublished work on Facebook. Don’t post it on your Tumblr or on Hello Poetry. This essentially makes the piece useless, publication-wise. Almost every journal wants First North American Serial Rights. Basically, this means they want credit for being the first people to publish your piece. Unfortunately, posting your work ANYWHERE online essentially means it is “published,” since the public now has access to it. A journal isn’t going to want a piece that everyone has already seen.
9. Don’t give up! Rejections happen. Writing is subjective. I probably received over fifty rejections before I got my first acceptance. That’s normal! Acting, singing, writing– any creative field comes with a lot of rejection. When you get rejected (yes, when, not if) make sure to add that information to your records (VERY important, or you might accidentally send a journal a piece they’ve already rejected; I’ve done this once or twice– OOPS!), and then delete the rejection off your Submittable page. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!
10. Get involved! Networking is so important for writers. Go to readings when you can. Read your own work when you can. Go to AWP, if you can afford it. Learn about the publishing world. Immerse yourself in it. Understand that as much as we like to think it is, writing is definitely not a solitary endeavor 🙂