For many of us, the world of submitting to literary journals, magazines, blogs and similar is a strange one. Unless you’ve already intersected with them professionally, or known someone who has, you’re relatively unlikely to have encountered them.
But they contain some of the most beautiful things I have ever read. More than that, they formed the springboard that I needed in order to get the confidence to publish.
So today, let’s look at the why, where and how of submitting your writing to such places.
Wherever you are with your writing, you’re almost certainly in need of two things: practice and confidence.
Practice not only with the writing itself, but with the act of submission and rejection, with feedback and with publishing in general. Confidence in making those submissions, in coping with those rejections, in processing feedback and in even putting your work out there in the first place.
But it’s a lot of work to produce a novel and submit it to literary agents. Short stories, poetry, narrative non-fiction and such shorter works commonly found in journals and magazines are much more accessible. You can, as a result, get much more practice out of these.
Submitting my shorter works was an incredibly formative experience for me, and it genuinely did teach me all of those things. I received rejections from the plain to the blunt to the lovely. I was also lucky enough to get several acceptances. Most wonderfully of all, I was exposed to a huge amount of wonderful writing I had never before seen.
It’s tempting to look down too much – or up too much – at literary magazines. Often we hold them as either only for really high-brow, literary works, or we think of them as inconsequential and small. These extremes are rarely true. I thought of them like this before, and now having been exposed to that world, I understand the value of it. I can’t recommend this as a way of practising submission enough.
So you’ve gone through your body of work, found something you want to submit, and you’ve decided to make a submission. Awesome! But…where do you do that?
I was personally brought into the world of journals and magazines by the friend to whom Mundane Magic is dedicated. She explained to me how they worked, where to look, what to do. If you can, I really recommend this personalised gateway – it helps to be able to ask questions of someone who knows and has experienced this.
Failing – and in addition to – that, hie thee over to Duotrope. It requires a small subscription, but will give you access to hundreds and hundreds of places to submit to. You can search by submission type (poetry, prose, etc), by whether they are paying for submissions or not, and much much more. A first glance at it is incredibly intimidating, I won’t lie – but it’s worth the time and effort.
You can of course also search in the traditional way via Google or similar. I’ve never found this to be very effective personally, but then thanks to the word of mouth assistance I’ve had, I’ve never especially needed to.
My only recommendation with picking somewhere to submit is this: don’t settle for something that doesn’t quite fit. Keep searching until you find the place where your piece is perfect. I promise they’re out there, and submitting more ‘personalised’ content is what got me my own acceptances. Not only that, but you have the benefit of knowing that your work is alongside other work you’ll feel very connected to – this is especially true of themed journals.
You’ve found somewhere to submit, something to submit, and now you need to know what to do. Here are my main tips and tricks for making your submission:
Read their submission guidelines five times before you even start.
Every place will have slightly different guidelines and not adhering to them is the fastest way to get you booted out the door. Don’t rush, don’t skimp, be thorough and careful. Do everything they ask for even if you think it’s purposeless; it’s not purposeless, because they have asked you to do it.
Treat it like a job application. That means writing a bespoke cover letter, being polite, researching the place you’re submitting to.
Tell them why your piece works for their journal. Don’t be too proud or too dismissive if your own work. Strike that delicate and powerful balance between the two. Don’t make demands, or make your letter too hideously long.
Make simultaneous submissions if the journal allows it – this will have been made clear in their guidelines. Simultaneous submissions are just what they sound like – submitting your piece to multiple places at once.
This can be very nice for doing a bunch of work on submitting at once, but for the love of everything, don’t forget the two previous points just because you’re making simultaneous submissions. Still write separate cover letters, still check all the guidelines. If you do get accepted, make sure you notify all the other places you submitted to (if they haven’t responded yet).
Keep track of the submissions you make. I personally made a table of where, when and what I’d submitted, plus whether I’d received a response yet and what that response was.
At least once, this prevented me from making an erroneous submission (simultaneously submitting when I wasn’t permitted to, or submitting to the same place twice). This is also very nice for tracking how fast your responses are. Depending on their publishing cycle and submission volume, some places will take months (or even a year) to respond.
And most importantly: keep trying, even when you get rejected.
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