How to Submit to Literary Journals
For the last few months, you’ve opened the document on your computer and spent time constructing sentences, reading, researching, and working on the right metaphor for your poem, short story, or nonfiction essay. This writing is done in isolation, with no one witnessing late nights, pages of revision, and of course, frustration. You’ve finally revised your story for the hundredth time, and after feedback from your trusted critique group, you believe your story is ready for publication in literary journals. But, what is a literary journal, and how do you submit to one?
In other words, the writing is done: what are the next steps? Let’s explore how to submit to literary journals, as well as some great literary journals to submit to.
What is a Literary Journal?
A literary journal is a publication that features creative work which can include fiction, nonfiction, photography, poetry, book reviews and/or artistic drawings. It can be online or in-print. Some literary journals are affiliated with a university or academic institution. Literary journals are usually staffed with volunteers and funding is generally through donations. These journals tend to feature lesser known artists and offer publication to emerging writers.
Most journals do not have funding to pay writers, but some will offer small honorariums. A literary journal is a place to honor creative work and allow readers and writers to seek refuge from the news cycle.
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How to Submit to Literary Journals: 9 Tips for Success
1. Make Certain Your Work is Ready for Submission
When you submit to literary journals, you should send your best work. To shape your essay or fiction piece, read your work aloud to make certain sentences make sense and the dialogue sounds smooth. Workshop your piece with a few trusted writer or reader friends.
When you’re ready to hit submit, read it over one more time, run spell check, and make certain there is only one space after a period and no extra spacing in-between words. Check whether your submission is properly formatted. It may be helpful (if it’s in your budget) to hire a copy editor to review work for misplaced commas, excess passive voice, or unnecessary words.
You will eventually have to send the email or hit submit. Completing this basic checklist will help relieve any doubt as you prepare to submit.
2. Read the Literary Journals You’re Targeting
If the feedback you’re receiving from your essays, poetry, and fiction is positive, the next step is to determine which journal might be a good fit for your work. Many writers submit simultaneously to various journals without reading the essays, poetry, or stories that are in the publication. If you’re sending work to the wrong literary journals, chances are rejection letters are piling up at the corner of your desk. You’re not a bad writer, but this particular journal isn’t a good fit for your writing style and subject, because you haven’t studied the publication thoroughly.
To find markets for your work, you can search Duotrope, Poets & Writers, and Submittable. Online literary journals like Literary Mama also publish a monthly call for submissions, and Erika Dreifus also has a call at the beginning of the month in her newsletter, The Practicing Writer. The literary journal Entropy publishes monthly calls as well.
3. Develop a Tiered Strategy for Your Submissions
According to Lincoln Michael, the former editor-in-chief of Electric Literature, writers should develop a strategy for submitting work. “A good way to organize your magazine submissions is to figure out a handful of magazines you want to submit to (perhaps between 10 and 30) and organize them into tiers of about five. Send your story to the five magazines you most want your work to appear in. If they all reject, send the story to the next five magazines, and so on until you have gone through all your tiers. If no magazine takes the story, perhaps it is time to heavily revise,” he says.
If you’re curious about the top ranking markets in fiction, check outClifford Garstang’s list of top and mid-tier literary journals. He ranks poetry and nonfiction markets too.
4. Pay Attention to Submission Guidelines
There is a reason why journals publish their submission guidelines on their website. And writers need to do their due diligence and make certain they meet the requirements of each journal.Literary journals vary in how they expect writers to submit their work. Read and reread the guidelines to be sure your submission isn’t rejected because you failed to submit properly.
Common Submission Guidelines
- Some literary journals require you to copy and paste your work into the body of an email. If you make the mistake of sending your submission as an email attachment, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from the journal.
- Be clear on the way you should submit. Some literary journals prefer email, and others may use a portal for submissions. The most common literary journal portal is Submittable.
- Pay attention to a journal’s particular reading periods. Literary journals close to certain submissions throughout the year.
- Don’t forget to address all editors in your email to the publication. Make certain names are spelled correctly. Editors are forgiving, but typos could signal a red flag or be a reason for the reviewer to stop reading your submission.
- Is a cover letter required for your submission? If yes, then make it brief. At most, your cover letter should be a couple of paragraphs. The first paragraph will include an introduction, a mention of a couple of pieces you liked from past issues, and why you think your particular work would be a good fit. You can also include the genre and word count of your submission. The second paragraph should be a brief bio. The signature line should be professional, but friendly.
- Pay attention to word counts. Most literary journals have specific guidelines on what word count is acceptable for their publication. Under 1,000 words means submissions that are 1,010 words or 1,050 will likely not be accepted. Don’t email the editor and ask if an exception can be made for your essay or story.Just meet the word count.
- Does the journal accept simultaneous submissions? First, let’s break down what simultaneous means in the context of a literary journal.According to Duotrope, “If you submit a piece to more than one publication at the same time, you have sent simultaneous submissions (or “sim subs” for short). It doesn’t matter if they were sent at the same time or not. What matters is that multiple publications are considering the piece at the same time (simultaneously).”Proper etiquette dictates you let the journal know you’ve submitted simultaneously and that if your piece is accepted elsewhere you will withdraw immediately.Not letting the editor know your submission is simultaneous isn’t prudent — ultimately, you want to value the editor’s time.
- Is a fee required? Some literary journals, if it is for a contest or even for a regular submission may require a nominal fee. Determine the fee and method of payment.
5. Embrace Patience After Submitting Your Work
Six weeks have passed and you frantically check your email for the editor’s reply or keep clicking refresh on the submission portal. Your instinct might be to reach out to the editor to ask about the status of your submission, but before you move forward with this step, wait.
Before you email someone asking if your piece has been accepted, check the submission guidelines to see whether response times have been published on the site. If it seems prudent for a follow-up, send a brief and respectful email to the editor regarding the status of your submission.
Many literary journals are run by unpaid volunteers, and the staff may be swamped with hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions. Be mindful of this perspective when reaching out to editors.
6. Always be Professional
Your correspondence with an editor will give him and her an impression of you. In any email exchange, make certain you address the editor in a professional tone. Don’t let too many days pass between the email exchanges.
Literary journals belong to a small world. Your professionalism extends to other writers as well.
7. Track Your Submissions to Literary Journals
If you’re submitting to multiple places in several genres, tracking your submission may be a challenge. Create a simple spreadsheet tracking the name of the publication, the date you submitted, whether the response time has passed, the date of follow-up, and whether you’ve received a response.
This approach keeps all of your submission information in one place, so you won’t waste time combing through email or logging into the submission portal multiple times.
8. Prepare for Rejections
It is difficult to understand why pieces are rejected, but separate the quality of your work from the actual rejection. There are multiple reasons why work is rejected.
One strategy to not let rejections sideline you is to have backup markets set up in your spreadsheet. As soon as the rejection arrives, send it to the next journal. This strategy prevents you from ruminating too long on your rejection.
It’s great to keep Lincoln Michael’s advice in mind: “The point is that there are a million reasons your work may be rejected that have nothing to do with the quality of the work. Your submission may simply not have been read carefully enough, or perhaps the magazine filled their fiction slots for the next three issues and rejected the rest.
Maybe the magazine already has two poems about ravens and your brilliant ‘Ode to the Stork’ would be one bird poem too many. Even if the editors read your work carefully and loved it, they may simply have had to make a tough call between your story and several others that they loved. A rejection is not a reflection of the quality of your work. Keep that in mind at all times.”
9. Keep Submitting to Literary Journals
The submission process is all about perseverance. Rejection is a part of the process. Some writers set a goal of 100 rejections a year. If you aren’t actively submitting, it can hinder your writing process. Even if you receive a rejection, sometimes editors will offer feedback on what didn’t work. This advice is invaluable. Or another possibility is the rejection is encouraging and the editor requests that you submit work again.
Ashley Jones, in her recent piece “Why You Should Keep Submitting After a Rejection Letter,” offers this advice:
It’s all a part of the process. After explaining her experience with rejection letters, Judy Blume put it this way:
There is not a writer who hasn’t suffered.”
Literary Journals to Submit To
What are the best literary journals to submit to? No matter the genre you write, you’ll find a home for your next piece at these online literary journals:
Prepare Your Work for the Best Literary Journals at Writers.com!
Need an extra set of eyes on your poem or story? The courses at Writers.com are designed to ready your writing for top literary journals. Take a look at our upcoming course schedule, and join our Facebook group as well if you’re looking to join a writing community. Let us know when your work gets published!
This guide is awesome! It’ll help me to try to submit my work to journals, thanks!
I am very thankful that I stumbled over this article, and joined your group on Facebook. I enjoy writing as a hobby, and lately have been thinking of taking it to the next level , not ready to quit my day job yet, but this article was very helpful and look forward to checking back in with the group.
I’m so glad you found this helpful, Jason. Happy writing (and publishing!)
Helpful, encouraging and “compassionate “ for all writers to be with little experience about publishers.
I am forever indebted to this article. Your points that rejection is possible tend to also remind me to see if I can look for ways to make my writing not all quality as that is typically what I tend to do, as a separate piece of information. I’m not ruminating I just tend to write really well. Hopefully I won’t fall into rumination or speculation as that might stall my writing.