A dear friend of mine is beginning her submission journey and I’ve forgotten how intimidating that process can be to start. As well, one of my prose-poetry pieces was accepted to Origami Journal *and* I finished the first major milestone in my thesis last week. I wanted to celebrate by writing this post.
For literary folx just starting to submit, it’s hard to know where or how to scratch the surface. Mixed with almost crippling social media noise on how to market and grow an audience for writers, the signals can get crossed and the picture confused. This happens to me often, honestly. Much like its poultry-focused conundrum: Which came first, the writing or the audience? This isn’t an easy thing to answer, and when we’re not talking about genre or commercial writing, it’s even more muddled. I’ve decided the writing comes first and the audience will follow. Let your voice and work lead this path, not the other way around.
These steps I’ve highlighted are under the assumption that you’ve written a thing (a short story, a flash piece, a poem, an essay, some hybrid beauty, etc…) and you want to submit it to literary journals for publication.
- Define what you’ve written
I’ve spoken on this a couple times already, but defining what a thing is is the best way to figure out where to position it. A prose-poem, for example, is both poem and prose/essay. It’s ok for things to be more than one. I typically highlight its genre (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, other), its content, and its style/tone.
- Target journals
The best way I’ve found to start looking for journals is to use a database. I prefer Duotrope.com, though it is subscription-based. Submittable.com is right up there, too, but only highlights the places that use its services for submission, whereas Duotrope includes everyone. Click through and read journals you think might be a good fit. See what they have accepted in the past and what they’re looking for in the future. I keep a running list of journal reviews for my reference, based on my writing style and if my work, generally speaking, would be a good match.
- Follow guidelines
The guidelines are there for a reason. If they want double-spaced, you double-space. If they want word count, you give a word count; a cover letter; a bio. Don’t submit something over the max allowance (pages, word count, pieces) and, if you have a question, email the editors (but don’t be pushy, they are busy). A note on cover letters and bios: I’m not a master at this stuff, but from my experience, the more brevity the better. Succinctly describe the piece and/or its intent, where you’ve been published previously (if anywhere – ignore mentioning it entirely if you haven’t), and, if you think it’s relevant, where and with whom you’ve studied. I like my bios to be in third-person, but my rule of thumb is to see what others have done in a specific journal and follow suit (i.e. – your love of sushi and cats may be worth mentioning in some places and not in others).
- Sub-point: Submit the maximum number of pieces allowed, especially for poetry. This helps an editor get to know your work, style, and voice better than a single, standalone piece would.
While I don’t personally keep a tab on the time it takes for a journal to get back to me, if you’re a bit more neurotic than I am it could be helpful. If a journal does give estimated wait times, do *not* contact them with a follow-up before then. Usually, it’ll be months later and I’ll think, “Huh, haven’t heard from X about Y.” and go back to their submission page to see if they have anything noted about it. Personally, I’ve never followed-up on a submission that is waiting for acceptance/rejection. But, if it’s been 6 months and you still haven’t heard anything (and you don’t want to withdraw the piece), a small note asking if they have an estimated publication date might not be the worst thing you can do.
- Simultaneous submissions & withdrawals
Much like “follow guidelines”, if a place does not accept simultaneous submissions DO NOT simultaneously submit. This is a huge no-no and I’ve been slapped on the wrist about it before (once was enough – the literary community is small, and you don’t want to get that kind of reputation). I, typically, don’t submit to places that don’t accept simultaneous submission unless I know my writing is a great fit. Along with this: the moment one of your pieces is accepted (and you’ve accepted the offer to publish) somewhere else, withdraw it from the other places you’ve submitted to! This is critical – don’t waste an editor’s time. Seriously, those folx have enough work to do and you don’t need to add taking the time to read something that isn’t on the table any more.
- Thank yous & follow-ups
Don’t forget, even rejections require a thank you. If a piece is accepted, and I still believe it’s a great fit, I thank them for the honor and inquire about next steps.
- Paid vs Unpaid
So, this little topic… Is what it is. There are many voices and opinions. Again, personally, I go with where my writing would fit best. If it’s $5 to submit, then I pay. If it’s $10, I might reconsider. If it’s $0 to submit, then I just submit. Similarly, I never expect to be paid for the work I submit to journals – that’s not what this type of work, for me, is about. In my (albeit, short) experience, only one journal paid me for my work. I’m ok with this. You have to decide what’s best for you.
- Rejection goals
Here’s a blog post from Literary Hub about the motivational powers of rejections. I’ve adopted this in my own submitting practices, but I don’t aim as high as 100 simply because my writing process doesn’t fit that number. In any given year, I aim for 30-50 rejections. For 2018, I’m sitting at 6/30. I particularly like this practice because it’s proof that I’m doing something: I’m writing new things and I’m submitting the pieces I believe in. Any acceptance of those pieces are just bonuses to putting my head down and doing the damn work.
Up Next: Surviving #AWP18