Friday, October 17, 2014

How to Submit to Literary Journals


Yesterday, three people from vastly different playgrounds of my life asked me how to submit to literary journals.

Googling will turn up tons of info. But if you're new to the game, this is a good starting place.



The Quick-and-Dirty Basics


Contents
step 1. write something you're proud of.
step 2. find some journals.
step 3. track it.
step 4. proof and format.
step 5. cover letter and bio.
step 6. read the journal submission specs.
step 7. what to track.
rejections.
acceptance letters.
edits. you will make them.
mistakes. they happen.
Questions?



step 1. write something you're proud of.

You really can't get around this one. If you aren't embarrassingly proud of your work, it's unlikely anyone else will give two flips about it. Read it aloud (for proofreading purposes, of course). Are you blushing? It's good, isn't it? Hell yeah, it is. That's what I mean by proud.


step 2. find some journals.

Check out literary mag hubs. These are places that have exhaustive(ish) lists of journals, both large and small, that feature blurbs about journals' character and interests, along with ways to get in touch.



step 3. track it.

Make a spreadsheet of journals you want to submit to.


step 4. proof and format.

After you send your piece to a writing friend for line edits, format for submission.

For fiction and creative nonfiction, unless otherwise specified:

  • 12 pt font
  • Double space between lines
  • Do not add space between paragraphs
  • 1/2 inch indent first line of each graph
  • Your contact info in upper left-hand corner of first page, single spaced
  • Title (in title case) centered, halfway down first page
  • Byline (your name or pen name) directly below title
  • Header: Select "Different first page"
  • Header (first page): Word count (rounded to nearest 10) in top right-hand corner (e.g., "about 1,230 words")
  • Header (all other pages): [Last name] / [shortened title] / [page number] in top right-hand corner (e.g. "Rivera / How to Sub / 5")
  • Footer: Email address centered


step 5. cover letter and bio.

If you're used to querying agents, this will make you melt with relief. Unless otherwise specified, you don't need to pitch your story. Introduce your work. Break paragraphs for a bio. And close.

Here's an example:




step 6. read the journal submission specs.

Don't skip this step. As with agents, journal eds are particular because they have to be. If you want to know more about this step, go here or here.


step 7. what to track.


  • the date of submission
  • journal
  • title of your piece
  • word count of your piece
  • the date of response
  • type of response (rejection, acceptance, withdrawal)


BONUS. rejections. you will get them.

Do you ever respond to a rejection letter? No. Well, yes. But mostly no. Why? It wastes your time and the editor's time. It reflects badly on your maturity as a writer.

When do you respond to a rejection letter? Respond with a one- or two-liner note of thanks only if the editor has supplied more than cursory feedback on your piece. "I enjoyed your work but it's not for us" is cursory. Do not respond (DNR). "We really liked your work and hope you'll submit in the future" is flattering but not real feedback. DNR. Two paragraphs about your main character or plot? Send over a short note of thanks.


BONUS. acceptance letters. you will get them.

If you keep trying, you will get published.

If you receive an acceptance letter, thank the editor in a timely manner.

Next, withdraw your submission from every other journal you submitted to. A short, polite, reply-to email is perfect for this. If using a submission manager, follow the guidelines on the site. Not withdrawing your piece is unprofessional, rude, and amateurish  behavior unbecoming of a writer.


BONUS. edits. you will make them.

Especially with larger journals, an editor will want to do a few rounds with you. Decide ahead of time what your intent is with your piece. Do you just want to get published? Make the requested edits. Don't push back too much. If you decide to push back, choose one or two points to contest. Give clear, convincing, polite arguments for not making the requested edit. Try an alternate route. Figure out how much you're willing to give. Then give a little more. This doesn't always feel good, but it's a critical role of the writer to be able to receive and respond to criticism.


BONUS. mistakes. they happen.

You will make a mistake. It is always okay to own your mistake and send a short "Oops, and thanks for your patience" email. It's not about saving face or being perfect. Writing is about being human and making connections. Check out this piece by Eva Langston on common mistakes to avoid.


Questions?


If you'd like to know more about the process, I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment, tweet at me, or email me.