Monday, October 20, 2014

Re: How to Submit to Literary Journals: Withdrawing Your Piece

"Not withdrawing your piece is unprofessional, rude, and amateurish behavior unbecoming of a writer."

I received a question about this strong statement from last week's post.

A reader asked:
"Any idea why [not withdrawing is unprofessional, etc.]? ...Sounds like writers lose a ton of negotiating power for no reason but that tradition has set social niceties in stone. Like... When you're interviewing for a job, [you ask] for a couple weeks to decide. Because if they call you and accept the day before your next interview instead of the day after, that shouldn't have such a disproportionate effect on your future.... Is there a similar waiting period for journal submissions?"
The short answer is YES. Writers do have negotiating power.

If you get an offer, you're not required to answer immediately. This is true for querying agents, submitting directly to publishers or for subbing to literary journals.

What's the proper waiting period? A week is appropriate in all these cases. (There are a few exceptions, like weekly e-zines, where the turnover is too fast for a week's waiting period.)

Asking for one week gives you time to decide whether you will be satisfied having your work handled by the publishing professional in question.

In the meantime, it is appropriate and encouraged to send out "heads-up" emails -- not to every agent or editor you queried. Only send to those whom you might prefer.

The heads-up email:
  • Explains you received an offer of publication/representation (no need to mention from whom)
  • Invites a response to your submission by [deadline], after which time you will make a decision

Withdrawing your piece

Don't withdraw
  • If you have sent a heads-up email, don't formally withdraw your piece. The ball is in their court. If they decline to respond, that's their business and they know the consequences of not doing so.
Do withdraw
  • If you decide immediately to accept an offer, send a formal withdrawal note.
  • If you did not send out a heads-up email, send a formal withdrawal note.

How to withdraw? A simple email will suffice. If using an online submission manager, add a quick note, like this one:
"Dear [editor/agent], Please withdraw [title] from your submission queue, as I have placed it elsewhere for [publication/representation]. Thank you."

In summary, when your work is on submission...

If you accept publication/representation and fail to loop in the other contenders, you are wasting their time. Reading through subs is a lot of work. If they read and accept yours, only to find it's been placed elsewhere, it's unlikely they'll want to reach out to you again.

Leaving an editor or agent out of the loop reflects poorly on you as a publishing team player.

This is the way the industry works. Yes, it may place the burden of effort disproportionately on writers. But until a new industry rises, er, out of the ashes, this is the game we've agreed to play.


What experiences have you had communicating your waiting periods and withdrawals to editors/agents? What kind of responses have you received from heads-up emails?

In your opinion, what might be a better way this system could work?

~ Lora

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

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.
acceptance letters.
edits. you will make them.
mistakes. they happen.

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.


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.