Ah, the process of submitting to literary magazines — that dreaded, suspenseful, and occasionally joyful experience of sending your work away to be loved, scorned, or ignored by editors.
Though it’s not a new post, “What Editors Want” by author and editor Lynne Barrett is still one of the most helpful articles I’ve read on the subject of the process of submitting to literary magazines — that dreaded, mysterious, suspenseful, thrilling, and occasionally joyful experience of sending your work away to be loved, scorned, or ignored by editors.
You absolutely should read the full article if you’re interested in sending your work to literary journals, reviews, magazines, and websites, but I’ll summarize her main points.
1. Know the tastes and needs of each editor before submitting
Editors are flooded with submissions. Your job, as Barrett says, is to “help the editor by sending work that is developed, complete, thoroughly revised, and—of great importance—appropriate for the magazine.” In order to understand what their needs are, read a few issues first! If buying multiple issues of many different magazines gets too expensive, get a handful of writers together and all pitch in to buy a number of publications or subscriptions and then share them amongst the group.
2. Keep detailed records and follow the submission guidelines
Be sure you’re keeping good records of exactly what work you’ve sent where and when, and whether or not those editors accept simultaneous submissions. Also, read the directions! Submit work in exactly the style, file-format, and manner they request.
For help on tracking your submissions, check out our article on Duotrope.
3. Send simultaneous submissions to similarly-tiered publications (in terms of prestige/influence)
You don’t want to send the same poem to Tin House AND your friend’s fledgling online poetry journal. What if your friend takes the poem and publishes it immediately, and then you get an acceptance letter from Tin House later that same day before having a chance to notify them of the other acceptance? You’re gonna be bummed that the unknown online journal is publishing the poem — and there’s no way to tell editors “hey, thanks for accepting my poem — but before you publish it, can you wait a couple weeks to see if I hear back from Tin House?” By sending simultaneous submissions to publications of similar stature, you won’t find yourself in this situation.
4. Don’t get carried away in your cover letter
Let your work do most of the talking. Though it’s ok, of course, to mention other places your work has appeared, and any awards you’ve won (unless you’ve won many — then just pick a few).
5. Don’t respond to standard/form rejections
The editors would be overwhelmed if every person who they sent rejection notices to actually replied. It’s not necessary. Just tell yourself “this particular piece wasn’t right for them at this time, but I’ll send something again soon.”
6. Celebrate when you get a somewhat encouraging rejection letter
It means the magazine wants to see more of your work in the future. That’s good news. No need to email back immediately, but when you send your next submission in, make mention of that encouragement. Barrett suggests something like this: “Thank you for your encouraging note about my story ‘G.’ As you suggested, I am trying you again with the enclosed story, ‘H.’” Then move onto the rest of the letter.
7. Celebrate even more when you get a longer, personal note from the editor along with your rejection letter
That means they REALLY thought enough of you as a writer to dig into the piece a bit more and offer suggestions. As Barrett points out, there is a chance that with a longer critique will come a few more stings! But keep in mind that this critique is, in a way, a compliment. Be sure to mention your appreciation of the editor’s comments when you submit NEW work in the future (they won’t want to see a revision of the rejected work unless they specifically ask for it).
8. Respond to an acceptance immediately
Tell them that you’re very excited to have your work accepted, and will be thrilled to see it in the magazine. Get them any other bio info, address info, or revisions they request ASAP. Do NOT send them a revised version of the poem unless they’re open to it. They liked the version you initially sent, and that’s what they want to publish.
9. Notify other editors immediately if a simultaneous submission was accepted elsewhere
Courtesy! Don’t waste editors’ time letting them consider work that is getting published in another magazine.
10. Eat some rich chocolate cake and get back in the game
Ok. This last step is my own advice. Don’t let acceptances go to your head. You’ll be twice as disappointed when your next rejection letter shows up — and there will be many more rejections sprinkled amongst the successes. So celebrate. Be happy. Eat some cake. And then dive back into your writing and submissions process as if you were a beginner. Entitlement is for suckas!
Well, that covers many of the points from the article “What Editors Want,” but there are many more. So check out the original piece HERE.
Do you have any tips to add? What has your experience been like submitting work to literary magazines? Let us know in the comments section below.
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