As editor of the Maine Review, I’m often asked what I look for in submissions. As a writer who has been submitting to literary magazines for years, I know the process is fraught with anxiety, hope, and an occasional bit of dread. It’s sad that there’s no easier way for editors to discover excellent writing than through an impersonal submission process, and I hope that by sharing my thoughts, I can help make the experience a little easier for you.
Some publications (like Beloit Poetry Journal) have great systems in place where you get ultra-speedy responses. Other journals (I won't name names) can take over a year to get back to you. Here is my advice for people who get frustrated when they don't receive a timely response to submissions.
Look, you're going to be rejected. It's practically a prerequisite to getting published.
And while I don't actually expect you to be HAPPY about it, I don't think it should be crushing either — more like a momentary trip to Disappointmentville, and then you put on your positivity hat and get back to work.
I recently received an email from one of my favorite literary magazines saying "no thank you" to a set of new poems. A year or two ago, I would've been bummed out all day.
Now I just suffer a few seconds of self-pity pangs and remember these three things about rejection:
1. It gives you a chance to take another look at your work
Maybe your story or poem is ready to submit to the next publisher or editor on your list. Or maybe it needed some extra attention, a different ending, a change of tone. Now that you've had some time and space away from the piece,...
Submitting your stories and poems for publication can be a complicated process. Every editor has different tastes and needs; every journal has slightly different submission guidelines and reading periods; and then there's that whole I-could-revise-this-thing-until-the-end-of-time-but-I-REALLY-need-to-send-it-out consideration for every single piece you've ever written.
Publication success comes down to two things: 1) creating work that's worthy of being shared, and 2) persistence (because most authors will receive rejection letters for even their best material).
If it's a numbers game, you've got to be good at keeping track of all the data that'll increase your odds, right? That's why it's important to maintain thorough records of your submission history, notes about different editors and journals, and a complete list of your stories or poems that are ready for publication (at least in your own estimation). Thankfully, there are some great cheap or free tools out there to help you do exactly that.
How to keep track of your submissions
1. Use Submittable — If you've ever completed an online submission, there's a 50/50 chance you've already used this tool (it used to be called "Submishmash").