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Just Send It: Submitting to Literary Journals

For many writers, getting published is the ultimate dream. Why? Is it the desire to see your work printed somewhere other than a piece of paper from your office? The possibility of strangers reading and being inspired by your work? The self-gratifying knowledge that you’re now a “real writer” (whatever that means)? Having “street cred”?


Whatever the reason, submitting to literary journals can be daunting for any aspiring writer. Putting your creative work out there for judgment and scrutiny can be intimidating, and preparing work for submission can be even more confusing.


How do you navigate it all? How do you know you’re selecting your best work—or the best places to send it? Furthermore, how should you respond if your work isn’t accepted and you must try again?


In this blog post, we'll delve into the intricacies of submitting to literary journals, from selecting your best work to handling rejection with resilience. So, take a deep breath, gather your courage, and let's dive into the world of submitting to literary journals.


Selecting Your Best Work to Send Out


Choosing pieces for submitting to literary journals is the first and most critical step. After all, you want to focus on writing that best represents your skills and artistic expression. Furthermore, you need to select work that will help you hit the “send” button with the utmost confidence and high hopes for what’s coming next.


Begin by critically assessing your portfolio of work. Look for writing that showcases your talent, personal growth, and unique voice as an author. These pieces should capture your strongest narrative and thematic elements, displaying a level of polish that will stand out to editors.


Aside from voice and content, assessing your work’s technical skill and polish is vital. Ideally, the work you send out should be things you’ve reworked on multiple occasions and labored over through many drafts.


Before sending out work, it always helps me to revisit each piece with a fresh perspective, refining language, structure, and clarity to enhance the overall impact of your writing. If possible, seek constructive feedback from peers or mentors who understand your aspirations and can offer valuable insights into your work's strengths and areas for improvement.


Also, consider the diversity of your pieces. Because of the diversity of literary journals out there, preparing a number of pieces with a variety of themes and styles can increase your chances of catching an editor's attention.


However, it's essential to remain true to your voice and vision. The most important criterion is that you believe in the piece and are proud and excited to show it to readers. This will make submitting to literary journals much more fulfilling for you, and this enthusiasm will be palpable to audiences who experience it.


Finding the Right Literary Journals for Your Work


Identifying the most suitable literary journals for your writing requires thorough research and a strategic approach. Start by exploring the genres and themes that each journal specializes in. This step is crucial as it ensures that your work aligns with the publication's interests, increasing the likelihood of your submission being accepted.


Use online resources, such as literary journal databases and directories, to narrow your options. Reading past journal issues can also offer valuable insights into the type of content they prefer and their editorial style. For years, I’ve used Duotrope, which lets you search thousands of journals based on a variety of criteria, including genre, word count, and even niche topics. It’s 50 dollars for a year’s subscription, and if you plan on submitting a lot, it’s worth the investment.


When assessing different publications, pay attention to whether they cater to emerging writers or if they prefer more established authors. This information can often be found in the journal's submission guidelines or interviews with the editors.


It's also important to consider the journal's circulation and reach. Ask yourself whether you aim for a broad audience or a more specialized readership. Some writers might prioritize publishing in a journal with a large circulation, while others may find a smaller, more focused publication more appealing.


It all depends on the audience you want to read. Think about who your ideal readers are and where they might “hang out” in the literary journal-sphere. Then, find publications that will best cater to those audiences the best.


Finally, ensure that the values and goals of the literary journals you're considering align with yours. A publication that supports and encourages its contributors can provide an outlet for your work and a sense of community and belonging in the literary world.


Understanding Submission Requirements and Procedures


Okay, writers. Listen up. This is the most important part of this blog post. None of your other preparations for submitting to literary journals will mean anything if you miss this.


You need to follow the directions. Period. Exclamation point.


If you don’t follow the directions for submitting work, guess what? You’ll get rejected. And you don’t want to miss the chance to get published just because you didn’t pay attention.


These guidelines streamline the evaluation process for editors and ensure that all submissions are assessed fairly and efficiently. It is imperative to read them thoroughly and adhere to them meticulously.


 Overlooking details regarding formatting or missing a submission deadline can automatically disqualify your work from consideration. This diligence in following the rules shows respect for the publication's process and increases the likelihood of your work being reviewed on its merits.


Please note that these requirements aren’t always related to the writing itself. Some journals want you to submit your work in a particular document format (docx, PDF, etc.). Some want it in the body of the email. Some want a very particular subject line to help them locate submissions in their very busy inboxes.


One time, I even submitted to a journal that wanted the text of my submission in the body of the email in a particular font and size.


Read the instructions and read them again.


In addition, be aware of whether the journal accepts simultaneous submissions or requires exclusive consideration of your work. In the happy event that a piece you’ve submitted to multiple journals is accepted, be sure to notify the other publications immediately so they can remove it from the work they are considering. In my experience, they won’t get mad at you—they’ll be glad to celebrate with you.


Just read the directions. Please. I beg of you, with tears in my eyes, read the directions. Understand the assignment.


Handling Rejection with Resilience


It’s a sad reality, but it’s true: your work will be rejected. It’s not a referendum on you as a writer—literary journals can’t publish everyone, and if they did, there would be nothing to celebrate.


One thing to keep in mind is that there are three degrees of rejection letters, and if you can spot the nuances, you can find victories even in having your work turned down. These include:


·      The boilerplate rejection: This message is not personal. In the days before most submissions took place online, you’d get a slip of paper that said something like, “Thank you for submitting to our journal. Unfortunately, it is not a fit for us.” I used to save all these little pieces of paper and make art with them, and I feel bad that most of you won’t ever experience that.

·      The boilerplate rejection with a note of encouragement: This will include the typical “thank u next” text, but something will be added to it for you. When those slips of paper went out, there would sometimes be a handwritten note saying, “Thanks!” or “Try again.” It doesn’t seem like much, but anything that indicates they want you to submit again means that your work stood out even if the odds didn’t work out in your favor this time. This is something work celebrating—editors read your writing and liked it enough that they want to see more in the future.

·      The fully personal response: These are rare, but I’ve gotten them. With these, you can tell there’s nothing standard about it. The editor takes the time to personally tell you they liked your work, but it doesn’t fit their current needs. If you get a personal rejection, rejoice—you now have an open invitation to submit again. Take note of when their next submission cycle begins, and start thinking about what you want to send next!


The bottom line is that you will receive more rejections than acceptances. But take heart—you did the hard work of overcoming the fear that often accompanies sharing your work with others. Keep up the good work.


Got Other Questions About Submitting to Literary Journals?

I know that things like sending out your work are a tough part of the writing life. That’s why I set aside time to meet one-on-one with anyone who needs a little help.


I like to call it a Virtual Meetup.


Schedule a 30-minute block of time to meet with me on Zoom and get answers to your questions about writing, the submission process, or anything else on your mind.


Best of all? It’s free.


Click below to access my calendar and set up a time to connect!

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