12 Tips for Submitting Your Work to Literary Journals
A Co-editor’s Perspective
By Cheryl Somers Aubin
As a writer, I have submitted my fair share of essays and fiction pieces to literary journals. Now that I am the nonfiction co-editor of a literary journal, I wanted to share a few tips with my fellow writers from the perspective of an editor:
Submit early: These are the essays that stay at the top of my mind and I end up comparing all future submissions to them. Some essays are immediately accepted (before they get scooped up by another journal) leaving fewer openings for those last minute submissions.
Edit your piece: Some of the pieces I look at would have been wonderful with some editing. Check the overall piece, then check every line and every sentence. Are there places you need to cut? To add? Be sure you take this important step before submitting.
Proof your piece: And then look it over again, then have someone else look it over. When there are many submissions it is easy to put aside those with misspellings and poor grammar.
Be creative: Being creative can set you apart (a one sentence piece was accepted for our journal) but don't write an entire essay about the stuff underneath your fingernails. Be creative but not gross.
Write clearly: Don’t make me work really hard to understand your piece. You can use beautiful language and creative styles – but don’t have me shaking my head wondering what the heck the piece is really about.
Identify people: If you must not identify a person in your piece, please think of a way to write about them (the husband, the neighbor) instead of using just letters. One letter to identify a single person is okay if you have to, but more than one letter and readers get confused. (X gave her car keys to Y which made W get mad and storm off to tell Z...)???
Submit once: Submit the very best version of your piece only once. A few writers submitted a piece then resubmitted the same one with some corrections -- but I have already formed an opinion about the piece and the edits/corrections are not significant enough to change my mind.
Follow guidelines: Pay close attention to what the journal wants. Name on every page or not at all? Times New Roman or Courier font? Also, how do they define “previously published work?” Is it work that has appeared in a print publication or online anywhere at any time (including your own blog)? Be sure to follow the rules they have for submissions.
Submit to multiple journals: If the journals allow it, be sure to submit your piece to multiple journals. Most journals use Submittable. It can take months to hear back, so it is to your advantage to have your piece out for consideration to several journals at the same time. Be sure, however, to notify the other journals immediately if your piece gets accepted.
It’s a process: Different journals work different ways, but most of them have several readers for each genre. I went to bat with the executive editor about several pieces that I thought deserved to be included in our journal. I volunteer to do this because I love to see the work of so many talented writers and I also know what it is like to be the writer behind the submission. In the end, while the co-editors make their recommendations, the Executive Editor of the Journal has the final say.
If you do get rejected: Pay close attention to what the rejection note says. Many journals are now sending out several levels of rejections. If your e-mails says, “thanks but we are not able to use it,” you might need to take another look at your piece to make sure it is as perfect as can be. On the other hand, if you get a response such as, “It’s a lovely, poignant piece and received many favorable comments, but the editorial board did not select it for publication in the upcoming issue. However, we sincerely hope you will consider submitting again to future volumes.” This is a very positive rejection and you should consider submitting another piece to this journal.
Do not despair: Submitting your work and being rejected is just part of the life of a writer trying to get published. Some of the pieces that were not going to be accepted for our journal were accepted elsewhere and withdrawn by the author. So, stay positive, knowing that good work often finds a home.
BIO: Cheryl Somers Aubin has been writing and publishing for 25 years, and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Foundation Magazine, and other newspapers, magazines, and online journals. She has an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Cheryl teaches memoir writing and is a featured speaker at book festivals, writing conferences, and workshops. She is a nonfiction co-editor for a literary journal. Her book, The Survivor Tree: Inspired by a True Story, is available at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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She can be reached at email@example.com