Writers don’t usually get published overnight. It usually takes months or even years of submitting to different tiers of publications to get a story published. As someone who has personally gone through rounds of submissions, I get it. I’ve had my work published, and I’ve been working as an editor of literary magazines for two years now. I’ve waded through rounds and rounds of submissions, some waters murkier than others.
What I’ve come to realize is there are definite ways to stand out to editors both in good and bad ways. As someone who writes for a living, I understand how easy it is to question your own abilities. You might start asking if it’s worth submitting at all, or if you should just give up. Before you throw in the towel, let’s talk about some lit mag submissions tips that just might give you the extra boost you need.
Read the Guidelines
This might sound like a given, but you’d honestly be surprised. Editors don’t just write guidelines to be cute. Capulet Mag, for instance, has two different sets of guidelines. First of all, you must be in the required demographic: a woman between the ages of 15-29. A number of times I receive submissions from people men who clearly didn’t read the guidelines is painful. Needless to say, these are instantly deleted without a second glance.
The second set of guidelines we have are for formatting specifics. We have word limits and format guidelines not just to make things challenging, but because these specifics make it easier to read a large number of submissions. Sometimes, there are exceptions such as if you slightly exceed the word count but your work is still exceptional. It is up to you as the writer to gauge whether your work is worth the gamble of ignoring guidelines.
While this is one of the simplest basic lit mag submission tips, it definitely shouldn’t be ignored. It only takes a few minutes to read through guidelines fully. Like Nike says so eloquently: just do it.
Submit Your Work in Waves
While it might seem smart to submit your latest story to as many publications as possible, this might actually work against you. Rather, submit your work to one or two at a time and wait to hear back. This is the best way to receive feedback on your story. If you get rejected, revisit your work and improve it however you can. This will put you in a better position for your next round of submissions.
Submit to the Same Mag/Journal Multiple Times
It is important to build relationships with literary magazines. While you might not think you’re being noticed amidst all the noise, good writers do stand out. At Capulet Mag, we receive a lot of top-quality submissions, many of which we are forced to reject due to a lack of space or theming issues. These writers have been noted, and they would definitely receive priority attention in later editions.
You shouldn’t automatically be discouraged by a rejection from a magazine or journal. Sometimes one short story is ultimately beat out by another, but that isn’t for a lack of talent. Another story by said author might be a perfect fit for the next edition!
Find a Good Fit
When I was in prep school, my college counselor used to preach, “College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.” I agreed with him then, and I agree with him now, especially when it comes to magazines and publications. When you’re a great match for a publication, it shows. Do your research and find missions you can get behind. Read through previous editions to see if you like the style they’ve published before and if you can picture your own work under their masthead.
Write a Killer Cover Letter
Some journals and magazines are author blind meaning they don’t accept cover letters or author bios when they review submissions. This has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but many magazines like Capulet Mag do ask for a cover letter. I’ve read a lot of cover letters, and this is what I look for:
- Did the author do her research? Always address the editors by name, when possible, and demonstrate that you understand the message behind the magazine.
- Briefly, explains her work. No editor wants to read a lengthy synopsis of your short story or poem. However, I do like to see a teaser, so to speak, which peaks my interest.
- A short bio. The key word here is short. I don’t care where you went to elementary school unless that’s relevant to your work. Briefly, share your experience and/or inspiration.
- Is this a simultaneous submission? At Capulet Mag, we accept simultaneous submissions which means you’re allowed to submit your work to other publications while you wait for our decision. If your work is a simultaneous submission, that’s completely cool, but keeping the editor informed is a great way to build a positive relationship.
- Have you been published elsewhere? I love to see where submitters have been published before, if at all. Once again, keep it short and sweet.
Here’s an example of a great cover letter:
Dear Samantha and Isabelle,
Please consider this 3,000-word short story titled “Tinderella” for the Fall 2017 edition of Capulet Mag. I stumbled upon Capulet Mag while researching women run publications, and I am drawn to your commitment to empowerment. I am currently a high school teacher from Sarasota, FL, and my work has appeared in The Flagler Review.
My story “Tinderella” depicts the fictional struggles of Maddy, a romantically-challenged college grad, as she explores the chaotic world of online dating. I hope you appreciate my humor and unique insight into online dating.
My story is a simultaneous submission, and I will notify you immediately if it accepted elsewhere.
As you can see, Jane has done her research. She acknowledges her understanding of the magazine while sharing a very intriguing look into her story.
Read, Read, and Re-Read Before Submitting
Nobodies perfect and mistakes happen. That’s okay. I’ve accepted writing before that wasn’t perfect. However, blatant spelling and grammar errors aren’t going to impress anyone. At Capulet Mag, we only accept polished pieces. We are always willing to work with authors that have quality work but need a little tweaking, but we don’t have time to review the rules of comma placement in-depth.
In the age of word processors and spell-check, there isn’t much excuse. I used to be a writing tutor in college, so here are some pro tips for self-reviewing that I used to share with students:
- Do your editing on printed documents. The computer screen can mask a lot of errors for tired eyes.
- Read your work aloud.
- Read your work backwards.
- Use grammarly.
Finally, the best way to review your own work is actually to just have someone else review it. Force it on your friends and family or work with a local writers group at a library or college. If you want a more skilled set of eyes, consider finding a qualified reader online. If you are on a budget, Fiverr has great options for proofreaders and creative developers.
Lit Mag Submission Tips
These were my top lit mag submission tips. Ultimately, you need to follow your own intuition when it comes to your work. If you believe in a piece, it shows. Be confident in yourself and your own abilities, and don’t give up easily. If writing was easy, everyone would be doing it. If you’re writing for yourself, you’re already halfway there.