Ellyn Lichvar, Managing Editor, The Louisville Review
Coordinator, Spalding University MFA in Writing
Seeing your name in print is exciting. Seeing your name in print beside your published work is even better. But where to start? There are so many journals in existence, deciding which one is the best fit for your work can feel like drinking from a firehose. There are reading periods and closed reading periods and themed issues and page count guidelines and print vs. online and submission fees and submission managers and simultaneous submissions. There is fear—fear of rejection, fear of publication (“Oh my gosh, my mom/son/ex is going to read this!”), fear of doing the wrong thing.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not your work is a good fit for a particular journal is not yours to make. I cannot say this enough: To know what journals are looking for, you need to read journals. Also familiarize yourself with journals’ submission guidelines (strap in, I am going to mention guidelines a lot). One journal may want 3-5 poems, another might want no more than 3; if you write flash fiction, you’ll want to avoid journals that tend to publish longer forms. Be sure the length, theme, etc., of your submission is what they’re looking for.
So how do you craft a good, worthy submission, and how do you find it a good home? Let’s assume we already have a piece of work (a short story, essay, 2-5 poems, etc.) we’re ready to send out into the world. What now?
Step One: Finding the Right Journal(s)
Wouldn’t it be great if there was just one master list out there that had the names of every journal imaginable, with details about their submission guidelines, links to their websites, and lists of previous contributors? Yes! Does such a list exist? Well, sort of. There are several resources available, and from them you can begin to cobble your own master list of journals that you think are a good fit for your work, complete with their submission period(s) and guidelines.
Below are a few resources to help you get started.
Entropy: Entropy is a website featuring literary and related non-literary content. Their “Where to Submit” list is a great resource.
NewPages.com is news, information, and guides to literary magazines, independent publishers, creative writing programs, alternative periodicals, indie bookstores, writing contests, and more.
Poets &Writers has an endless list of classified-like info on journals, small presses, and more on their website. Bonus: search filters help narrow things down.
Duotrope offers free trials but ultimately is a resource that you must pay for. It provides an endlessly searchable list of journals and even a submissions tracker to help keep you organized.
Once you have the names of some journals, be sure to peruse their individual websites to get to know them a bit better. You might order some back issues and read those too (hint: sometimes journals will give these away for cheap or even free if you ask nicely).
Step Two: Turning Your Writing Into a Packaged Submission
Remember when I mentioned that you should pay close attention to a journal’s guidelines? The knowledge you gained about a journal from reading an issue and perusing their website comes into play in this step. Follow their rules! Include the amount of work (page/word count, number of pieces, etc.) they want to see.
Be brief and professional in your cover letter, keeping in mind that it is often easier to turn an editor off than it is to curry favor. Editors want to read your work, not your life’s story, so the simpler your cover letter the better. You need not fret about addressing the letter to an editor by name. A “Dear editors” salutation, followed by a sentence or two about your writing life (i.e.: prior publications), concluded with a “thank you for your consideration” will suffice. Generally, your contact info would be included in the cover letter unless the guidelines say otherwise.
Most journals accept simultaneous submissions (submissions that you’re sending to more than one journal at a time). Check the guidelines! You must must MUST alert every journal you’ve submitted to if the piece is selected for publication. There’s little worse as an editor than accepting a piece you’re in love with, only to find out—whoops!—it’s already been accepted elsewhere and the writer forgot to let you know.
Keep in mind—the editors of these journals are not superheroes (or villains!). They are normal people, often writers themselves, who are likely not working because they get paid oodles of money but because they want to publish good work. Always be professional and courteous in your communication.
Step Three: Staying Organized .
One you’re ready to send your work out, you want to be sure you are keeping track of all the details. I use a simple chart with 5 columns (you can do this in Word or Excel): journal name, title of the work(s) sent, date submitted, estimated response time, and response/date of response. For example, if you are submitting work to The Louisville Review, you’d fill in your chart like so:
Once you get a response back (rejection or acceptance), you’ll fill in the last column. Sometimes rejections are encouraging or personalized, asking to see more work from you in the future; note this in this final column for future reference. If you haven’t received a response and the journal’s stated response time has passed, feel free to shoot them a kind, brief email inquiring about its status.
If you have a piece accepted (hooray!) and you’ve sent it to more than one journal (because you checked their guidelines and knew they were okay with that!), then you’ll need to withdraw your work from the remaining journals. Their guidelines should tell you their preferred method for withdrawals, and most online submission systems make it easy. Note in your submissions chart that you’ve withdrawn your work.
Step Four: Keep It Up
Submit freely! Submit often! Quite simply, you can’t get published if you don’t send out work. Once you get into the rhythm, submitting is something that can be done pretty quickly and without fret. I could go on and on about this subject—simultaneous submissions alone could probably be its own blog entry—so feel free to post questions in the comments. Best of luck in your publishing endeavors!
Ellyn Lichvar is the managing editor of The Louisville Review and a coordinator for Spalding University’s MFA in Writing Program. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in DIAGRAM, BOAAT, The Journal, The Minnesota Review, Meridian, Permafrost, and others.