Preparing for Submission Season: Part One

It’s almost here! Submission season is that magical time of year when literary journals (especially those tied to a university) start reading and accepting work for their upcoming issues. With July ticking on into August, it’s not a bad idea to start coming up with a list of where you’d like to submit in the next month. To help get you started, I’ve come up some submission tips to help you whether you’re sending work out for the first time ever or you’re a seasoned veteran looking to rethink your process.Over the years, I’ve been to a lot of panels at writing conferences and festivals where editors have given their thoughts and opinions on submission best practices. I’ve also seen some pretty outrageous stuff come through the mail both as an editorial intern and an editor. Let’s start with some general stuff you might already know.

Get the magazine name right. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but sometimes you’d be surprised. While I’ve never rejected a submission because the publication name was wrong on a cover letter, getting it wrong on the submission envelope may say “I sent this to the wrong place. Please recycle it.”

Keep the cover letter brief. Electronic submissions are doing interesting things with our conceptions of cover letters, but I’ll be covering that and how to write a good cover letter in another blog post. For now, keep your cover letter brief. Let the editor know what you’re submitting, how many submissions are in the envelope,  include a short bio, and specify whether you want your manuscript back or not. Do not—please do not—include a CV, extensive list of publications, or headshot.

Include an SASE. In my experience, it’s rare that an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) is actually used to let an author know that their work has been accepted, but it might be handy for an editor to mail a publication contract under a certain set of circumstances. If you would like your manuscript or artwork returned, be sure to include enough postage—Forever stamps are your best friend!

Submit electronically. Online submissions are fantastic. You get to save paper, ink, and postage, the editors of the journal get to focus on reading more and filing less—it’s a win-win for the most part. Some publications do not accept online submissions. In those cases, my question to the writer is always “Do you have your heart set on seeing your work appear here?” If it’s a journal that you respect and admire, it may be worth it.

Read the Guidelines. Guidelines are important, but they also include a degree of flexibility. When it comes to genres and classification, there are sometimes gray areas in what a magazine will accept or won’t. Gray areas are okay. You should, however, avoid sending things that a journal gently hints at or explicitly states they don’t want.

Follow the Rules. Read the guidelines very carefully when it comes to simultaneous submissions. Journals allow or forbid them for a reason. This might have to do with staff size, volume of submissions, or the length of their response time and reading period. Online submission systems make life easier in this regard, but no editor ever likes to find out that the story they just picked up the phone to accept has been withdrawn. If a journal says they’re okay with simultaneous submissions, please be sure to notify them immediately if it is accepted elsewhere. Editors are generally happy to hear that you have been able to place work, but we do start to get annoyed when your submissions keep disappearing. For the record, Oyez Review does not consider simultaneous submissions.

Keep a Submission Log. Never lose track of where a submission has been submitted, accepted, and rejected. This is both an organizational tool and a visual way to help you track your progress and growth. It’s also a great chance to get crafty. Make a Post-It wall of when you submitted a piece to a journal, then come back and fill in the date of their response. Create Excel sheets, databases, use a My Little Pony notebook. The important thing is to find something that works for you. Online systems like  Submittable do a great job of simplifying this for you, sometimes even giving you an update on where your submission is in the reading process at each journal. Keeping good records isn’t just for authors, though. Good editors have extensive records on what submissions are coming in, when they’re processed, and the final decision.

Support the Publication. While not a practical tip, this is probably the most important item on the list. Writers, editors, and literary journals all exist in the same continuum. As great as the world would be if every supermarket newsstand sold literary journals, that’s not the case. Predominantly, the readership in this industry is that of other writers and editors. As more and more funding dries up, long-running publications can fall under the scrutiny of a university’s administration, looking for somewhere to save money.

Buy issues of the journals you like as often as you can. Guidelines are great, but they don’t give you the whole picture of what a publication accepts. Reading the most recent three issues might reveal that a piece using a similar theme to yours appeared in the current issue, might hint at some current preference of the staff.

More importantly, buying copies is good literary citizenship. As writers, we work in solitude, but we do not exist in a vaccuum. Writers need editors, editors need writers. Writing is a community.

Up Next: Debunking Common Myths and Misconceptions. Stay tuned! Later this week, I’ll be back with a list of common misconceptions and myths about formatting your submissions for publication. Later, we’ll be talking about cover letters. Submissions season is upon us. It’s the most wonderful time of…early fall!

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About zachtarvin

Zach Tarvin is an editor, writer, occasional designer, and all-around techie based in Chicago. He's currently an MFA-candidate at Roosevelt University where he is the editor of Oyez Review.
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