The Ins and Outs of Submitting to Literary Magazines
Ten questions to keep in mind
Choosing which Magazines to Submit to
There are so many journals that it can be hard to choose. Here are some key questions to ask yourself to narrow them down:
1. What literary magazines do you like that match your writing style?
It’s important to get a sense of the publications you’re going to submit to. Read a recent issue. You’ll have a better idea of what pieces you have that match the editorial aesthetic of the magazine and vice versa, not to mention that it’s worthwhile to read as much as you can in your genre. Check out the list of Canadian literary magazines at Lexical.ca.
2. Are you looking for a print magazine? An online magazine? Both?
These days, writers are seeing the value of online magazines, which are readily accessible to readers. However, print magazines are still coveted by many writers, especially if they’re available in bookstores and newsstands. Some publications have their issues both online and in print—a decided advantage. Where would you ideally like to see your work?
3. Are you looking for a paying market?
While it’s nice to get a pay cheque, there are some wonderful magazines that don’t pay. Consider where you’re at and what your priorities are.
4. What turnaround time is best for you?
Before you even pick a magazine, you might want to consider what turnaround time is best for you. For example, if you’re applying to grad school or for a writing grant and you want a few more acceptances to round out your CV before a certain deadline, then look for turnaround times that are shorter. Most magazines list their response times on their submissions page. In addition, there are also writing blogs/websites that list publications that have fast turnaround times. Here’s one list by Trish Hopkinson.
5. Are you going to submit simultaneously?
The good thing about simultaneous submissions is that you can increase your chances of getting published in a shorter time frame. (That said, only some publications allow simultaneous submissions.) If you are going to submit simultaneously, keep in mind that if one of your pieces is accepted, you’ll have to notify all the other publications. You might want to start with the highest tiered (top-ranked) magazines for the first round of submissions and work your way down.
6. What are your chances?
As much as you research and target publications that publish the kind of work you do, it’s impossible to know exactly what your chances are of getting published. It might be worthwhile to check the average acceptance rate of the magazine you’re submitting to. Unfortunately, even if that information is available, it may not be entirely accurate. There will most likely be fluctuations per issue, and who’s to say what the circumstances will be for the magazine’s upcoming issue? The more you second-guess, the more you’ll delay being published. Even if the odds are against you, you never know when you’re going to get lucky.
Targeting fledgling magazines can be a good strategy. They might have fewer submissions to contend with and may be more in need of work than some of the well-known publications that are inundated with submissions.
Preparing Your Submission
7. Have you had feedback on the pieces you’re going to submit?
So you’ve picked the piece(s) you’re going to send. Have they been workshopped? It is extremely helpful to get feedback before sending out your work. It gives you a chance to make sure your work is more polished. Sometimes there’s a typo or a hidden allusion in your work that you didn’t intend—or something confusing that you’ve written that has completely escaped you until someone points it out.
8. Are you going to add some personal flair to your cover letter?
You’ve chosen the magazine you’re going to submit to and now you’re addressing your cover letter to the appropriate person. Are you going to add some personal flair to your cover letter? Or are you going to keep it short and sweet? If you decide that you’re going to personalize your cover letter, think about the person you’re addressing. For example, is it the publisher? Say something nice about the publication. Thank them for their time and all that they do. As long as you stay within the guidelines, you don’t have to write a form cover letter. However, some writers swear it’s best to write a sparse, impersonal letter. Decide which you think is best and commit to it.
9. How do you profit from rejection?
Keep track of any positive feedback you receive from editors. When it’s time to submit again, you can go to your submission records and see who wants you to submit again, who liked some of your work, etc. Don’t overlook an editor’s positive comments. If you’re not sure if you’ve received a tiered (or personalized) rejection, you can check Rejection Wiki to see if it lists the magazine’s tiered rejections.
Flip the script. Instead of focusing on how many acceptances you receive, focus on trying to collect a hundred rejections per year. It’s not easy to do. It takes work. And if you receive a hundred rejections, there are bound to be some acceptances. A few articles have been written on this…here’s one of them.
Sometimes an editor who rejects your work may be doing you a favour, because something better is waiting for you around the corner.
10. How do you keep going?
If you’ve been procrastinating lately, make a list of all the reasons you want to submit. Conversely, write out all the reasons why you don’t want to submit, so that you can pinpoint what’s standing in your way.
Go to some local magazine launches and get involved in the writing community to reinvigorate yourself and make valuable connections.
Set up a submissions club—even if it’s just you and a friend—and keep yourselves accountable to each other.
Why not think of submitting as an exercise? What better way to hone your skills and work on your craft than getting your work prepared for publication?
Are you ready to submit? Don’t forget to check out the list of Canadian literary magazines and publishers at Lexical.ca.
Previously published at Lexical.ca.
I’m teaching a brand new online workshop: "Gathering A Poem - A Generative Workshop," perfect for poets who want to enliven their process of generating new work. Runs from April 4th to May 2nd, 2019. If you’re interested in finding out more, visit the Wychwood Writers Workshop.