Poets & Writers

Digging Deeper

WE’VE all read the same go-to advice about submitting to literary magazines: Do your research, format your manuscript correctly, submit simultaneously whenever possible, be a good literary citizen by reading and subscribing to journals, and so on. There’s a reason those tips are shared again and again. You do need to understand what type of work a journal publishes to give yourself a fighting chance at an acceptance. Improper manuscript formatting is unprofessional and distracting. Unless you submit simultaneously, it may take you a quarter century to place a piece, and participating in the community you’re trying to break into improves your odds while making the experience more meaningful.

But we can go deeper than those basic guidelines. Whenever I lead workshops focusing on publishing, I find many writers are mystified by the finer details of the submission process. How can writers improve their chances of receiving an acceptance from a literary journal? When is it appropriate to contact an editor about a submission? Is it possible—or worthwhile—to attempt to decode a rejection?

As a writer who has submitted to countless literary magazines, and as a literary editor who has evaluated thousands of submissions, I set out to answer these questions and others to offer a more nuanced look at the submission landscape.

This is easier said than done, of course, but once your work is safely submitted, try to put it out of your mind. I has had your story under consideration for ten months while most writers hear back from that journal after about six months, it might be tempting to assume an acceptance is on the way. While it’s true that a longer wait might suggest your work is being strongly considered, I’ve learned the hard way not to count on it. I can’t tell you how many times I imagined my story marching its way toward acceptance because it had been held for so long only to eventually receive a form rejection.

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