An Editor’s Tips on Submitting to Literary Journals
June 8, 2021
So you want to submit to a literary journal. You have a short story, or some poems, or a flashy nonfiction piece that you’re convinced is a sure-fire piece that editors all over the interwebs will be fighting with each other to publish in their magazine.
Well, how do you even get started?
For a long time, I lived on the writer’s side of the submissions process. My first piece was published in my university’s literary journal while I was still in school, and that got me started on the long and tedious process of trying to publish my work outside of my university. And let me tell you, it was most definitely a tedious process!
Submitting for publication in journals is a long ordeal. It requires a lot of reading submission guidelines, scouring Duotrope for publications that fit your story’s qualifications, and patience as you wait for editors to get back to you (which can take a very long time — I had a short story I submitted once that I didn’t hear back on for over a year, and it was a rejection.)
Trying to get published is not a glamorous process. In fact, it can turn many writers off from writing entirely. It takes a lot of effort, and much of that effort is met with a resounding “no.” I get it. I’ve even written poems about this very thing. Beauty from pain, right?
My perspective on this process changed drastically once I founded and became an editor for borrowed solace: a journal of literary ramblings. Looking at the process from the other side offers a different view of the submissions process. One that I don’t think is revealed often enough to those on the other side of the screen trying to get published.
Here are some thoughts and tips on getting published coming straight from the mouth of an editor:
1. You must read the submission guidelines
This is something that I and one of the former editors of borrowed solace did not see eye to eye on. When she submitted her own work to journals, she didn’t always read and follow the submissions guidelines. They usually are long and vary from journal to journal, so I get it. It’s a painstaking process to read through and follow every requirement. But not following the guidelines is also a foolproof way to be rejected without a second thought!
We have guidelines for a reason. If your name and email aren’t on the first page of your document, I literally will not be able to tell who submitted the work once I’m in the trenches reading submission after submission. If your poem is an epic the length of The Iliad, we straight up don’t have room for it in the journal. If you submit five poems instead of your allotted four I will not read the fifth one — even if it’s the best one!
Please just follow the instructions. It gives your work a fighting chance of being accepted!
2. Our response times aren’t quick, and I’m sorry
For poetry alone I get anywhere from two to five hundred submissions per reading period. That’s a lot of poetry to read! I give your poetry my undivided attention when I read it. I really do read what you submit, so it takes time to get through everything. Because of this, we often don’t get back to writers for about three months (which is actually a pretty quick turnaround compared to some journals.)
Please be patient with us. We try hard to be timely in our responses, but we have other commitments, too (just like most of you!)
3. Please do point out any errors you see in the journal (but don’t be rude about it)
There are three of us who currently work “full time” on the journal. We have had guest editors and guest bloggers/readers, but it’s mainly just the three of us who do everything for each edition. We inevitably will spell someone’s name wrong or put a period in the wrong spot. Usually it’s something incredibly small, but that’s why we send the journal to our authors a few days before it is released so that we can fix anything that needs fixing.
We won’t publish you again if you decide to lambast us on Twitter for not capitalizing the first letter of a sentence. And we won’t take kindly to your email-rant about putting your nickname instead of your full name by mistake (comparing yourself to Steve, I mean Stephen, King won’t help here. You are not Stephen King, trust me. None of us are Stephen King. We all wish we were Stephen King.)
4. We have some artistic liberty with how your work is formatted and what art/photography it appears with when published
You check a box agreeing to this when you submit. If you’re worried about this, take a look at our sample journals to get a feel for what your story will look like upon publication (and read what you agree to upon submission carefully.) We can’t bend to the will of every author (most of whom are pleased with how their piece looks and say so, by the way) because that takes away the beauty of having the freedom to edit and create the journal according to our collective vision. Believe me, we put a lot of time and effort into coming up with the appearance of the journal and picking what art goes with what piece. We want the final product to be beautiful and readable just like you do!
5. We’re sorry we can’t pay you with more than a contributor copy and our undying gratitude
I know that the idea of writers not getting paid for their work is a slippery slope and oft-debated on the internet, but know this: we would if we could. We often don’t even make enough money to break even with our advertising and web hosting costs. Such is the plight of a small literary journal. We do this for the love of language and to give good writing a platform. We want your words to be released into the world and have a place to call home just as much as you do!
borrowed solace has been fortunate to create a blossoming and supportive community of writers, artists, and readers throughout the three years we’ve been around. It’s not easy running a journal, just like we know it’s not easy putting your words out into the world, but we believe that both are important. Until the time everyone else believes that, too, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is, we, unfortunately, can’t pay contributors.
Ultimately, keep this in mind
We love each and every one of the writers who has been published in our digital pages, and we can’t wait to see where the coming years take us! If you are considering submitting to our journal or any of the other wonderful spots out there looking to publish amazing writing, remember to keep some of these things in mind as you click “submit.” Now get to submitting! And don’t forget to read those guidelines.
Finally, I want to say thank you. Without you — reading this, right now — there wouldn’t be any literary journals. We wouldn’t exist without writers like you creating and publishing, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.