September means one thing in the life of a writer: it’s submission season.
For as difficult as it may have been to find journals that accept work in the summer, September marks the month when almost every single journal starts accepting submissions again. Be it fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or memoir, this is the time of year when the options for where to submit are endless.
And with that, of course, comes a whole lot of daunt.
In thinking about facing down another submission season, I also realized that it’s been exactly one year since I started writing this column. So I spent the last few days pouring over the posts I have written, the tips I have shared, and the epiphanies I have come to about the submission process, and there is one thing that became abundantly clear: I am terrible at following my own advice. From everything to why we should submit to finding the right journal to submit to, I have talked a big game while just playing ball.
So. I need this Submission Season Reboot as much as the next writer. Maybe you’re in the same place: stalled out on submitting work while at the same time telling yourself that you’re going to set a plan in motion, that you’re doing to really do it, that you’re actually going to stick to it this time.
If you are, then you are in the right place. Let’s just do it, okay? Let’s make a plan. Thankfully everything that you need to get started has already been talked about over the past year of posts. So let’s get started.
Here it is. Your list of everything you need to start submitting this season:
1. Revise Your Work
2. Choose A Resource
There are so many ways to find journals these days, but some really great choices are Duotrope (disclaimer: that’s what I use), NewPage.com, this list ranked by how many stories each journal has had in the Best American series, this list ranked by how many stories each journal has had nominated for a Pushcart, and the PEN American center, which lists all upcoming deadlines for journals, contests, and residencies.
3. Subscribe To A Few Journals
I know everyone says this, and I know that it is the most annoying advice ever. I used to think that, too, until I actually did it and realized that most journals really do have a distinct aesthetic. Sorry to the bearer of that news. Knowing a journal well takes time, so I don’t suggest waiting until you know where a story fits to start submitting (sorry, lit journals everywhere, but this is a recipe for excuse making, if you ask me). Still, knowing what is being published and what specific journals are publishing is an invaluable resource that you should constantly be cultivating. Subscribe to one or two a year. Go spend a day reading back issues at your local library. Or scour the internet for issues online. Do this for your own sake but also for the sake of the journals. Support the system that will hopefully one day support you.
4. Write A Generic Cover Letter
Here’s a trick I learned from job-hunting on the daily: create a cover letter that will basically work with any journal. Then highlight the sections in yellow that need personalizing for each submission (i.e. the date, the title of the journal you’re submitting to, the name of the editor, the title of the story you’re submitting, and the word count). Before submitting, just edit those highlighted bits and send it out.
5. Get Your Credit Card Ready
If you think submitting your work is fun and fancy free, you are wrong, especially about the free part. Most journals charge a submission fee of a few dollars. People feel very differently about these submission fees. I feel pretty unequivocal about it: I submit to journals that charge fees. (It’s that whole “support the system that you are asking to support you” thing.) Form your own opinion and decide whether or not the cost is worth it to you. If it’s not, or if you’re not able, there are many journals that do not charge a submission fee.
6. Set A Schedule (That Won’t Drive You Insane)
I learned early on that I was like a jaded girlfriend waiting by the phone after I sent a s.... Don’t do this. Try to create a schedule that keeps your mind off of your submissions and on your actual writing as much as possible. For me, that’s one day a week that I check on submissions, send any queries, and resubmit stories that have come back with rejections attached. My day is Thursdays. Yours might be Sundays. Or the third Tuesday of every month. Whatever it is, buy a writing calendar, write your submission date in blood, and don’t break it for anything. The rest of your life should be spent being a writer, which, by the way, has nothing to do with being published. Read, write long emails to you friends, go to the movies by yourself, and every now and then, when the pressure builds up inside you, sit down and write.
What about you? What plan are you setting in motion to get your work out into the world this submission season?