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  • The Art of Submission: Everything You Need to Start Submitting Your Work Today
The Art of Submission: Everything You Need to Start Submitting Your Work Today
Written by
Emily Lackey
September 2015
Written by
Emily Lackey
September 2015

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

Then revise again. Then read it out loud. Think that it’s done? Good. Now revise it again.


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 story out. 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?



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  • Charlene Diane Jones

    Great post Emily, encouraging and clear enough I WILL make the commitment to one day a week, and follow all your advice above. Then I'll let you know what happens...

  • M.F. Webb

    I like the idea of setting a regular day for submissions. I'm horrible about under-submitting (but I have great excuses! I'm focusing on the book, I don't have very many stories, etc., etc.) and that might make a bit more accountable to myself. 

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you for these tips...especially about scheduling. :0)

  • Cathy Krizik

    Yes. The advice to subscribe to a journal or two has been annoying. I'm a poor starving writer, after all. So, I read the scant free samples online and thought I had a good sense of the magazine. But then I actually followed everyone's advice and wouldn't you know...they (you) were right! Well, to be accurate, I didn't subscribe. I went to my local independent bookstore and bought a few issues. I feel good supporting this new world I have entered, get to feel the heft of the books (much more substantial than I thought), feel the tooth of the paper (remember that?) and have had the pleasure of reading content outside my little self-absorbed, creative non-fiction bubble. Poetry? People actually write poetry? 

    As for actually submitting...I have only just begun. I had one small piece accepted in an online journal -- The Penman Review. It ain't The New Yorker but I'm thrilled. Honestly, if I ever got accepted to The New Yorker I'd probably drop dead from a heart attack and never get to enjoy my victory. 

    One small, but important lesson I learned the hard way...if you have a piece you love, start by sending it to the top journals. If you send it to a broad cross-section of journals and a lower-level one accepts it then you are in a jam. This is what happened to me. The problem is, the smaller, online journals seem to have a shorter turn around time. The fancier journals can take months and months and months. When The Penman Review accepted my piece, I was thrilled. Being a newbie to this, I am in no position to be snotty. But, it means the piece is gone. Other than publishing a collection of my essays (something I'm working towards) the piece is out of circulation. So, I've learned to be strategic and take the long view.

    Can I just say, I feel ridiculous being a novice and giving advice. But hey, I just did.

    Happy writing,

    Cathy Krizik

  • Colette Sartor

    Anyone who's interested in submitting to contests and grants, Poets & Writers has a great database. They also have a comprehensive lit mag database, but I'm a Duotroper as well, so I rely on their database.