• Emily Lackey
  • The Art of Submission: Creating a Submission Wish List
The Art of Submission: Creating a Submission Wish List
Written by
Emily Lackey
May 2015
Written by
Emily Lackey
May 2015

One of the things that I often hear people talking about when it comes to submissions is having a "wish list," a list of journals and magazines you want to publish in, in order of difficulty. 

Let me be clear: I do not have one of these.

My M.O. is more to cobble together a "ranking system" from what other people have given me: a list of journals from my memoir professor, the BookFox Rankings that list journals in order of Pushcart prizes awarded, the Perpetual Folly list that does the same, and a list a friend gave me of journals she'd die to get into. 

Already you can see that my system is not perfect. Pile on top of all of those lists the fact that many journals have limited submissions windows, genres they accept, and lengths that they require, it usually takes me a good hour to find five journals to send a story to. (By the way, this is the number I aim for with submissions: always keeping my stories at at least five journals.)

But I've been thinking lately about how I can make this system easier for me. (And I say "for me" because depending on what you write and how you write it, your system is going to be completely different. It sucks, yes, but this is our due diligence as women who submit.)

Here are some things that I have been thinking about when creating a ranking system of journals:

  1. Only picking journals that I have read and really love. Not to burn any bridges here, but what the hell: I can't remember the last time I loved a story I read in Ploughshares. There. I said it. So the question then becomes, why the hell am I still sending them my work? I shouldn't be. 
  2. Creating separate lists based on what journals are open when. So, for instance, having a separate list for January, a separate list for February, a separate list for March, etc. That way, depending on when I am looking to submit my work, I'll know which journals are accepting submissions and not waste an hour looking through website after website only to find that their windows are closed. 
  3. Creating separate lists depending on the genre. You might not have to worry about this, but I write essays and fiction and occasionally get an idea for a more informal article-type thing (think: country music and feminism). I probably should have a list for each of those separate categories as well. 

This is where it gets complicated, and where, I think, most people give up and just keep sending their stuff out en masse. It makes sense. Looking at just these three limiters, I'm looking down the barrel of creating 36 separate lists (three per month for each of the genres I write). That's a goddamn doozy of a task. It will most likely take me an entire weekend, if not a full week. 

But then I remind myself that I have wasted entire days looking for journals to submit to. Think of how much time this would save, how much more constant my submissions would be if I had a list like this. It would be almost effortless (with the occasional time spent reading new journals and adding them to my lists). 

So I'm going to try it. I'm going to take this weekend and create a list—ok, 36 lists—to make all of this a lot easier. 

How do you decide where to send your work and when to send it? What systems do you have in place to make your writing life just a little bit easier?

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  • Carol D. Marsh

    You know, I haven't liked Ploughshares either, but I thought it was me. And you make a great point. However good the journal is supposed to be, if I don't like it or if its style preference is not mine, it's a waste of time to submit. Thank you.

  • I'd like to recommend the submissions tracker in Duotrope and Duotrope in general. Not only does Duotrope maintain a database of over 5000 places to submit that can be filtered by genre, it offers an individual tracker that lets the writer sort by various filters, has a place for notes, and tracks how long the piece has been with the journal and how that compares with the journal's general stats. The information about each journal is comprehensive, including turnaround times, acceptance rates, word counts, other journals to submit to, and sometimes a link to an interview with the editor. You can create lists of Favorites, lists of Dislikes, get an RSS feed. I've found it worth every penny of the $5/month. They send a weekly email that lists journals added, temporarily closed, re-opened, defunct. The email is free. I used to keep an Excel spreadsheet. Duotrope's tracker is much easier and your stats help other writers.

  • Good idea for the categories. Definitely sounds like something I'd put in an Excel document. That way I can just sort the columns and filter by the appropriate month. Then it's just one list with updates from time to time.

  • Emily, this is great! Also, just by coincidence I was Googling The Raleigh Review (this morning!), a literary mag where I serve as a volunteer fiction reader, and I stumbled on your website. I read your post about the kindest rejections. I loved it. I too have tried a ranking system similar to yours, but I also add a numbered category 1-4, with one being the most difficult to get into and four being slightly less difficult (because they all seem difficult sometimes). I'm also curious from those of you out there, whether these ranking systems have increased your acceptance rates.

  • I like your idea of having a list for each month of the year...in each genre, and can appreciate how daunting a task it is.  Thank you for sharing your reflections. ~:0)

  • Mardith Louisell

    Wow! Emily. What a treat to read someone who struggles with all the time it takes like I do. I was glad to see you had wasted whole days. I certainly have. I have tried dif. systems, though never Excel, which is probably a good idea. But what I've found is that I have to keep the submission lists down because it's too daunting. I have  found when I have long lists (and have spent oodles of time looking in P&W) that my brain seems to think that it's already done and I don't actually get around to submitting. And checking who is on the masthead, what they might like, whether they might like my stuff, etc. is s just too much sometimes. I love what you said about who the hell do I like? I must say I'm impressed with all the reading everyone is doing.

  • Claudia Putnam

    This is where Excel comes in. I have an sheet called BY DATE. It does what you say in #2 ... A year-round column for those that accept year round, then it goes by month. I color code with green for journals I've sent to and try to turn each month solid green, though Sept-Nov are challenging. I don't really care what kind of sub I have out on this sheet. It's just green if anything is out. There's also a random column for journals that change their open dates a lot and have to be checked more open. Then I have fiction and poetry workbooks. Here I focus on the work itself. I have a by-journal tab on which track which pieces have gone where then there are by-work tabs on which I track where I've sent which piece. This makes sense in different ways for poetry and fiction. I would probably do nonfiction more like I do fiction. (Poetry is sent out in clumps, so it's a lot more cumbersome to track and my system has evolved and I'm not sure anyone else would like it... plus I have to track chapbook submissions.) Anyhow, I always start with the by-date workbook to see who's open that month and if no one new is open for the month, I look at the year-rounders. Since I write long and I hate sub-fee chargers, those who don't charge and are open to longer subs are always first choices for me. Visibility and prestige are important to me, even if I don't always like what they publish, because I'm looking for agents and I want to publish a novel, and frankly, I'm less impressed with people who have 30 publications in places I've never heard of. It's hard to sort through the noise, so I look for sustainability--where are the journals that have been around for 10 years or more, and who's on the masthead and how well do I respect them? What do those editors do to promote the work of the writers they publish? Are they real editors, or are they struggling writers themselves? Will they give my work time and attention, or are they more concerned with their own work? But the odds are low in any case. We just have to keep trying. 

  • Julianne Palumbo

    I love the idea of evaluating first whether the journal is one you really like and care to be published in. Kudos for saying it.

  • Deanne Dale

    Emily, your method is light years ahead of mine (which is much more scattered, to put it nicely). Your ideas are so good, the only thing I can think to add is plugging all the information into Excel--or another spreadsheet program--so you can key it all in just once and then sort according to what you're looking for: a month, a genre, a "first love" publication etc. 

    Thank you for the sanity-saving ideas.

  • Lorraine Berry

    I'm not this organized, although I would like to think that there is some method to my madness frustration. I am reliant on others to let me know when approaching deadlines are, what journals are looking for, and how to go about submitting. Rather than going through the journals themselves, I use Duotrope for the majority of my submissions, and I supplement that by checking the submission, grant, prize, and residency information found in the back of various professional journals.

    Depending on whether I already have something I've written, or whether I'm responding to a call for papers that I feel I could write something for, I am able to do a search based on whatever criteria I have going in my head. On days when I feel that I no longer want to participate in the "writing for free" trap, I go looking for journals that pay; on days when I am trying to motivate myself to write something, I look for an upcoming deadline that will force me to write something and move through the editing process at a fair clip in order to have something ready; and, on bad days, when I haven't had an acceptance in a while, I start looking at journals that seem to be low-hanging fruit in order to get an acceptance and thus break what feels like a chain of bad luck. 

    My last spate of submission trolling led me to find a ton of deadlines for May 31, with a ton of intentions to write for these CFPs specifically. Instead, I opted to write articles, rather than essays, in hopes of earning some money from paying markets that I had a good track record with. I know that there a ton of deadlines upcoming in August, and once again, I've made a list of the August deadlines with their themes and a desire to write for them. But, I'm also working on a new project of writing something every single day. Sometimes, I can get those things to match up. Other days, I can't.

    I have to say that I think your system is amazing. I'd love to know if it actually works for you. And I will offer a big endorsement of Duotrope because their editors make it so much easier to figure out who is actually accepting submissions. As you probably know, many, many markets are closed during the summer.

    good luck.

  • Barbara Fischkin

    Thanks so much for this. I am in the midst of a novel that is a very long term project. Recently re-jiggered a chapter -slightly - into short story form and sent it to a contest. It didn't win but the exercise helped make the original chapter better and did not take long. Going to continue to do this from time to time and your advice is so useful.