Dear Next Hemingway,
You’ve written what you think is a great poem, a standout story, a brilliant essay. You’ve read and re-read it, given it the ruthless red pen treatment, and feel it’s done. Done enough that you’re thinking about finding it a home.
Yet the list of potential literary homes is vast and intimidating. There are fees, prestige, accessibility, and readership to consider. Maybe you’ve never even read a literary magazine cover to cover. It’s easy to get discouraged and just slip that piece of work you are so proud of into some obscure folder. But part of being a responsible writer is taking ownership of your skill and your work and seeing it to its fullest potential, not simply amassing great work.
So you decide to submit. First, get a second reader to read your piece beforehand. It’s amazing how often you’ll read right over obvious typos and word swaps (i.e. “isle” versus “aisle”) because you’re so focused on what you meant to say, not what you said. Since most publications have formatting specifics, don’t worry about getting too fancy with your document until you’ve read a journal’s criteria. Then be sure to follow it to the letter.
I suggest you treat writing as your job, and expect a paycheck. When you produce something that takes time to create, it has value and worth. Because of my commitment to submit to journals that pay writers, I feel a Submittable fee is fair. I’d rather pay something for a chance at a check, than submit my work for free and get very little or nothing back. For me, it’s no longer just about seeing my name in print. That glory wears off relatively quickly. It’s about marketing my work to venues that share similar values and give me a better chance of getting published elsewhere. Make a personalized list of the top ten places you’d like to see your work, and start submitting your polished piece. Although most journals accept simultaneous submissions, double check. I tier my list so I am submitting to a few journals that are in the same bracket: reputation, payment, circulation, theme—consider all of these elements when deciding where to submit.
Pay attention to when work is accepted. Most journals have spring and fall submission periods, some accept year round, and some, like ecotone, have a fifteen-day window. I keep a notebook with opening dates written under each month, so I can look and see upcoming opportunities. Some writers complain about the cost of purchasing literary magazines. If you indulge in fancy coffee or edible treats, consider feeding your brain instead. If you are indeed on the starving artist budget, many literary magazines, like TTR, have their content available for free online. Some offer a no-fee submission policy for the financially strapped. Look for the journals that don’t charge a fee and still pay writers, like OneStory, Slice, AGNI, and The Kenyon Review. State-specific publications (in my case New Mexico Magazine) can be wonderful places to submit and they often pay generously. If it’s in your power to do so, consider befriending a literary magazine by purchasing a copy or annual subscription. It’s good literary citizenship.
Keep the cover letter that accompanies your submission concise. List the top few places you’ve been published (if you have a publication history). Always address your cover letter to the appropriate editor at the magazine you’re submitting to, and double check the spelling of the editor’s name. When you hand over your two or three dollars to Submittable, your final step, you might think more carefully about where your work is going, and why. Mindful submissions are more effective than a scattergun approach that floods every journal in sight with your wonderful work, whether it fits the aesthetic or not.
When you finally receive that acceptance letter, celebrate! You just sold your art, and that takes guts and perseverance and a chin-up attitude. Then be ready to roll up your sleeves and work with the editors: as polished and “done” as your work felt to you, there’s a good chance something will be tweaked. If you have a social media presence, use it to unabashedly self-promote. Send some virtual love to the journal that accepted your work by promoting work you admired in the same publication.
Above all, write for yourself first. Treat your writing as something of value. Know your market. Submit strategically. Be patient. Learn from rejections. Use your list to work through publication possibilities. Celebrate yourself and your work when the check comes in the mail. And in between these phases, be humble, be kind, be confident. (And did I mention, be patient?)
– Someone Who’s Still Learning
Laura Jean Schneider is currently Craft Talk Assistant Editor and an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She won the inaugural Big Snowy Prize in Fiction in 2014. Her essays about living on a remote working cattle ranch appear regularly in “Ranch Diaries,” her ongoing web series for High Country News.