The New Yorker. The Atlantic. Tin House. Do these titles make your heart skip a beat? Do you dream of having your name written under a story in one of these publications? Need some tips on how to get there? This is a post for you! Submitting to a literary magazine can be a heart-wrenching, utterly terrifying, and altogether aggravating experience; however, the payoff and feeling of success after being published makes it all worth it.
How does a literary magazine work?
When you submit a piece to a literary magazine, it is added to a heap of other submissions, commonly referred to as a slush pile. While there are good works that come out of this conglomeration (that means there is hope for your piece!), different editors suggest that between 60-90 percent of this work is unpublishable. That statement only holds true because magazines receive pieces that do not follow the guidelines specific to that publication, do not fit with the style of that publication, or are just poorly written — are not of the quality desired by the magazine’s editors. So as long as your piece is well-written, follows the guidelines, and fits with the subject matter of the magazine (if there is one), it already stands apart.
Many editors also receive what is called solicited work, meaning they ask authors, editors, and agents for work, or they have the work sent to them by these editors and agents who have a history with the magazine. As daunting as this may sound, most editors try to achieve a balance between new and unpublished authors and the writers they know they can rely on from past submissions.
Once you have submitted your piece of writing, it is read by one or more readers (two is usually the standard) and if it receives just one “yes,” your piece is sent on to the assistant editors and editors of the magazine. If they also like your piece, then it’s in and you will receive a letter — or more often, these days, an email — letting you know that they would like to publish it. Easy, right? It can be, but isn’t always so simple.
Literary magazines receive anywhere from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of submissions each year, depending on the size of the magazine. There is simply not enough manpower or money to have each piece read completely through by everyone who touches it. So no, your writing will probably not be read all the way through by both readers in the beginning stages. Many editors place an emphasis on making sure that your first page, paragraph, and/or sentence hooks the reader. Maybe your high school English teacher was on to something when she wrote that on the top of every essay you ever wrote. If the readers aren’t interested within the first couple pages or paragraphs of your writing, your piece will most likely be tossed.
So how can I make my best effort to get published in a literary magazine?
1. Make sure you proofread. Read it over once, then again, and again after that. Have a friend read it for you. Make sure it makes sense, there are no typos, and that it is an altogether solid piece of writing.
2. Persistence. In this guide written by Lincoln Michel, he states that the most important part of submitting is your persistence. No matter how many rejections you receive, keep on submitting. Most published authors got rejected 30+ times before landing their piece in a literary magazine. Don’t give up hope on your work.
3. Submit to a magazine that published work you love. Having your name next to an author you read every day and respect means so much more than it being next to someone you don’t read because their work lulls you to sleep.
4. Along the same lines as #3, find a magazine that matches with your writing style. It wouldn’t make much sense to submit a piece that doesn’t match with the style editors are looking for, and that is grounds for having your work immediately thrown out of the slush pile. This also goes along with knowing your audience. Knowing that you are submitting the right type of work (or a piece written for a specific group of people) is an important factor when deciding where to submit your piece.
5. Read the magazine’s rules and guidelines carefully, and be sure your submission follows them exactly. Jennifer Reed, editor of Wee Ones Magazine, the first online children’s magazine, and author of over 30 books, states “Follow all their guidelines. Don’t submit a poem if they don’t accept poetry. Don’t submit a 5000 word story if their max word count is 3000. Don’t mail your work if they only accept e-mails. If you don’t follow the submission guidelines you only irritate the editor and they won’t even bother reading your submission. Editors receive hundreds of submissions a month and they only will read those that fall into their genre and guidelines.”
6. Don’t ignore non-paying magazines either. You can gain all sorts of exposure through these types of gigs, and it never hurts to get your name out there.
7. Know your rights. As an author, that is. As the creator of your piece you are automatically owner of that copyright but you can also give others rights to do things with your work. You can read up on these rights and other tips for submitting to a literary magazine here.