submissions, submissions, submissions

i recently worked a couple years at a literary magazine, processing submissions, reading the slush pile and, generally, helping out with the mountains of paperwork. i learned a thing or two about successful submissions:

  1. editors are on the lookout for fresh voices and what that means is that you, as a writer, must be true to yourself.  that you write what most interests you, and that you express it in a way that reflects your unique perspective.  that you have your own style. don’t be afraid to take risks.
  2. basically, editors look to the first page for inspiration. there must be something on the first page that captivates them, whether it’s a character name, a unique setting, or an interesting/surprising turn of phrase. ask yourself if your story truly starts on page one and, if it doesn’t, edit accordingly.
  3. read the submission guidelines and follow them.
  4. the cover letter is a business letter and should have a professional tone—one that says you’re serious about your work. mentioning how many times you’ve submitted a story and complaining that it’s been rejected is unprofessional.
  5. greet your editors in your cover letter and thank them for their time. they are real people at the end of the electronic submission process who appreciate the acknowledgement. they are often underpaid or unpaid volunteers.
  6. proof read carefully before sending your piece.
  7. paginate your piece with the title of the work and the page number.  sometimes editors drop their paper copies (ahem) and it’s chaos if the works aren’t paginated properly.
  8. please be polite and patient in your email(s).

what not to say in an email submission/correspondence to/with a literary magazine:

  • i got stoned on Friday night and wrote some poems. i think they’re pretty good but need a second opinion. could you please read them and provide me with written feedback?
  • here are 85 poems.  please select the top five and consider them for publication.
  • why haven’t you responded to my email submission of last week?  i’m waiting to hear back from you and you can’t bother to email me? what kind of ridiculous magazine is this?
  • i’ve sent this story to 23 magazines and nobody wants it. i don’t know why i’m being rejected but it’s starting to really, really, really upset me.
  • i saw you last week at a literary event and you looked at me and i knew right then that it was you who rejected my writing last winter. i hate you. why are you blocking my advancement?
  • could you please go into my document and change the word “ephemeral” on page 7 to “transitory”?


take risks with your writing. be professional. be a decent person.