Today, we'll talk briefly about how to submit work to journals. Here are some basic tips--
Before you even begin to submit, steel yourself for some rejection. Everyone gets it, even Pulitzer winners (though they get it less than those who don't have established reputations). Rejection is OK. It doesn't mean that the piece is bad. Editors all have unique tastes, and if your piece doesn't click with them, then so be it. Sometimes I'll rework a piece after getting rejected, but most of the time I just resubmit somewhere else. If a piece is rejected a lot, maybe by twenty or so places, then I reconsider it and whether I want to keep sending it, rework it, or just put it aside. If I believe in the piece as it is, I keep sending it regardless of the number of rejections. It's especially difficult to get stories published. Remember, most journals only publish a couple of stories per issue, and it's a rare journal indeed that puts out more than 4 issues a month. Odds are against us, but remember that overcoming rejection is a mark of how badly you want this.
“Simultaneous submission” means that you send your work to more than one journal at a time. I simultaneously submit. You'll get mixed feedback on whether this is a good idea, but in my mind, life is too short to wait the 3-6 months most places take to consider a piece. I only submit to places that take simultaneous submissions--they'll tell you this in their submissions policy. If they want to know when something is a simultaneous submission, I tell them. If they don't request that info up front, I don't say anything. I simply cross my fingers and, if a piece is accepted somewhere, I immediately notify any other journal still considering the place (which is why you also want to keep a record of what you've sent to where and when you sent it).
I have a submission system in my head. I start sending to places that I think of as very good journals. (The GA Review would be one of these, but they don't take simultaneous submissions, so I don't submit to them unless I'm willing to wait a few months before submitting more broadly.) Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Quarterly West, and so on are all in my top tier. If I get rejected by many top tiers, then I drop down to my second tier, and so forth. Most places are really busy and are just going to send standard rejection slips saying your piece doesn't meet their needs at this time. No worries--just keep submitting. Eventually, you start getting brief notes from editors ("send to us again," "this was close," "we liked this but thought you could take it further"). These are a good sign. Any piece that gets notes I'll keep sending out, but maybe to a slightly lesser journal. I often plan where I'm going to send to next as I'm sending work out--that way I'm focused on where it's going rather than dwelling on where it's been.
Remember to keep of list (mine’s a computerized spreadsheet) of stories indicating where you’ve sent, when, and whether they’ve replied so that you know where your pieces are. Most journals take 3 months or more to reply. If you haven’t heard after six months, it is acceptable to send a brief note asking about its status, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope for their reply.
Judging the Quality of a Journal:
Historically, on-line journals are easier to publish in, but print journals usually have more clout, though this is starting to change. Now, there are on-line journals with great reputations (Blackbird, La Petite Zine, etc), and there are print journals that aren't worth the paper they're printed on. I look at the web sites for any journal (print or on-line) that I’m considering to see who's published in their journal. You'll start to recognize some names. If they have samples of the work they like, I read those. I look to see 1) if I like it--because I don't want to publish in a place whose work I don't respect, and 2) if the style and subject might bear any similarity to the piece I'm thinking of sending. I've got some very different modes of writing, and so I try to match pieces to journals that seem apt to take that style of work.
And don’t forget Trillium, whose submission guidelines are also on our blog!
Look at the web site for any place you're thinking of sending to. Check the submissions policy. A lot of places are taking on-line submissions now, but many still want them sent via snail mail. Luckily mail is cheap, so I submit a great deal that way. For mailed submissions, always include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Many journals will put your work straight into the recycling bucket if there isn't an SASE, which stinks. (I never have them send back the manuscript any more. Too expensive, though I do regret the trees.)
Basic Format for Submissions:
Most journals still prefer snail mail submissions, but be sure to check the submissions guidelines on each journal's website. If they've converted to an electronic submission system, simply follow the instructions for that system--nothing more is needed or should be included. (The last thing editors want is MORE stuff to read than they already have.)
If they request an e-mail or snail mail submission, you'll want a cover letter to accompany your work. In your cover letter, say as little as possible. I put the date, the address of the journal, and something like
Dear Fiction Editor (if I can find the name of this person on the web site, I use the name):
Please consider publishing the enclosed story, "Pearls."
(my name and contact info)
Remember to always include a self-addressed stamped enveloped for their reply unless the journals accepts submissions electronically, as many journals have begun to do.
I usually include a bio now, but that's only because I've published in some good places, and I want that to influence them a little. Before having published in many places, I left off the bio unless one was requested. For many places, it doesn't work against you to be a "emerging writer"--indeed, some places pride themselves on finding new writers. Then again, why risk it? It doesn't work against you to include no information. Editors respect a bare bones letter--they want to read the work rather than the letter anyway--and that's what you want them to be judging as well.
Don't use any fancy fonts--Times New Roman or Garamond are standard and respectable. Double space prose; single space poetry and indicate whether or not there are line/stanza breaks at the end of a page (e.g., last line might have [no line break] centered).
Remember, always check the submission guidelines before sending to see if they have any quirky requests (two copies of the manuscript, blind submissions, etc).