Mistakes Writers Make When Submitting to Literary Magazines
by Eva Langston
1. Not reading literary magazines
This seems obvious, but if you want to get published in a journal, it’s helpful to read the types of pieces they publish. Most literary magazines suggest you read a few back issues first to get a sense of their aesthetic. In an ideal world, you should do this, but chances are you don’t have time to read multiple back issues of every single journal you’re going to submit to. Instead, make it your goal to simply read more literary magazines than you currently do. Subscribe to a few each year. Get your friends to subscribe to different publications and then trade. And of course, take advantage of free online journals, such as Carve. Read a story whenever you have a spare moment, even if it’s on your phone while waiting in line at the grocery store.
2. Not submitting your best work
Instead of finishing a story and submitting it immediately, let your piece rest for a few months then go back and revise. Workshop it, or let a trusted writer friend read it and give feedback. Print it out and triple-check for grammatical and spelling errors. Read your piece out loud at least once. Only submit when you think the piece is the best it can possibly be.
3. Not following guidelines
Double check all guidelines before submitting to a magazine. Is there a word count requirement? Should your name be removed from the piece? Should your document be in Word, PDF, or rich text format? If it’s an email submission, do they want the document attached, or pasted into the body of the email? Do they accept simultaneous submissions? Don’t risk getting your piece being tossed out because you didn’t follow the rules.
4. Making simultaneous submission goofs
Speaking of simultaneous submissions, if a journal says they don’t accept them you should respect that, or risk making an editor annoyed. Fortunately, a lot of magazines do accept simultaneous submissions, and if they don’t say either way, you can safely assume that they do. This is good because it means you can send the same story to multiple journals at the same time and increase your chances of getting an acceptance letter. But if your piece gets picked up by a journal, you must alert the other journals you submitted it to. If a reading committee debates over your story for a long time, decides to accept it, and then finds out it’s been published elsewhere, your name will be mud in the world of literary magazines.
5. Not keeping track of submissions
Use a spreadsheet or some other organizational method to keep track of your submissions (what you sent, to which journals, when, and the responses). Not only will this help with simultaneous submissions in case your piece is accepted (see No. 4), but it will also keep you from submitting the same piece to a magazine that has already rejected it, or not yet responded to your last submission. The online submission manager Duotrope offers this type of “tracker” as a feature for their paid subscribers.
Other tips include:
6. Making cover letter goofs
7. Not doing enough research
8. Ignoring online journals
9. Taking rejections too personally and not submitting enough
10. Not thanking the editor