There comes a time in most writers’ lives when the allure of being published becomes too strong to resist. We all, in our own way, write for ourselves, of course, but the idea that a wider audience could enjoy our work; that someone unknown to us could pick up an issue or click through to a website and see what we’ve written and be touched in some way is an idea that is hard to resist.
But how to go about it? Submitting to journals for publication is, to many, a complex process and a frightening prospect. How do I know I’ve picked the right journal for my work? Should I pay to submit my piece? How many times do I try before I give up? Below are five tips that have helped me be mildly successful as I navigate the wide world of submitting and publishing my shorter pieces. I will add, of course, that asking my fellow writers for advice and assistance has been a great help as well, and encourage anyone reading this to reach out to me with questions – I’ll answer the best I can!
- Read past issues of the journal your submitting to
Sometimes this is easier said than done, but it’s a good piece of advice to try and put into practice none the less. If the journal you are submitting to has any of the work they’ve previously accepted available to read, even if it’s just excerpts, READ IT. See how your own work compares in terms of tone, style, and subject matter. This is a good opportunity for you to vet the magazine and see if you want your work to be represented with them, as well as an opportunity to see if your work has a chance of being selected based on what the journal has previously gravitated towards.
- Pay attention to formatting guidelines
No matter how good your work is, you have to abide by journals’ formatting guidelines when submitting. Read submission guidelines carefully! In my experience every journal is a little bit different: some don’t want any identifying information on a submission, some want identifying information, but only in a certain place within the document, some don’t care, some only except PDFs, some anything but PDFs, etc. etc. These journals receive hundreds, thousands of submissions a period and are looking for any way to whittle down their pool of possible publications. Don’t get your piece thrown out simply because you didn’t follow instructions!
- Track your submissions
It’s time to break out that excel, baby. You’re going to need to keep track of when you submitted, to whom, what you submitted, when you can expect to hear back, and ultimately what you heard back. This is important because you’re probably going to be engaging in what they call “simultaneous submissions”, a.k.a. submitting the same piece to multiple journals. And when (not IF, WHEN) that piece gets accepted somewhere, you’ll need to make sure you let all the other journals you submitted to know that the work is no longer available.
With any luck, a majority of the journals you’ll be submitting to will use a tool called Submittable. Submittable will become your new best friend as it will do all this tracking for you. I love Submittable, as it even has a feature where you can search through journals that are currently open for submissions. Pretty much if a journal doesn’t do submissions through Submittable, I think twice before sending my work their way, simply because it means an extra step for me in keeping track of the process.
- Watch how much you’re spending
The sad truth is that submitting to journals can get expensive fast. Whether you’re just hoping to get published in someone’s next issue or you’re going for a special cash prize of some sort, I’d say about 75% of the time there is a fee involved in submitting. Now that does mean that 25% of the time, there is no fee! You can find opportunities out there that are free if paying even a nominal fee to have your work considered just isn’t in the cards for you right now (I think we’ve all been there). All that being said, most journals will charge anywhere from $3-$10 for a normal submission, to as much as $30 or $40 for a contest submission. Keep an eye on your budget, weigh the cost/benefit of the opportunity, and use your best judgement when submitting! Even if you’re sticking to the $3 a pop submissions, those can add up quick!
- Keep trying
The very first time you put your piece out there, it gets rejected. Fair enough, you think, and you go back and give the piece another look. Maybe you revise it a little and then try again. Another rejection. Perhaps there’s something wrong with the piece you’re just not seeing. You put it out to a critique group and get some thoughtful feedback, feedback you could’ve never gotten on your own. You tweak the piece some more and submit again, confident it’s as good as you can make it.
It gets rejected again.
I’m not the first person to say it, I certainly won’t be the last, but it’s at this point that I must urge you: DON’T GIVE UP. There are any number of reasons a piece gets rejected, and many of them having nothing to do with the quality of the piece. If you truly think you have something worth publishing and you know in your heart of hearts it’s as good as it can possibly be, keep submitting the piece. Use the steps above to make sure you’re submitting to the right places and losing as little as possible in this admittedly painful process, but keep trying. Someone, the right someone, is going to read your work and love it. But if you stop putting it out there, they’ll never find it. Don’t give up.