Well, today is the 15th of the month, which for me means it’s literary journal submission day! Because of that, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the tips and things I’ve learned over the years about submitting to literary journals.

Everybody has their own method, of course, and I have no intention of claiming that anything you’re doing is wrong, (I’m certainly no expert), but I have learned a few things over the years that have helped me and maybe they can help some of you too. (And maybe save you some time! As writers that’s what’s always in limited supply, and I spent so much time on my own trying to figure out methods to keep track of and submit to literary journals in a logical way.)

First of all, I tend to focus my submissions on two days out of each month – the first and the 15th, or within a day or two later. While some journals out there have seemingly random days for their submission periods, most open up either on the first of the month or the 15th, so those seem to be the days to concentrate on. Of course, if I know a specific journal is opening a specific day and it might be a good outlet for one of my stories, I make a note of that, but mostly submit around those two days of the month.

We all write because we love to write, but we don’t all like to submit and promote ourselves. Those things, especially the promotional aspect, are very different monsters than the things that drew us to writing in the first place and have kept us writing for years and years. If it was up to me, of course, I would spend all of that time writing and trying to make the best stories that I can, rather than spending an inordinate amount of time trying to get someone to pay attention to said stories. But as an essentially unknown writer, I do not have that luxury, and if you’re reading this, you probably don’t either.

What I’ve come up with for myself is a massive spreadsheet that tracks all of the literary journals that I’m interested in. I have a number of columns that I can sort to help me identify different things that I’m looking for instead of going through every single one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of journals currently online. The first thing I look at is how desirable is the outlet – Is it paying? Is it print? If neither of those, does it have a decent reach, does the site look good, or is it connected to a college or university? (Literary journals, no matter how good the site looks, die off like flies. I’ve had a number of stories published on sites which simply no longer exist, and so there is sadly no published copy of the story left online. Journals connected to colleges or universities, even if they are only online, are much less likely to disappear).

I also have columns for desired word count, if I’ve submitted before and if so when, the previous results from submitting, open submission periods (if they list them), and general editorial guidelines. In no way do I suggest you should blast out your story to any journal whose desired word count fits your story, but it’s a great place to start because if your story is too long or too short, you automatically know that’s not a good outlet for it. Keeping all that information on a spreadsheet saves so much time instead of going to each of the websites each time. If my story fits the word count and the general editorial guidelines that I’ve noted from previous visits to the site, I go back to it to look further and try to get a feel if my story would indeed potentially be a good fit. If everything seems to line up, I will go ahead and submit.

The most important thing when submitting, assuming that you’ve followed everything I recommended above, is paying very close attention to the individual submission guidelines for each journal. Everyone has different requirements such as document format, if your name is allowed on the document, do they allow simultaneous submissions, etc. As journals receive so many submissions, if you do not meet their guidelines, it does not matter how great your story is, it is almost guaranteed to be rejected outright. It is absolutely worth the time to make sure you meet these guidelines. In the past when I’ve been in a rush, I’m gone ahead with a submission only to see right after submitting that I did something incorrectly. With some journals you can immediately withdraw it and resubmit (although this never looks good), but with many you’re just stuck with what you’ve submitted and can’t get it back. It’s like any first impression, do your best to do it right.

So those are my main thoughts on submitting for now, although in the future perhaps I will dive deeper into some of these things. Okay, so you’ve got your story and you’ve submitted it to a handful of journals that you are familiar with – what then? What if they all reject it? Simple – find another outlet. Some of the stories that I’ve had published have taken years of submitting (and reworking), but in the end every story that I’ve tried to get published has gotten published.

Here are some websites that I found very useful in the past for finding new markets:

  • NewPages – They have a long list of many literary journals, but especially helpful is there classifieds section which lists outlets which are currently seeking submissions.
  • The Submission Grinder – Not a pretty site by any means, but one that is regularly updated with new markets.
  • Duotrope – A lot of this site is subscription-based, but there is plenty of useful information without one. For example, if I’m trying to determine if a journal is still active, or if something about it looks not quite right, I Google the journal name + Duotrope, and am able to find their listing, something I do fairly often. Also, their Twitter regularly posts journals that are currently seeking submissions.
  • Submittable Discover – If you submit at all, you are familiar with Submittable. Unlike Duotrope, it is free to sign up for an account. A feature of their site which I only recently began taking advantage of, is their Discover section. This is another great way to find outlets currently seeking submissions.

I’m sure there are plenty more sites out there like this, but these are the ones that I have used most. Does anyone have any other suggestions that I should add to this list? I would certainly appreciate you sharing!