How to Submit to Literary Magazines

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

While I was in grad school for my MFA, I spent the first year working on campus literary magazine.  For the staff, the primary responsibility was to read submissions and decide what went in the magazine.  That year, I learned a lot about submitting work to literary magazines, and applied what I learned when submitting my own work.  Here are step-by-step instructions for submitting to literary magazines.

Step 1:  Look for publications that are a good fit for your piece.

There’s no point in sending your work to a magazine you know isn’t a good fit so familiarize yourself with the magazines or e-zines before sending your work to them.  E-zines are easy to research because their entire publication is online.  Print magazines take a little more effort but these days, most of them have an internet presence and often post a selection of their work online.  The idea is to read some of the work these magazines publish and see if your work would fit.  Whenever possible, support the magazines where you submit by purchasing issues; it’s good karma!

How do you find these markets in the first place?  My favorite resource is Duotrope.com, a search engine that lets you search for literary magazines and other publications.  You can narrow your search according to genre or subject, making it easy to find magazines that could be a good fit.  Each market’s entry on the Duotrope database includes submission information as well as a link to the magazine’s site.

The Writer’s Market is a book and subscription-based website that also gives similar information.  The book is updated each year so it can get pricey to keep purchasing it year after year but you can always go to your local library and peruse the latest volume.  The website offers both the search engine function as well as a submission tracker that allows you to keep track of places you’ve submitted work to.

Step 2: Read the submission guidelines carefully and follow them.

If the guidelines say “no attachments,” don’t send an attachment.  If the market asks for your piece formatted a certain way, do it that way.  It might feel like you’re jumping through hoops but really, most of these guidelines are there for practical reasons (like to avoid your piece getting caught in a spam filter or getting misplaced).  Yes, this means that each time you submit a piece, you’ll have to put in a little extra effort to format the submission to that specific market, but if it helps keep your piece from getting lost in the ether, isn’t it worth it?

Make sure to follow the submission guidelines on the website because while Duotrope and The Writer’s Market also include this information, it might not be as up-to-date as the guidelines on the website.  The safest bet is to use resources like Duotrope or The Writer’s Market as starting points but to double-check against the submissions online.

Step 3:  Understand the lingo.

Simultaneous Submission

This means you’re submitting the same piece simultaneously to several magazines or e-zines.  Some magazines say “No simultaneous submissions” in their guidelines, which means if you want to submit something to them, you must wait until you hear back before sending it elsewhere.  Most markets, however, will accept simultaneous submissions as long as you let them know in the cover letter and you contact them if your work gets accepted elsewhere.

Multiple Submission

This is when you submit multiple pieces to the same market.  Most markets will accept multiple poetry submissions (they usually specify a maximum number) but few markets will accept multiple short stories.  Usually, the submission guidelines will specify how long you must wait before submitting work to them again.

First North American Rights

This means the magazine is licensing the right to publish your piece in North America before anyone else can have it.  Most magazines will let you know when it’s OK for you to republish or reprint your piece.  First Electronic Rights means the same thing, only instead of publishing it first in North America, the market gets to publish it first online.

Step 4:  Write a cover letter.

The cover letter should be no more than a couple of paragraphs–half a page at most if printed.  Keep it to the point.  Here’s an example:

Dear Mr./Ms. [Name of Awesomesauce Magazine Editor Here],

Please consider this 750-word story entitled “Super-Duper Family Reunion.”  I learned about Awesomesauce Magazine through Duotrope several months ago and have become an avid reader and fan of your quirky, whimsical style.

“Super-Duper Family Reunion” recounts the events of a family reunion from the point of view of a sassy, at times even snarky, eleven-year-old girl as she observes her family members and realizes the truth behind the family dynamics.

My work has appeared in several literary magazines, including Fanshmastic Magazine and Storylicious Review.

This is a simultaneous submission, but I will notify you if it is accepted elsewhere.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,
[Your Name Here]

Notes on the Cover Letter:

  • Whenever possible, address the cover letter to the specific editor who will read your work.
  • Key information (title, genre and word count) is right in the first sentence.
  • If applicable, it’s nice to mention how you learned about the magazine or why you think your work would be a good fit.  (If you don’t have something relevant or sincere to say here, just skip this part.)
  • Give a one or two-sentence summary of the story but don’t get into too much detail.  Let the story speak for itself.
  • Mention previous publications but avoid giving a long laundry list.  If you have no previous publications, don’t sweat it and please don’t apologize for it.  Just leave that part out.

Step 5:  Keep track of your submissions.

I keep a spreadsheet with all the important information for each piece I submit.

  • Title of the Piece
  • E-zine or Magazine
  • URL for the E-Zine/Magazine’s Website
  • Editor’s Name/Email (person I sent the piece to)
  • Date Submitted
  • Response Received and Date

I also color code each row (blue for pending submissions, red for “NO” and green for “YES”).  There are websites like The Writer’s Market and Duotrope that have submission trackers, essentially serving the same function as the spreadsheet.  I haven’t explored these services in depth because I like my spreadsheet system, but if you’re tech-saavy these sites are worth a look.

Once you’ve gone through all five steps, then it’s just a waiting game.

If you’ve hit “send” and your work is out of your hands, your best bet is to get your mind off of it by starting something new.

  • These are great tips! If readers would like a place to start in search of literary magazines, I suggest checking out TheReviewReview.net. There are many reviews of literary magazines, interviews with journal editors, and publishing tips. Good luck everyone 🙂

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  • Jacqueline

    This is so helpful! Thank you for another informative post!

  • I am wondering about preferred formats — do you convert your submissions to .pdf? Do you keep them as word documents? What about document layout, i.e., pagination, headers, font, etc.?

    Phew.

    • DIYMFA

      Great question! Most literary magazines are pretty clear on that in their submission guidelines, which is why you want to read those carefully and early on in the process. That way you don’t waste a lot of time formatting a submission one way only to realize that the requirement is totally different. Whatever a magazine requests, do it exactly as they ask.

      On the other hand, sometimes magazines don’t specify those details. In that case, I err on the side of simplicity. I submit a Word document, Times New Roman, 12pt double-spaced, with page numbers. Title of piece centered at the top of the first page, author’s full name and email in the header of the first page. On subsequent pages, recommend including author name and title in the header.

      I learned the value of using headers when, as a staff member at my MFA program’s literary magazine, I dropped a stack of un-stapled submissions I had just printed. It would have taken all day to collate those pages if I didn’t have author names and story titles in the page headers.

      • @DIYMFA

        Thank you for the prompt reply. That is good advice! I suppose I always imagined Word documents to be unprofessional inferiors to stylized .pdf’s with fancy formatting and sharp headers. It makes sense to me, though, to keep it simple and stick to the guidelines of whatever magazine I choose to submit to.

        Thanks again.

        • DIYMFA

          Happy to be of help, Anthony! Best of luck with your submissions, and keep us posted if your work gets published so we can all cheer for you.

      • Jane

        You know, I always used to use the tried-and-true Word doc route, but then, when I was in a poetry workshop and we had to send in work ahead of time, I noticed that my poetry was formatted all wrong on certain of the participants’ computers, although fine on others. Ever since, I have tried if at all possible to use .pdf for poetry (not for fiction–then I stay with Word). It’s incredibly important to most poets that spacing be exactly right. You don’t know, really, what’s happening with those things on the other end of a .docx file. Just my two cents.

        • DIYMFA

          Jane — Excellent insight! I hadn’t thought about formatting and poetry, but you raise a great point. Places where formatting is important a PDF is the surest way to guarantee that your formatting will look the same no matter what program a person uses to open your document. Thanks for sharing this.

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