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9 tips for submitting to literary magazines

Submitting to literary magazines, for the first time or the 100th time, can feel like a minefield.

Where should I submit to? Should I write something new just for a specific publication? What kind of magazines will want my work? Where can I find out where I should submit to?

If you find yourself asking these questions every time you finish a story you want to send out into the world, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.

Here are Silk + Smoke’s 9 tips for submitting your work to literary magazines:

1) Choose the right publication

Whether you have a new piece you’re desperate to submit to anywhere and anyone who will read it or you’re looking for literary magazines to send future works to, the first step in improving your chances of being published is finding the right journals for your work.

There are plenty of places to find literary magazines, from bog-standard Google searches to the #WritingCommunity hashtag on Twitter to online databases listing literary journals in your country to the Scottish Book Trust.

Look for those which align with your signature genre, style, or format of writing. Discovering new publications is the best place to start.

2) Get to know the magazine

Once you’ve selected a magazine or magazines you want to submit to, the next step is research.

Mindlessly sending out submissions to countless magazines without considering what they’re looking for is the literary equivalent of cold-calling. If you submit work without considering the publication’s style guide, submission guidelines, and niche, it will be obvious to the editors.

Make sure you do your do-diligence. Follow the publication on social media to get a feel for their brand personality and tone of voice; read their website content (about page, meet the team, blog articles etc.); and sign up to their mailing list.

3) Read the submission guidelines

This should be an obvious one, but many writers still neglect the submission guidelines. Don’t just skim the page, carefully read it from start to finish.

Many publications will decline a submission (no matter how great) if you have failed to meet their submission guidelines.

If a magazine has set a theme and you’ve sent a story that doesn’t relate to the core concept, or you’ve formatted your submission in 16.5pt Comic Sans when the magazine asked for 12pt Times New Roman, editors may disregard your submission altogether.

For the most part, submission guidelines are only asking for you to make small, simple adjustments (add a bio, insert page numbers, include a cover letter etc.) that make life easier for the editing team to go through submissions.

If the publication asks you to format the subject line of your email in a particular way (e.g. Kim_Jones_Fiction), make sure to follow this instruction. It makes organising submissions simple and shows the editors that you have carefully read and paid attention to their guidelines.

4) Read work by the magazine contributors

Another great tip is to make sure you read work by other authors published in the magazine you are submitting to.

Reading short stories, poems, scripts, and essays by other writers will not only inspire you and help with your own writing, but it will give you an insight into what kind of submissions the publication is looking for.

If you start reading previous issues and realise your style of writing is very different from those previously published, maybe it isn’t the right magazine for your work. Or, if you discover that work in a similar genre or style to yours is a favourite with the publication, you’ll know you’ve come to the right place.

5) Write FOR the magazine

This one isn’t such a concern for Silk + Smoke. Our submission guidelines state that we don’t set themes or have a preferred genre or style. In other words: anything goes, as long as it’s (1) good, and (2) different from the norm.

For many publications, however, they will have a core theme, concept, style, or preferred subject matter. If you do your research, you’ll know what the magazine is looking for and what kind of writing to steer clear of.

If a publication you’d love to be featured in sets out a new theme for their upcoming issue, instead of trying to mold an existing story to fit, write something new, specifically for the magazine.

Creative restraints like word counts, literary devices, themes, essay questions, and writing prompts can be a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Experiment with your writing, try something new, and learn how to craft submissions that publications will love.

6) Get organised with deadlines

There are lots of great websites which catalog lists of magazines and competitions to submit your work to. Many include submission deadlines, word counts, submission fees (if any), and other info you may need to decide where to send your work to.

Search these pages and make a list of the magazines you want to send your work to and the date you need to submit to them by.

Scheduling each magazine submission deadline/competition end date in your smartphone using apps like Countdown+ allows you to set countdowns and reminders of how many months, weeks, or days you have left to send in your submission.

7) Record when and where you send submissions

It’s easy to lose track of when and where you’ve sent your work to.

If your submission is accepted by a literary magazine, you should always notify the other publications you submitted to and ask them to withdraw that piece from their submissions.

Keeping a good record of which publications you’ve submitted to along with dates and the estimated review period allows you to keep track of when you should hear back about your submission, too.

8) Be patient and don’t be discouraged

If you’re a beginner, look for smaller publications that don’t receive thousands of submissions on a monthly basis. As you improve, find your writing style, and start to get published, work your way up to the bigwigs.

Many literary magazines (like Silk + Smoke) are run by small, voluntary teams who review submissions in between work and life commitments. Considering this, please be patient when waiting for a response and understand that not every publication will have the resources to offer 1-to-1 feedback on why your submission wasn’t accepted.

Rejection is a natural part of being a writer, or being in any creative industry, or just being alive!

The best thing to do if your submission hasn’t been accepted is to appreciate that your writing perhaps just didn’t quite fit the brief, the publication was overwhelmed with submissions by more experienced writers, or you just need to keep practicing to get your work to publication standard.

Utilising constructive criticism, actively asking for feedback where the other party has the time and resources to provide it, and acting on suggestions for improvement are the most valuable things you can take away from any rejection.

It’s not the rejection that defines you as a writer, but how you react and move on from it.

9) If you’re successful, share, share, share!

If your submission is accepted by a literary magazine, congratulations! You’ve done it!

Knowing an editor or group of editors enjoyed and have faith in the work you’ve created is a great feeling and something you should be proud of.

Share the publication (whether online or a print edition) with your family, friends, and on social media.

Read and share other work published in the same issue. Connecting with other authors to say you enjoyed their work is a great way to start new conversations about writing, make friends, and become part of a creative community.

Literary magazines to check out:

What tips do you have for getting published in literary magazines? Let us know in the comment section below.

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