Believe it or not, there is a proper way to submit to publishers. And most of us have, at one time or another, messed up the submission process, leading to a rejection that could’ve been avoided.
For some of us, landing a publishing contract with one of the big publishing houses is “the dream.” So we submit to anyone and everyone that we can, hoping for the best. Then the rejections start rolling in, and that little voice in the back of your mind plays “you can’t do this” on a loop.
Sometimes, the publisher isn’t passing on the writing itself, but because of how you submitted your materials. Let’s face it there’s a difference between querying literary agents and submitting your work directly to a literary magazine. And it would be best if you didn’t approach them in the same way.
It is my goal today to give you the tools you need to increase your publishing success. Before we go any further, I did want to let you know that this post will be about traditional publishing, specifically in literary magazines and journals, not self-publishing.
5 Mistakes New Authors Make When They Submit to Publishers
When you’re first starting, you’re not going to be aware of the publishing rules. That’s fine! We all start that way. However, there are things that you should be doing but aren’t. There are those things:
Research isn’t just for writing your novels. You need to do it with publishers as well.
Unfortunately, there are “publishers” out there that do not have your best interests at heart. The only way that you can avoid them is by Googling them and checking to see if they are on any watch lists.
There are also articles out there, like Red Flags: A Guide to Avoiding the Wrong Publishers and Evaluating a Publisher’s Website, that can help you figure out if they are the real deal or a scam.
Disregarding the Guidelines
Submission guidelines exist for a reason.
For example, if a publisher tells you not to submit a book of poetry, don’t submit a book of poetry. That seems straightforward, right?
However, that same publisher will still get a dozen poetry book manuscripts each year. Most of them will be deleted immediately, and the author will not get a response. None of them will be published by that publisher.
There are other important aspects of submitting manuscripts, like following the formatting guidelines, including a synopsis if they ask for one, etc.
Read the submission guidelines carefully. Always remember when it comes to fiction, don’t submit till you have a complete manuscript, even if the publisher is only asking for an excerpt.
Forgetting to Edit
If you want to be taken seriously, you need to adopt the attitude of a professional. That means you need to be professional with your dealings with an editor, literary agent, or publisher. Period.
The first thing you need to do to appear professional is to make sure you have a polished manuscript, manuscript query, and query letter. If even one of those things is a mess, then your work will most likely be passed over no matter how good your story is.
The same is true for literary journals. You will lose an editor if the work is full of easily-fixable errors.
Editing is a vital part of the writing process. Don’t skip it.
Self-Publishing to Traditionally Publish
Writers like Andy Weir are rare. They self-publish their novel and then sell it to a traditional publisher. Stories like this are one in a million.
Unless it’s a stellar story, most traditional publishers will not consider a self-published manuscript.
What makes a stellar story? The book is widely popular, and it sells. Most self-published authors that have moved over to traditional publishing were already successful at what they were doing. Traditional publishers see them as safe investments because they already have an audience.
Just Submitting Once Or Too Much
Publication takes hard work and effort on your part and the publishers. You may have to submit to many editors and agents before your manuscript is accepted, which is why most publishers accept simultaneous submissions.
It could take up to a year for some publishers to get back to you because they receive thousands of submissions in a year. You can’t wait for them to respond before you submit to them again. This article focuses on literary journals, but it talks about the cost of, and problems with, limited submissions.
The other thing that you should never do is spam literary magazine with submissions willy-nilly. That will not get you published and will piss editors off.
I know it’s easier to submit instead of doing the research, but it has some serious repercussions for yourself and other writers. On your side, you will receive so many rejections that you didn’t need to get. Don’t put yourself through the anguish of rejection if you don’t need to.
Second, editors do not want to see something they have not asked for. They are flooded with stories, and you sending them something that doesn’t fit is a waste of their time.
On top of this, editors may decide to stop accepting unsolicited submissions, limiting the publishing pool for everyone. Please don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
Rejection is Inevitable When You Submit to Publishers
The sad truth about all of this is your work will be rejected multiple times before it finds its “forever home” with a publisher. It’s a simple yet devastating fact for some writers.
But if you want to be a published writer, then you’ll need to push back the negative feelings that flood your mind with a rejection. Use those feelings to make yourself to submit to more publishers.
Eventually, those feelings will lose their power over you. You won’t feel rooted to the spot with despair because Writer’s Digest or The New Yorker didn’t like your poem or short story.
If not giving up is the first thing that you should never do when faced with rejection. The second is not to harass the editor.
There are many editors out there that are also writers, like me. We understand the process and where you’re coming from. However, we have also to take care of our reader’s interests because they play a significant role in keeping the magazine running.
So please do not email us back in a fit of anger, telling us that we’re spiteful idiots. It won’t make a difference to the editor and may get you blacklisted from submitting again.
How to Submit to Publishers
Now that we know some of the mistakes made when submitting to a publisher, we’re going to look at submitting to a literary magazine. (We’ll focus on how to submit to a book publisher in the New Year.)
Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my publishing checklist by signing up to my email list below:
Create a List of Publishers You’d Like to Submit to
Step one is always to do some research. And to get you started on your publishing journey, you need to find literary journals to submit to. There are a few ways that you can do this:
- Go to your local bookstore or library to see what they have on hand.
- Ask other writers.
- Check university websites to see if they have a literary magazine. This is an excellent resource to check, especially if the university is known for its arts programs.
- Read articles or websites dedicated to helping writers find publishing opportunities.
- Follow literary magazines, publishers, editors, and writers on social media.
Once you start finding these opportunities, start creating a long-list of the ones you might submit to. It is an essential piece of the puzzle, so keep that list somewhere secure or in a spreadsheet.
After you’ve got your list:
- Weed out any bad eggs.
- Check the magazine’s design aesthetic, social media reach, and any bad reviews from other writers.
- If there’s something that doesn’t work for you, cut the publisher.
If there’s something that doesn’t work for you, cut the publisher. By the end of this process, you may end up with only a handful of presses that would most likely accept your story or poem.
Read the Work of the Publisher
Finding the publishers takes a bit of work, but you need to start reading them once you have them.
Reading literary magazines lets you figure out if your work will be a good fit for the publisher. Every literary magazine and publisher will look for something different.
Let’s take my post about poetry submission opportunities as an example. It has 19 literary magazines that all want poetry. Curiouser Magazine wants poems that explore magical realism, but Blackbox Manifold wants to see work with an environmental slant.
Your poem about Trump’s follies, for example, will not do well in either one of those magazines. Submitting that poem to either one would result in an automatic rejection.
But let’s say you have a poem with an environmental slant. Then you’ll want to submit it.
Reading the poems and stories that appear in previous issues will give you a good idea of what the editors of that magazine like and don’t like. So keep a list of recurring themes, images, and ideas and compare that list to your work.
Read the Submission Guidelines Carefully
Once you’ve narrowed in on a few publishers, you need to review their submission guidelines. Numerous manuscripts are rejected because the author didn’t follow the guidelines. They are there for your benefit, along with the editors; please adhere to them.
Here are some things to look for:
- Reading period dates and deadlines.
- Length and formatting requirements.
- What and how many poems, short stories, etc., can be submitted at one time.
- Submission methods – online, email, or post.
- Contact information and blind submission requirements.
- Cover letters, bios, etc.
- Simultaneous submissions.
The most overlooked thing is what the editor actually wants from hopeful writers. Most literary magazines will give you a paragraph or two on what they hope to see from you. Take those suggestions to heart.
Prepare Your Submission Package
Once you go through the guidelines, put that into practice. Makes sure your formatting is in order, and if you need to copy and paste things into an email body or put everything into one Word doc, etc.
Edit your story one last time. Write your cover letter (if needed), and edit that. Tweak your bio (if needed) to fit word count or tone requirements or update it with publishing credits that might make it more appealing to an editor.
Speaking of cover letters, there’s no reason to overthink this. Your story is the hero of your submission packet. Not you.
So keep things simple and brief. It should look something like this, according to Writer’s Digest:
Enclosed is the [submission type—short story, essay, the poem(s)] [submission title] for your review. I received my [degree] from [school] OR I currently work as [title] for [company] and my work has appeared in [journal name(s)]. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Submit to Publishers
After you’ve gone through everything again with a fine-tooth comb, hit the send button and begin preparing the next submission packet for the next literary magazine or press. Or write another story or poem.
And don’t forget to track everything in a spreadsheet. That way, you don’t end up submitting to the same publisher twice or forget where you have submitted. This is especially important when you’ve submitted the same piece to several magazines.
It doesn’t need to be high tech, but it should work for you and keep you organized. I’d include things reading period, response time, a link to submission guidelines, the reading fee (if any), date submitted, and date rejected or accepted.
Rejection is inevitable when you submit to publishers. More times than not, you will have to go back to the drawing board to tweak some aspects of your story to make it publish-worthy.
And trust me, your story is publish-worthy. It is. But you need to realize that publishing your work does not happen overnight, and there will be times that you’ll want to give up.
Please don’t do it. Your words have value, and someone out there wants to read them. It just might not be the right time or the right editor. So don’t lose hope and keep submitting.
How long did it take you to publish your first story? Any tips or tricks that I missed? Do you know of a literary magazine or publisher looking for submissions? Let me know in the comments below!
Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating, and Happy Holidays to those of you who aren’t!
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time.