In my previous post I talked about things to do before you get published. In that list I included what I’m doing right now, and that’s submitting short stories to literary magazines. This step is one I’m taking to see if I can build my experience as a writer, get my name out there, and add a little to my bio for future use. Not that you need a sparkling bio, but it doesn’t hurt to have on record that an editor liked your work already!
So far, since this last March, I have submitted 6 short stories to over 20 magazines. Sounds like a lot, but in reality I am trying to do so much more! You won’t be able to read any of these stories for now, unfortunately, due to the fact that most journals don’t accept stories that have been previously published—this includes on blogs. I’ve been rejected a few times, and my two latest rejections were the most promising. The magazines, while they didn’t want the story I’d submitted at the time, asked me to submit to them again!
Here you are, perhaps considering sending in short stories. How should you start? What should you do? Are there tips and tricks for along the way? Well, let me divulge to you the many things I’ve learned in the process, and perhaps you too can join me in seeking to publish shorter works of fiction.
Below are sections that will lay out the details of how to go about submitting a short story. Read through them all to find all the information I’ve learned.
1. Magazine Vs. Journal (and what in the world is commercial?)
After you’ve written your short story or stories, start looking for places to submit! You may ask what the difference between a magazine and journal is, as I’ve mentioned both terms throughout this post already. The difference doesn’t really exist. Both terms are used to describe the same thing usually, as I’ve come to realize. Both usually have print forms and/or online forms.
However, you may hear the term commercial vs. literary. There is a difference here. Literary are the journals/magazines that focus on providing stories, poems, essays, etc. to their readers, while commercial are the ones full of different things, such as The New Yorker or People. Not all are looking for short stories, but some do want those sort of things for their prints/website. Yes, The New Yorker is many writer’s dream magazine. It’s nearly impossible to get in unsolicited, but we all dream about it sometimes. However, literary magazines do focus solely on the art form of writing and creativity, and there are plenty of them out there!
2. Do your research.
When you find a magazine, make sure you do your research. Well-known magazines/journals are safe to submit to without the question of fraud or scam, however you still want to know what they’re about and if you qualify. For instance, some magazines have specific political/social stances they take, or perhaps a certain racial/ethnicity group they publish. These are their rights, and your right is to acknowledge them and determine whether you fit or agree. Save yourself the embarrassment of being rejected for not meeting their requirements, and save both of you time by doing your research!
3. Is it really that important to read a magazine before submitting?
Yes. Not gonna fluff the answer to that one up. It can seem tedious, but wherever you look you’ll find how important it is to read at least a portion of the magazines content before you submit. Now, it can be hard to find samples for all of them (free, that is) but do your best. You’ll get a feel for what they like, and as a result you save yourself the heartache of submitting to someone who won’t want your work (or, your work will fit perfectly!).
Again, not gonna lie. I’ve submitted without reading samples before, and some I’ve been rejected while others I haven’t heard from yet. Best of luck to me, I suppose. Still, I highly recommend reading their samples or even picking up a copy (or going as far as subscribing) in order to inhale a bit of their style. I find it leaves you feeling more prepared and confident in the process.
Granted, you can’t subscribe to every magazine, but pick at least one for now. It’s good to be reading short stories to understand what styles are out there and what people are doing. After a long while, I made the choice of subscribing to Glimmer Train. At the end of this article you’ll find a link to a list of journals to submit to, and any one of them are available to subscribe to as well!
4. Write your story.
Of course, one of the most important steps is to actually have a short story! What should you write about, exactly? This is a broad question, and one with many answers. My best, and possibly most fortune-cookie-like answer, would be that the best stories will come from your heart. Don’t try to fish up some brilliant idea merely for the sake of sounding like a genius with words. Write with feeling, with passion, with care. What could I possibly mean? Here’s a list of some great places to pull from.
- Childhood memories
- personal experience—past and present
This entire topic itself could be expounded on tremendously (future blog post, my friends) but for now think about these things and write your heart out!
5. Submitting your story.
Now you’ve chosen a magazine you’re interested in and maybe read a few samples (or shown them some love and subscribed!). What next but to submit? First things first, have you read their guidelines?
This is where wordcount comes in, along with whether you should or shouldn’t read samples. Each magazine has a specific set of rules and guidelines, and these are important! Follow these, from formatting and document type, to the way it is submitted. Below is a list of general guidelines and rules to watch for.
- Formatting (i.e. Margins, single-double spaced, font)
- Document setup (.doc or .pdf)
- Word count
- Contact information
- Submission form (most places use Submittable, some have you email them or send it through their own form)
- Styles accepted (i.e. The genre)
Not following these things does lead to immediate rejection, and can put a ugly stain on your reputation. Be careful, patient, and attentive to detail.
6. How long you’ll wait.
A long time. Or a short time. Or somewhere in the middle. It depends! I’ve had a response in two days (this magazine is known for giving quick 2-day rejections) I’ve waited weeks, and—yep, you guessed it—I’ve waited months. I have one I submitted back in March that I have yet to hear from. How long should I wait before I panic or get angry or worried? When do I have the right to worry they’ve forgotten me or maybe my story got lost?
Here’s the great thing about journals: Most of them give you a timeframe in which you can expect to hear back from them. They’ll generally give you the maximum time because we all tend to be the same… we just want to know! Find their timeframe, and wait. If you reach the end of that and still have not received a response, it’s okay to send a polite message to them requesting the status of your story.
Some journals even state they don’t respond to every entry, and these ones are scary to send to. Generally, however, they have a timeframe in which they will respond. Until then, hang tight and keep submitting to other magazines!
7. When magazines are accepting submissions.
You’ll come to notice that not all magazines are accepting submissions year-round. They have open reading periods, contest seasons, print-addition timeframes, quarterly acceptance, tip jars, you name it. The good thing is, because of the variety of magazines, there’s almsost never a time in the year where no one is accepting something!
Usually, when you go to the submit section of a website, they have it right there when they’re accepting, how much it costs, what categories they’re accepting, etc. Make sure your story still fits what they’re looking for! If not, why not write a new one if the topic so inspires you!
8. Should you submit to magazines that charge?
Oh boy, this one is the debate of the literary century. I’ve heard many mixed opinions of this one, and therefor you are about to hear mine because there really is no answer but what you find works for you. With that being said, let me explain to you what I think and why.
Literary magazines are businesses working to bring entertainment, enjoyment, and life to people across the world. In between you and your computer screen are people who work hard year-round to read submissions; sort through poor ones, good ones, and great ones; find the good and the great that fit what they’re after at the time; contact hundreds to thousands of authors in response to their submissions, and hopefully not have to deal with too many random messages; then compile all these chosen stories in a format and get them produced, distributed, and marketed. Therefor, I give tremendous props to those who don’t charge!
This is the thinking that has kept me okay with submitting to journals who charge a submission fee. The lowest fee I’ve paid (besides no fee at all!) was $2, while the highest was $23. While I don’t go around submitting to ones that require payment all day, I’ve grown used to seeing a required payment.
If you get published then great! If not, simply think of your payment as a contribution to the world of literature. It’s a hard business, as you know, and therefor we writers must support each other and the love of stories!
9. Links to my favorite resources.
New Pages (Daily updated list of journals looking for submissions)
Thanks for reading, friends! Enjoy the links, suggestions, and my learned tips on how to start submitting short stories to literary magazines. While the process isn’t always easy, it is a fun journey and the reward will be wonderful! Join me now as I too partake of this road.
Have any other questions or your own experiences to share about? Leave a comment for the rest of us to read!