How and Where to Submit to Literary Journals

After the writing and revising and gutting and puttying and all the effort to make the words sing and the story shine, I’m finally ready to take the plunge to get my work published. But how? And where? Luckily, Edward Perlman, a publisher and writer who teaches in the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins, shared his excellent method for submitting to literary journals.

First, you might wonder: What ARE these literary journals? Admittedly, three years ago I knew little about the vast world of places that publish prose and poetry outside of the New Yorker. There are hundreds of publications online, in print, or both that publish work from established and new authors. Some places also publish creative nonfiction, reviews, interviews, and craft essays. Submitting to these journals is a way to establish yourself as an author and put your words into the world. Plus, I understand these credits come in handy later when you’re looking for an agent for that book you finally finished.

So, where to start?

Break Out the Spreadsheet

This is my adaption of the advice Ed gave on planning and tracking your literary submissions. I’m going to start here and then circle back to researching which pubs to submit to. That’s very important, but if your mind works anything like mine, then it will help to have the framework first.

  • Create columns for each of your stories that you’re ready to submit.
  • Aim for submitting three pieces at a time to varying types of journals. So, for example, maybe you have one flash fiction piece and two short stories with different aesthetics that will appeal to different journals. This way, you aren’t trying to submit all your pieces to the same places at once.
  • For each story, make a list of 25 publications where you want to submit it. More on this below.
  • Add two more columns after each story column, one for “Submission” and one for “Response.” In the “Submission” column, put the date you submitted the piece. In the “Response” column, put the date you got a response. If it’s a rejection, color the date red; acceptance, green. I suppose there could be a revise and resubmit, in which case I’d use orange.
  • Any time you get a rejection, submit the story to another journal on your list. Some journals accept submissions year-round, but many have submission windows or monthly caps so you may find that the “next” journal on your list isn’t open, in which case I make a note of when their subs open again or just say “closed” and move to the next one.
  • When you run out of journals on that original list of 25, add more. You just need to find the right fit. Or, it’s possible you need to revise your story. If you receive feedback along the way, consider this in terms of whether you want to pause and revise.
  • Once a piece is accepted, add another to the mix so you always have three in the pipeline.

Research Where to Submit

Okay, so let’s tackle how to figure out the 25 journals to add to each of those columns. As I mentioned above, there are hundreds of literary journals—and all of them and all your mentors and all your writer friends will say to read what the journal publishes before submitting to see if you’re a good fit. Starting out, I have to tell you, that feels like trying to scale Mount Rainier from the lower-than-sea-level starting point of Seattle on a clear-sky day when you can practically feel the mountain in your mouth, could even pretend you were eating it with the right camera and angle, but it is hundreds of miles away.

Phew. Emotional discharge done. Needless to say, this part has been a bit of a challenge for me, but here are a few tips that may help ease the view for you.

  • Check the credits in collections you love and that inspire you. Many short story collections list where the pieces were previously published, either in the front of the book in the copyright section or the back in the acknowledgements. If you find yourself digging a collection because you have an affinity with it, take a look at where the stories where originally published.
  • Look at short story collections to see who submitted and what was chosen. For example, read the Pushcart Prize, the O. Henry Prize, and the Best American Short Stories collections to see where those stories where originally published and what publications nominated stories.
  • Browse through the lists of journals put together by other blogs and publications. Here are a few I’ve come across that have been helpful: Poets & Writers database of over 1,200 literary magazines where you can search by genre and subgenre, The Nonconformist Magazine’s Big, Big List of Literary Magazines and Journals, and Bookfox’s Ranking of the 100 Best Literary Magazines and Top 24 Websites for Flash Fiction.
  • Follow journals on Twitter. This way you’ll see notices about open submissions and recent publications, and you can get a feel for their voice and style.
  • Look at the “also submitted to…” and “also had work accepted by…” sections of Duotrope. You have to be a member to see this feature—and the website offers much more in terms of finding publications and agents and tracking submissions—but these gems have felt like enough of a reason to subscribe. You can look up a journal, say one you came across in that short story collect you’re reading, and then see where else people who submitted to that journal submitted to and where else people get their work accepted, so that gives you a pool of more journals to consider.

All that said, while finding the right journals feels like a car ride and a camp and a hike and more camping and hiking to scale the mountain, you’re a writer, right? So, reading the amazing work published by all those journals to see if you’re the right fit should be a walk in the park. Or, at least, remember: Enjoy the ride, hike, climb.