A little over a year ago I started submitting short stories to literary magazines. And my oh my what a years it’s been. I’ve learned a lot about writing, and a lot about the submission process. I’ve racked up quite a few rejections, and a couple of acceptances. I even had the pleasure of withdrawing the pieces accepted from other magazines I’d submitted to (and what a sweet pleasure that is!). Today I thought I’d walk you through how I submit short stories and find magazines to submit them to.
Read, Read, and Read Some More
The best way to find magazines to submit your short stories to is to read them. I know some writers try the shot-gun approach of just submitting to magazines without reading the work they publish,arguing that they don’t have enough time to read all the magazines they want to submit work to. And while this is understandable, in the end you’ll probably only hurt your chances of getting accepted. (Not to mention the editors and readers of those magazines will wonder why you submitted a story clearly not suited to what they publish).
To find literary magazines, I use Poets and Writers, NewPages, and this handy list from Erika Krouse. Each resource gives information on what the magazine accepts (fiction, poetry, or nonfiction), whether they pay, circulation, etc.
If I could only say one thing about a cover letter, it would be: Keep it basic. Bare bones. Don’t describe the story, and be brief on the biographical information. A cover letter is something a reader/editor will refer back to after they’ve read your story. (At least the ethical ones will). I put the name of my story, the word count, and sometimes the name of a piece from the magazine that I especially liked. I keep my biography short and to the point. And that’s it.
Every magazine has them, and some are far more complicated than others. Most magazines these days use submittable, an online platform for submissions that is easy to use and navigate. Some magazines ask you to simply email your submission and address to the appropriate editor. And there are a few hold-outs that still ask you to mail a hard-copy. A lot of magazines require a small submission fee (usually around $3) that helps defray the cost of running the magazine since a lot of literary magazines are poorly funded and staffed by volunteers. The point is, I always study the submission guidelines.
Some magazines allow you to follow up on a piece if you haven’t heard back from them past a certain amount of time. (Usually listed in the submission guidelines) Some don’t specify, but I wouldn’t check on a submission before six months have passed.
And there you have it, how I submit my short stories to literary magazines! Some of it is pretty self-explanatory, but perhaps you learned something about my process?
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