Exploring the art of prose


How and Where To Submit

It’s a new year, and time to refocus on your submission game. The submission process can be daunting. You finally get a story to a place where you think it’s pretty close to being done. But where to send it? If you’ve attended AWP, and been exhausted by the size and scope of the book fair, you know how many great journals are out there. On one hand, that’s a great thing. But when you’re trying to figure out how and where to submit, it can feel overwhelming.

We’ve listed below some helpful hints on how to attack the submissions process. Our biggest piece of advice: don’t take rejection personally! Remember that, most of the time, you have no idea who read your piece and why it was rejected. It’s a very subjective process and work that appeals to one reader may have the opposite effect on the next. Be persistent.

And in terms of where to submit, there are people and organizations who’ve done some of the groundwork for you. Our recommendation here? Do your homework. The more that you can target your work to the right publications, the more successful you will be.

How to Submit

  1. Create a spreadsheet to track your submissions. There are sample spreadsheets out there you can use although creating your own method is often the best strategy.
  2. Make your cover letter short and sweet. Don’t say you’ve been writing stories since you were a child. Don’t summarize the story for the reader, or tell them what it means. Simply give the name of the story and provide a short bio, with key publications. If you have a long list of publications, just list a few. And know that every reader has a different method for dealing with cover letters: some read them prior to reading the story; some read them after they’ve read the story; and some never read them at all.
  3. Take the time to proofread your cover letter as well as your story.
  4. Read and adhere to submission guidelines.
  5. Submit to a handful of journals at once. Most people aim to send a given piece to 5-10 places at one time.
  6. Don’t obsess over that “In Progress” status for pieces in Submittable. It means close to nothing. It can just mean that it’s been assigned to a reader, but smaller journals may not assign pieces. It may be that your piece is being passed from reader to reader, but it may also mean that the story is sitting in one reader’s queue. For months.
  7. Inquire about the status according to the journal’s guidelines. Most pubs are happy to look into for you after a given period of time.
  8. Save those nice rejections! If you receive personalized comments, pull those out (often, they will contain positive feedback) and paste them into your spreadsheet.
  9. If the rejection suggests that you submit again, put that in your spreadsheet, too, and then do so! They mean it. Journals get thousands of submissions; they’re not going to ask you for more just to be nice. They have enough reading to do. Be sure to mention this request in your cover letter.
  10. Delete the form rejections from your email, but not before noting them on your spreadsheet.
  11. Delete the rejections from Submittable, too. That way, you’re not looking at a bunch of rejections every time you go to check on a status.
  12. When you get a rejection, send the piece to another journal on your list.
  13. When a piece gets accepted (Yay! Go drink wine, eat chocolate, scream from the rooftops!), be sure to contact all the journals where you’ve submitted the piece and not yet heard back to withdraw the piece from consideration.
  14. Once a month or so, take a look at your spreadsheet. Has it been awhile since you’ve submitted anything? Maybe some of those journals that weren’t open during your last wave are open now. Keep a constant flow of work out in the world.
  15. When you’ve heard back from all (or almost all: there seem to always be pieces that live forever in the ether), consider your next steps. You can submit to 5-10 more journals, or, you can take the piece back to the drawing board by revising it again or asking a workshop or trusted reader for feedback.


Where to Submit

  1. Clifford Garstang uses the Pushcart awards to create a ranked list each year.
  2. Check out the annual collections: Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, The O. Henry Prize Stories. See where the stories were originally published. There are almost always journals listed that will be new to you.
  3. Look at collections by writers whose work is similar to yours. Check out the Acknowledgments page to see where their works were published prior to inclusion in the collection. Or check out the writers’ websites.
  4. Subscribe to Duotrope. Their service can help you to manage your submissions and give you ideas on where to submit. The subscription fee is currently $5/month or $50/year.
  5. Go to AWP, Brooklyn Book Festival, or any of the other great book festivals and walk the aisles. Talk to the nice folks at the tables. You’ll get a good sense of the people behind the journal and whether your work might find a home there.
  6. Send work to publications that you know and admire.
  7. Consider each story and whether it’s a good fit for the publication.
  8. Follow lit mags on social media. You’ll be reminded of deadlines, contests, etc, but you’ll also get a good sense of the aesthetic and mission. That will give you a good sense of whether your work is right for them.

Best of luck to you! Persistence, doing your homework, and good recordkeeping are the keys to success.