Sending your work out into the world to (hopefully!) be accepted by literary magazines can feel like an uphill battle. It’s hard not to take rejection personally, and easy to imagine that editors get kicks from ignoring your work.
Not only is this not the case, but by tweaking your approach and thinking more like a magazine editor you might just land that golden acceptance letter. That’s what this post is all about: sharing tips and tricks to give you and your writing the best chances of being recognized in print. Shall we begin?
Read the magazines! This seems like an obvious point but it’s often overlooked. You don’t need to memorize every single article, but understanding the magazine’s content is an important step in understanding what its editors are looking for, and whether your writing will be a good fit.
If this seems like a potentially expensive exercise, there are plenty of free online publications like [PANK], Bodega and Jellyfish magazine. You can also get a group of friends together, subscribe to different ones, and share them amongst yourselves whilst discussing your favourites.
If you’re getting personalized responses, or even actual feedback, see if there are consistent things being picked up on or suggested for improvement. Equally, just having a clear idea of where you’ve sent your work and at what rate will allow you to see whether you’re bombarding editors, or should change tack with regards to which magazines you are targeting.
Hot tip: keeping track of which magazines are accepting submissions at what time can be tricky. Check out this list of the top literary magazines of 2018 for an easy way to stay on top of deadlines.
Unless you’re Ernest Hemingway, it’s unlikely you’ll receive acceptances from every magazine you submit to — so it’s customary (and polite) to thank and take up your first offer.
It’s also good practice to list the magazines you’re submitting to in order of preference. Don’t lose an acceptance from a perfectly good literary magazine by holding out hopes on your New York Times Magazine submission.
Whilst this doesn’t mean waiting until you get a rejection for a piece before sending it elsewhere (you could be there for months!), it just means submitting to small enough groups of magazines each time so you would be equally happy with an acceptance from any of them.
This means, in practical terms, things like including a cover letter and taking heed of any formatting or content guidelines. Under no circumstances should you submit something that you have failed to self-edit effectively (or isn’t a final draft), expecting edits to be made for you.
Also, if you get a piece of work accepted, don’t make revisions unless they ask for them. The editors loved and accepted your submission as you sent it and will likely not appreciate you changing it behind their backs.
Keep it short and sweet — if you have credentials or particularly enjoyed a piece in an issue of theirs, then put this in by all means. Don’t give a five-page-long account of your life story — they’re not going to read it! Remember to thank them for their time and consideration.
Your acceptance is going to be based on the quality of the story, but obvious things like typos, addressing to the wrong editor/magazine, and reams of writing are to be avoided. It’s mainly a question of common sense.
Despite the caricature of an editor laughing maniacally as they crush the dreams of hopeful writers, rejections aren’t personal. Editors won’t reject you just for the fun of it. We all know that the start of a story is so important — something that’s critical when you realize that editors are reading through hundreds and even thousands of submissions. Take constructive, actionable insights from rejections and apply this knowledge to your next piece.
Importantly, do not respond to rejection slips by writing an angry (or bitter) response. And do not vent your rage on social media. This won’t get you anywhere, and will paint you as an immature writer who didn’t deserve to be in the magazine in the first place — editors will remember.
If your writing makes it into an issue — congrats! A point of politeness is to send the editor a thank-you note and remark on the issue itself: any other works you were particularly struck by, how they’ve laid out your piece, or anything else you can think of.
Then it’s time to spread the word: order some copies (possibly at author discount) and show or send them round to your friends, family, and supporters. This will help both you and the magazine.
Try and be patient — submissions can take up to a number of months to get any response, depending on the submission schedule of your chosen magazine(s).
The key is persistence (do not read this as: bombard editors with the relentless submissions). Improving and submitting good work will eventually pay off.
If you can’t choose which magazines to submit to: the right magazine is the one that publishes work that you love. Just remember that editors are reading through the slush pile looking for a piece to blow them away. They want to read amazing writing — try and make your work the one that makes their day.
Jessica Curry is a writer for Reedsy, the world's largest marketplace of professional editors, book designers and ghostwriters. She also curates a series of free webinars and online courses designed to teach writers how to create and publish better books.