I’ll start this off by saying: I am not a master of getting published in literary magazines. Rather it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m an expert in getting rejected by them. But there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that may be of use to you. Reading the fine print, familiarizing yourself with your chosen venue of publication, drafting cover and query letters—all of these things will bring you one step closer to seeing your name in print.
And besides, there are a ton of opportunities out there for writers—you just need to know where to look.
Most literary journals require a cover letter. I’ve noticed that some of the speculative fiction magazines are more lenient about this, but as a habit, I send them one, too. Cover letters are not as daunting as they sound. In general, magazines want something simple—a few sentences that state who you are, any previous notable publications (don’t list every single one; they don’t care), the title of your piece. That’s about it.
The Review Review gives a good overview of how to write a cover letter: Your Perfect Cover Letter
Take the time to address the editor by name
Having a cover letter template to use as a basis is fine. But I have a suggestion: take the time to individualize each letter. Try not to just address it to “Fiction Editor” or “To whom it may concern” unless specified by the magazine. In general, when you specifically name the editor, it shows that you have at least read through the guidelines and the magazine’s site.
Follow submission instructions
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many stories get rejected simply because the author didn’t follow the magazine’s submission guidelines. There is a submission standard, and many magazines do follow this, but always, always check to see if they require something more (or less). Some magazines have a strictly anonymous reading procedure, for instance, which means your name shouldn’t be anywhere on the story.
Here is the typical standard formatting as written by William Shunn. If there aren’t any specific guidelines for the magazine, follow these: Proper Manuscript Formatting
Familiarize yourself with the magazine
The easiest way to familiarize yourself with a magazine is to read what they publish. Naturally most writers can’t afford subscription fees for every magazine on the market, but many magazines release a story or two from back issues for public consumption. Look for these on their websites and do take the time to decide whether your story will fit the magazine’s mission.
Prepare yourself for the rejection
You will get rejected. A lot. It’s inevitable. But eventually you may just get that acceptance letter, so keep trying. DO NOT GIVE UP!
Don’t expect to pay your bills
You probably already know this, but literary magazines don’t tend to pay. You may get a little compensation; you may get a free copy of the journal with your publication in it. But that’s about it. Mostly your reward will be seeing your name in print.
If you’re new to the literary journal game, then here are a couple of resources to get you started:
Poets & Writers is a great resource for new and established authors alike. They have a listing of literary magazines HERE and offer a plethora of information—from schools that offer programs in creative writing to small presses to literary agents.
Be a Better Writer: One of the things I love about this site is that the author takes the time to list upcoming writing contests (including deadlines and how much they pay the winners). I highly recommend checking it out.
The Review Review: This site hosts a great database of calls for submission and writing contests. Additionally, they offer reviews of magazines, which is invaluable information for getting familiar with the literary publication world.
Do you have any other advice to offer writers trying to publish in journals?
The Sarcastic Muse supports all paths to publishing, from traditional to self to indie press. For those considering the authorpreneur route of publishing, the crew at Sterling and Stone has put together a series full of useful information.
If you aren’t familiar with the Self Publishing Podcast or Garrett Robinson, this series is a collaboration. The video series includes the things not often talked about on blogs such as how to compile a manuscript, how to upload it, and practical things that anyone interested in self-publishing has to know. I had to work most of it out on my own, but there’s no reason you have to. It’s a good series and not yet complete. It’s also a mini-course on Scrivener (in terms of using it to help publish), which is good, useful information.
Here are the videos completed so far:
The series won’t be complete for a while, but wanted to let you know about it now so you can catch the videos.
What is your favorite go-to source for publishing information?
Well, tonight is the night. Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity launches at the Shore Leave 36 convention. Words almost cannot describe how excited I am – almost. At the moment I am about to bubble over with a thrill that overshadows most events in my life. This has been the one thing that I have wanted more than anything in the world. With over 20 years of work, one of my pieces is published. All those years of labor, countless stories that have maxed out 37 flash drives, hours upon hours of editing, and an unimaginable amount of sleepless nights spent just writing has all come down to this very night.
But, oh how the learning experience has been wrought with despair. For I suffer with an affliction that causes much turmoil in my life. The affliction is perfection. The single reason which has caused the act to hoard my stories, a reason that evokes the feeling that these stories are not yet good enough. The constant thought that there are better ways to perfect the tale: better word choices, room to tighten prose, grammatical errors — these are the thoughts that continually run through my mind. Which is, of course, complete and utter bull shit. I have yet to pick up a publication that does not have at least one grammatical error or an area where the prose could be more concise.
With this single published story, I have come to realize that I need to let things go in order to become published. I just need to turn a piece over to an editor, say “Sayonara”, and allow the editor to work his or her magic. I must no longer agonize and fear perfection. As Salvador Dali once said, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”
Very true words. A story will eternally have room to improve, but perfection will never be reached. In order to allow your story to live, you must let it go.
Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity anthology, which contains my short story Parallax, will be available online from all major booksellers on August 4th.
Well. The best laid plans of mice and writers, as they say. I learned a lot this week, and the most important lessons were not, as you might suspect, making sure you upload the copy that was NOT converted from .html back to .docx. However, Shadows Wake is as flawless as we know how to make it. Watch that formatting as it can change between versions and file types. Whew.
Michelle wrote yesterday about her experience as the editor for Shadows Wake. I am happy to report that we are still on good terms! Today, I’ll try to give the writer’s side of her observations.
Relationship matters more than you think.
Picture yourself seated across from someone as you both tug a manuscript back and forth between you. This is not the kind of relationship you want with your editor. Instead, pull your chair around to sit beside her, and work together. Mutual respect is essential. Trust is essential. Patience is a real bonus. The editor is also working for the good of your story. You are on the same team. If this isn’t the case with your current editor, find someone else.
Editing is subjective.
I strongly recommend using just one editor per round or per project. Slight style differences and mark up methods can add up to a real pain. Agree on a style guide before you start and let that style guide settle any disputes. One part of editing is creating consistency throughout your book. Two or more people acting as editors on the same round or project will leave you correcting one’s preference for the other.
One thing I appreciated about Michelle was her willingness to research and provide documentation for anything I challenged. Fortunately, there were only a few obscure points that needed research.
Swallow the ego.
I don’t have a pocket full of ego when it comes to my own writing, but even so, there were a few moments when I bristled at a suggested change. If that happens, get up and walk away. Come back later and look at it with fresh eyes. In all but one case, the editor was right and I made the change. A good editor isn’t going to try to change your voice, but they will help clarify your prose. If you feel your voice or style is becoming altered, step away for a while or come back to it when you are fresh. Trust that your editor is working for your story, not against you (and she was usually right).
Something else to keep in mind is that we, as writers, are very familiar with our story. Your editor is reading it from a fresh perspective and is better able to point out the areas where we miss because we see it in our mind’s eye instead of as a new reader.
Know what type of edit you want.
Though most people divide editing into three types, I have added a fourth to the list. These are not comprehensive and descriptions vary depending on who you ask.
- Developmental edits take place right after the rough draft to smooth out plot holes and address both dead paragraphs and areas that need expansion. If you aren’t sure where your story is going or how to use conflict, a developmental edit is a good idea. Beta readers or a writing group can serve you well here.
- Content edits watch for continuity, check description, the balance of dialog to prose, identify spots where you are “telling” instead of “showing,” clear up present and past tense inconsistencies, and generally make sure your story makes sense, flows, and has both character development and conflict.
- Proofreading works on spelling, word choice, dialog tags, grammar, and sentence structure.
- Line edits check formatting, grammar, punctuation, spacing, and uniformity.
Fact-checking can take place at any level, so make sure you ask your editor if that is part of the editing plan for your book.
Do a good turn.
Include your editor (and her link) in your acknowledgements. I put my editor in the front matter right under my name as well as including her in the comments. Editing is a business just as authorship is. Promote each other. If you are happy with your editor’s work, recommend her.