The unbelievable, unimaginable, and the utterly confounding has happened…I’ve been published by a literary magazine! I know. Is this real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality?
It’s a story called “Treasures” which has been published in the Spring 2015 edition of an online magazine called The Write Room (you can find my story here!). They didn’t contact me at all so it was a complete surprise when I was creeping around the interweb and stumbled across it. This is my first ever publication and I’m completely over the moon, over the stars, and well, right out of this galaxy.
What better way to celebrate than by writing a comprehensive guide to submitting stories to lit mags?
Step 1: Write a story
Seriously, do it. Like I said in my ‘About‘ section, if you write, you are a writer. So get writing, damn it.
Step 2: Edit
Read your story over at least three times with a red pen poised to edit out mistakes. It’s even better if you have a friend that’s willing to give you suggestions for how to improve your story. The worst critique anyone can ever give is, “It’s good.” I find that after I’ve written a story, I need to take a step back from it for a few days otherwise I’ll miss my mistakes.
Step 3: Find a magazine that suits your story
Your story is now polished and ready for publication, so now it’s time to find the proper home for it. Use lit mag databases on sites like pw.org and thereviewreview.net to scan through magazines. I prefer the Review Review because of you can search for genre, submission dates, payment etc. where pw is only sorted by genre. Once you find a few magazines that fit your standards, check them out and see if your story is a good fit for them. The best way to do this is by actually reading what they’ve previously published; most magazines have free back issues on their sites. This is time-consuming. Don’t expect to find the perfect few in a day.
Step 4: Submitting
Read the submission guidelines carefully. Make sure you meet all of the lit mag’s requirements before submitting. You don’t want to disqualify your work before they’ve even read it by not following their rules. You’ll often come across mags that have “simultaneous submissions accepted” in their guidelines. I had no idea what this meant for the longest time, but what it means is that you can submit the same story to more than one magazine at a time, and you should! The more mags you send your story to, the better chances of getting published you have.
Most mags use Submittable and sometimes charge a $3.00 fee to cover its cost. Be wary of anything that charges more than the submittable fee. Sometimes there’s a small reading fee, but it should never be more than $5 (unless it’s a contest; they tend to charge more, but I wouldn’t spend anymore than $20 on these). Think of these small fees as an investment in your future as a writer.
Submit your work with a cover letter. Check out this amazing article from Writer’s Digest on how to write one (it’s super easy). Seriously, actually do this. I didn’t for a really long time and although the story is the editor’s main concern, it wasn’t until I actually started doing a proper cover letter that I got published. Coincidence? I think not.
Step 5: Wait!
Sometimes it takes lit mags a long time (months!) to get to your work and get back to you. I didn’t hear anything from the Write Room for seven months when my story’s submission status changed to accepted on Submittable. Even after that, they still didn’t contact me to let me know it was going to be in the Spring issue. I mean, if I didn’t have my Submittable notifications on, I wouldn’t have even known my story was getting published. The nice thing about finding mags on Review Review is that you can find mags that respond within less than three months if you’re particularly impatient.
Step 6: Expect rejection
I don’t put this step in to discourage you, but to be a realist. I have a whole file folder of generic rejection slips that are addressed to “contributor.” However, some mags are actually cool enough to send a personalized rejection explaining why your story wasn’t for them. These are something to treasure and learn from! Don’t get discouraged. It’s all part of the process and all the more reason to send out your story to as many magazines as possible.
Step 7: Keep submitting until you’re a famous author
This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
Now you know how to submit stories to lit mags, but why submit to lit mags at all? Good question, alter ego. I’ve been told this by numerous creative writing profs and Stephen King’s On Writing also reiterates this: each published story is a stepping stone to building a resume which publishing companies will take more seriously when the time comes to try to publish a novel. Also, it’s pretty fricking cool to be a published writer.
Oh and if you were wondering, my favourite lit mag is Lost in Thought. It’s lyrical, creepy, and dark…all the things I love in literature.