While it is summer, a number of literary magazines are actively seeking submissions: Sweet: A Literary Confection, Diode, Hobble Creek Review, and scores of others. The dedicated editors of those journals must read and respond to hundreds (sometimes thousands) of submissions of creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. As the advisory editor of a regional literary magazine (and faculty advisor), I often forget that the etiquette of magazine submission isn’t something one knows intuitively. Of course, all editors have their quirks and pet peeves. With that fact in mind, I offer my own list of submission advice:
Read to the journal to which you are submitting. I know that this seems like no-nonsense advice, but I’m often surprised by how many submitters to Pegasus are unfamiliar with the journal. If the journal focuses on regional writers, and you’re outside the region, then don’t submit. If the journal publishes literary fiction, then don’t send them your detective story (try the fantastic Plots with Guns instead). If the journal publishes narrative poetry, and your work tends to be narrative; then don’t send. And don’t assume that you’ll be the exception. At Pegasus, we’ve gotten cover letters that begin, “Dear Editor, I know that you publish . . .” followed by a *but*. Bad idea.
Read the submission guidelines. If the guidelines say that the journal doesn’t take hard copy, then don’t email to ask if you can send hard copy (it’s happened). If the guidelines say to use Submishmash, don’t email your submission. A writer once emailed me with an .RTF attachment and a note that said, “Sorry, I can’t figure out how to use the submission manager.” We didn’t print that writer’s work. Magazines have specific reasons for publishing guidelines. Follow them.
Formatting matters. When you are preparing a submission, place no more than one poem on a printed page. Use a serif font like Times New Roman, and triple space between your title and your poem. If the poem is longer than a page, indicate in brackets whether or not the page break is also a stanza break. For prose submission, use a standard serif font, and double space your document unless the submission guidelines indicate otherwise. For prose, be sure to number your pages. For all submissions, be certain that your contact information is on the page, usually in a header or a footer.
Cover letters. Unless the submission guidelines indicate otherwise, most editors expect a short cover letter with your submission. Some disagree, but I think that best cover letters are business-like and to the point. Simple is usually better. Don’t waste an editor’s time with a long summary of your story or a treatise on your poetics.
Usually, cover letters include a short biographical statement. Some writers write these in third person, some in first. I’ve heard the argument that third person seems presumptuous, but as an editor, I like third person bios. That way, should we accept the piece, I can cut and paste it. Biographical statements should be short and list only your most recent publications. If you have no publications, then don’t list any. Try something like “Jane Doe is an undergraduate at Harvard University” or something along those lines. Don't be cute and don't waste an editor's time. Best bet: read a copy of the journal to which you’re submitting and mimic the biographical statements it publishes.
Whatever the case may be, remember that the cover letter is not the submission. It should be professional, but not the thing an editor remembers—leave that to your writing.
I could say much more about submitting, but I’ll end by saying that I think submitting your work is important, and doing it correctly matters. We at Pegasus would love to read it, but be sure to read our submission guidelines. In a future blog entry, I’m going to talk about constructive ways to handle rejection, a fact of a writer’s life. Until then, keep writing and keep sending out your work.
O for a muse of fire,