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Give Your Submissions a Fighting Chance

It's fall, and many literary journals have just woken up from their summer naps. So it's a good time to submit your work. Here are some tips for ensuring that the work you send actually gets read.

Submission guidelines

Before submitting to a journal, read its submission guidelines. Chances are you'll find them on the Web. Then follow them to a T. This means all instructions regarding manuscript format, how and where to send, submission period or deadlines, etc.

The manuscript

The number one complaint from editors is that they get too many half-baked stories, poems, and essays. So don't send a piece until it's on par with the work the journal publishes. One way to test a piece is to put it away for a month after you think it's done. Then pull it out and read it and revise the parts that make you cringe. Oh, and include your full name, contact info, and title on each piece you submit, plus page numbers.

The cover letter

Keep it simple. Don't stretch the truth. If you don't have publication credits or a creative writing degree, don't sweat it. And whatever you do, do NOT expound on the piece. Include your full name and contact info. Here's a sample cover letter (PDF). I repeat, keep it simple. Trust me, when an editor sees a cover letter like this sample, s/he knows that the submitter knows what s/he is doing and is much more likely to treat your submission with respect.


Don't forget to include a self-addressed stamped envelope so that the journal can respond. If you want your work back, make sure your SASE has enough postage. Attach the SASE to your cover letter with a paper clip.

The envelope

Use a 9x11 envelope; journals use the envelope to transport your submission around to the assistant editors/readers. Include your full name and address on the envelope. Make it clear which genre lurks inside, either by including the genre editor's name or something simple like "fiction submission."

Electronic submissions

If a journal accepts email submissions, then follow those guidelines to a T. Most online journals only accept email submissions. Be sure to pay special attention to whether the journal wants an attachment or directs you to paste your submission into the body of an email. Many have specific requirements for the subject of the email to keep it from becoming spam. So pay attention.

Questions? Email info [at] writehabit [dot] org. Best of luck!

Copyright © 2003–2009 Angela Jane Fountas. All rights reserved.
Contact: info[at]writehabit[dot]org