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Q1 2005

Get Published in Literary Journals

Getting published in literary journals is not easy. But you can increase the odds by submitting your work to journals that are open to your style. How do you find such journals? By reading contributors notes in literary journals and copyright pages in collections.

Read the contributors notes

When you read a story, poem, or essay that is similar in style to your work, flip to the contributors page. It is usually in the back of the journal. Authors list where they've published before—a goldmine of information.

If a journal has a very specific style, then it's worth reading all of the contributors notes. For example, 3rd bed publishes "work informed by a surreal or absurdist aesthetic." Why not check out where all these writers are publishing? Chances are some of them have placed this style of work elsewhere.

Read the copyright page

When you read a collection of stories, poems, or essays by a writer whose style is similar to your own, flip to the copyright page. It's on the back of the title page.

If any of the individual pieces were first published in literary journals, you'll find out where here. First and second books are especially good to mine for this information. Writers who are firmly established tend to be solicited. It's more helpful to see where they published when they were still emerging. But this is not a hard and fast rule. Journals that solicit work are often open to new and emerging writers too.

Read the submission guidelines

Once you've found some promising journals, go to the web. Most literary journals have a website. Read the submission guidelines and some of the sample work. If the journal still looks like a good fit, submit.

And to further increase your odds, follow the submission guidelines to a T.

Some dos and don'ts for snail-mail submissions

Most journals still require you to mail your submission the old-fashioned way. The exception to this rule is online journals.

  • Do write your full name and street address on the outside of your 9x11 envelope. Address it to the Fiction, Poetry, or Nonfiction Editor.
  • Do include your full name and contact info (mailing address, email address, phone number) on your cover letter and the first page of your manuscript. Include your name in the footer of each subsequent page.
  • Don't tell them what your manuscript is about in your cover letter. Keep this short and sweet. And frame it like a business letter.
  • Don't forget to include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Otherwise you won't hear back even though you've included your email address.

Some dos and don'ts for email submissions

Very few print journals accept email submissions even if they have a website. Make sure you read those submission guidelines. But online journals do accept email submissions. Most of them prefer email submissions. Some will only accept email submissions.

  • Do include all of your contact info at the end of your "cover letter." In an email submission, the body of your email is your cover letter. Start off with "Dear…" End with your contact info.
  • Do pay close attention to the guidelines. There are often instructions for what to put in the subject line of your email. If you don't follow these instructions, your submission may be filed as junk mail. And pay attention to whether the journal requires you to attach your submission or paste it in the body of the email.
  • Do replace "curly quotes" with "smart quotes" when you are required to paste your submission into the body of the email. Otherwise quotation marks and apostrophes will be replaced by odd characters. And your story, poem, or essay will be hard to read.
  • Don't give your electronic file an obscure name. Follow the guidelines. Use your last name and/or the title of the piece if there are no guidelines. Make it easy for the editors to keep track of your submission once they've saved it to their hard drive.
  • Don't send a piece that exceeds the journals word limits. Electronic journals tend to publish shorter pieces. It's hard to read longer pieces on the web. Again, pay close attention to the submission guidelines.

The Q2 2005 column will be about getting the most of your MFA.

Copyright © 2003–2009 Angela Jane Fountas. All rights reserved.
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