11 Things you need to understand when submitting to literary magazines

I think this week I passed 100 hours of reading random literary magazines as part of my submissions project, and have now passed the 100 submissions mark as well. These are the pieces of information I think fellow writers may want to know:

1. There are 9000 plus literary magazines on Submittable alone.

2. By my count, about 2 out of 3 literary magazines are on Submittable.

3. A good half or more magazines now charge a submission fee, typically $3.

4. Annual contests are not uncommon, with entry fees from $3 to over $30.  Anything more than $20, that’s a lot. Maybe too much, unless, like some folks in Vegas, you’re feeling lucky.

5. The quality and character of published work varies widely. Literary quality is, as agents always say, subjective, and subject matter and speaker characteristics do count. That means if you share the editor’s political ideals, geographic location, hobby … it helps to get your work a positive reading.

6. When you see a magazine and you think, now these people get it, they are more likely to respond positively to what you send them.  If you get them, they will more likely get you.

7. When you match your work to their editorial focus, the same thing.

8.  Most literary magazine editors are also writers.  Who knows why they have started a magazine.  Probably not so they could publish their own work, come on people.  Don’t be that way.  It’s probably so that there would be a magazine that represented their own artistic and philosophical ideals.

9. They had to do this because it is not easily possible to just find someone else’s magazine that shares your ideals and tag along.  Literary magazines are exclusive.  They don’t let you join the editorial staff easily even if the job doesn’t pay.

10.  Would you fit in?  Refer to Sylvia Plath’s poem, The Applicant. The First two stanzas only.

11. That said, running a literary magazine is a time-consuming, labor-intensive and relatively thankless job which requires dozens of hours of largely volunteer labor monthly, weekly, maybe even daily.  So if editors send form rejections, don’t get back to you for three months, and are likely to respond not at all to pleas for substantive reasons for rejection (no, I am not stupid enough to write an email asking them for this, but I’ve heard stories) you now know why.  Their editorship is their service to the universe, being open to discussions with writers about rejected work is simply not realistic.

12. Persevere and you will find your warm spot in the literary magazine universe.  If you keep writing, I don’t think you can avoid it.  Refer to Charles Johnson on Writing Fiction if you want to see more of what I mean.

The WIP: The beginning 50 pages, and the rest of it

I was getting ready to make a pie for my son, and as I was standing in the kitchen peeling apples, I reflected that three agents have seen the full of my novel, and that I’m not sure whether they got past the first 50 pages or not. 

But it’s worse than that: I was reading at at writers.com and found that here, too, the first fifty pages of the novel were the focus of a class taking 6 weeks, in which instructor Sandra Novak posted “if those first 50 pages, which lay the groundwork for the entire plot, aren’t working, more problems will often mount up … “

The whole thing is a concern.  And while, I would argue, for the type of book that changes the world, the first fifty pages are rarely the focus (ever heard anyone claim that “that first fifty pages in War and Peace, without it, the book wouldn’t be the same) nevertheless, books which never get published never become the Great American (or Great Anything) novel. Thus, the first fifty pages merit special consideration. 

So what did I do?  Started rewriting my first fifty pages.  I wasn’t sure about taking the class (the temptation to do so was tempered by the $360 price tag) but I stored the possibility of the class as something that could be purchased with my Christmas money.

As for the rest of the novel, the last 250 pages, well … it’s better than the first part.  I don’t know if this is typical and I don’t know if it’s good or  bad.  But I knew this already, from when the book went through the workshop.  So … the goal is to get the first 50 pages up to the speed of the rest of the book.  And start submitting again. 

The Submissions Challenge Month Four, in which I get more positive overall results. A list of four things I’ve learned so far through this process.

The fourth month’s challenge, in which I decided to submit 30 stories in 30 days, was the most intense of all the challenges yet.  I can now report the stats:

I submitted 21 pieces to journals of various types.

Also, I submitted my novel query to 11 agents.

My results:

One literary journal acceptance! Also:  one agent request for a full of my manuscript.

Nine rejections, four with kind notes or invitations to resubmit.  Twenty items from the challenge remain in submission, along with a dozen or more previous subs.  The full of my manuscript was rejected after two weeks. However, the agent gave me some helpful advice and was quite cordial.

How do I feel?  I feel like I’m getting somewhere.

I went back and read my entire #submissionschallenge thread.  Seeing that I’ve gotten faster and stronger on submitting is really encouraging.  Important learnings in the last four months:

1) Sources for markets:  submittable, literistic, duotrope, and blogs which list magazines winning the Pushcart Prize such as this linked post at TheJohnFox.

2) You might want to consider paying for submissions since the economics of the situation have changed.  Then again, maybe not that often.

3) Multiple submissions, yes. It’s okay, really. If a piece isn’t submitted to four markets, the process of submitting, for me, is not complete.

4) Editors and agents are real people and they love literature as much as you do.  And yes, they are reading what you send them.  Perhaps the best introduction you can give as a new writer is that you know of their work and respect it.  I found this out by including what I appreciated about the literary magazines I was researching and by including details gleaned largely from @twitter in manuscript queries, particularly the #MSWL thread. 

It didn’t take very long for me to get ticked off at paying for submissions

Yeah, I have to admit.  The first month I decided to try it, I spent $73, most on entering three contests, which do tend to be pricey, but the rest on those $3 Submittable submission fees.  And after doing it, I didn’t feel as good as I hoped. 

The stats on the paid for subs aren’t really promising, yet, either, although I have yet to hear from most of them: 

Paid subs:  8, one rejection, 7 still out.  That’s 13% rejection, and 87% still in submission. 

Unpaid subs:  28, 5 rejections, one requested manuscript, 22 still out.  That would be:  17% rejection, 4% acceptance (count manuscript request as acceptance) and 79% still in submission. 

The contests still haven’t been called, and they could be a big deal, or no deal, but at this point, the pay-for-subs plan is still unproven.

As for my emotional response to putting almost my whole allowance in the submission payments pile, well, that’s just one more hurdle faced by being a writer.  As is Monday morning ennui. 

Need to get up and go to the library. 

How will I know whether it’s time to send the Manuscript out? And what will I do once it is?

Since I started querying my novel last week, I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends on twitter and everywhere else too about the querying process, when you should send out you book, how many people should you query at a time, how long might it take, how will you feel, and how will you know if this is the final edit, the final agent, etc … it’s left me with the feeling Whitney Houston sings about in her famous song:  How Will I Know?

I found a blog post on The Debutante Ball this morning by Martine Founier Watson, debut author of 2019, who tells us of her own experience of getting an agent, including within the post all those intangibles (not how to write a query, but how to get the fortitude to send one out, for example) that you and I need to know to keep querying and keep revising.  I heartily recommend this blog post.  I have read a lot of blogs about writing and this one really delivers the goods. 

Thank you Martine!

Write a synopsis: 7 prominent bloggers tell you how

The empty page is even scarier when starting a synopsis …

Just when I thought it was smooth sailing to get starting on pitching agents about my novel, I realized that there was one step I had so far skipped: rewriting the synopsis.  My heart fell to my very shoes.  Dusting off my old synopsis for this WIP, I quickly realized it wasn’t very good.  So, off to the blogs:  Thank God, my writer colleagues were there waiting to help me. And they’re there for you too, if you’re so inclined.


1. How to Write a Synopsis for your Novel I put Graeme Shimmin’s post about writing a synopsis first because he gets it with humor: this writing thing is as emotionally fraught as it is all-consuming. Finding out that after you’ve finished your novel that you’ve got to write a synopsis is not just bad news, it’s downright painful.  His linked blog on archetypes, based on the famous writer’s tome Hero’s Journey, is also useful reading.

2. Jane Friedman is building on all that: The synopsis is probably the single most despised document you might be asked to prepare.  Make sure you detail the character’s motives and emotions. This is what really drives your story.  She gives a detailed list of what to include and what to avoid.  And a list of links on how to write the synopsis, including to Miss Snark’s 100 synopsis archive.

3. How to Write a Novel Synopsis with An Example Jericho Writers.  Well this has some indispensable formatting nuts and bolts, such as: Bold your character name. Write your synopsis from the bones up, from the novel’s structure. Tell what plot developments mean for your protag, what’s at stake, people! Comes with Agent Submissions Builder pop-up, which I can’t vouch for because I didn’t do it. You might take these people a little more seriously if I told you:  They’re from Oxford, UK. Real deep intellectual country.

4. Agent Carly Watters: How to Write a Book Synopsis  Five steps to writing your synopsis, and remember the character arc:  “A one dimensional main character will suck the air out of your manuscript’s tires.” Well said.

5.  How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel  by Glen C. Strathy.  (OMG he spells his name the same as my ex husband, but I’ll put his blog in here anyway.)  Go ahead and rush past the intro to the meat of this blog post, which details various elements including plot, character, relationship, and theme that your synopsis must have, and then continues to tell how to make a set of index cards which will, if not write your synopsis for you, make it significantly easier.

6. How to Write a Novel Synopsis According to novelist Pearl Luke, ” what you present must be a stirring distillation that leaves readers eager for more.”  Okay, I look at my own personal synopsis and think, I may not be there yet.  But there’s hope. Luke provides you with a very detailed plan, including writing a “major synopsis” (my term) 20 pages long that she says will be useful later in the marketing of your book, before whittling to a “minor synopsis” of less than five pages.  Also includes detailed formatting notes.  If you refer to this one and number 3 above you should have a pretty sound idea of how to format.

7. Learn how to write a synopsis like a pro by Courtney Carpenter.  No roundup of blogs about how to do anything writing would be complete without an entry from the venerable Writer’s Digest, which has been advising writers since before print went decisively digital.  This brief blog will give you critical synopsis vocabulary, and also a quick list of what to avoid. Unfortunately, just before they actually tell you how to write the synopsis, they instead recommend you buy a course for $79, by Jane Friedman, to get the pertinent details.  Jane Friedman’s blog post on the same topic, of course, is #2 on this list.  Having read quite a bit of Jane’s blog, I admit I would wholeheartedly like to see that webinar.  But given that my budget for writing development for November would be wholly subsumed in the purchase, and would leave nothing left for Submittable.com and contest entry fees, I will have to mortify my curiosity, and just write my synopsis based on the blog posts I’ve summarized.



Submissions Challenge Month Three: Accepting the hard work of writing; rejection statistics of the month

By the end of the month, I had run through my budget for submitting and was only submitting to free markets.

Submission Tracker 3It is now that I begin to see the real hard work of writing.  I mean, in order to get 22 submissions in 30 days, I had to pretty much work on the submissions challenge every weekend day and some nights.  Kindof like grad school.

Actually, it was grad school which made me believe I could do this.  It was clear from finishing grad school that if I was disciplined, I could carve a good 15 to 20 hours of writing/reading/thinking time out of the average work week, with short bursts of up to 40 to 50 hours in seven days.  Deciding to apply that kind of work load to writing was just the next step.

This month I have made 22 submissions.  I received two “warmer” rejections, each with an invitation to resubmit, from literary magazines.  I received five “stone cold” rejections, with one flash fiction piece getting a quick rejection twice.  I wrote “what’s wrong with this story” on its line on the submission tracker and stopped submitting it for the moment.

I did not get a request of any type from any of the four #pitchwars mentors I queried.  Although I’m sure I’m not alone, it was a disappointment.  Made me feel like back when I was in 7th grade, and I wasn’t one of the popular girls. Perhaps I will try again next year.  To the organization’s credit, they didn’t charge me or any other contestant anything, which given some of the other contest fees could be seen as quite generous.

Last month I wrote that I was willing to pay to make submissions and enter contests.  I spent $73 submitting stories this month, mostly for three contests.  In addition, I paid $8.50 for the Literistic List of the Month, which was pretty helpful.  During the second half of the month, I saw several more contests I might have entered. But it just cost too much. By the end of the month, I had run through my budget for submitting and was only submitting to free markets.  We get paid on the first of the month around here.  I had to cut back.

So, to sum up the stats:  9/22 to 10/22

Submissions:  22

Personal or warmer rejections: 2

Stone Cold rejections: 9, including the four from #pitchwars

Still in submission:  23, including six emailed and website-form submissions and 17 with Submittable.

Next month’s goal will be the original first month goal again:  30 submissions in 30 days.

And no, I am not doing NaNoWriMo.   I’m doing my submissions challenge until I get an agent or enough street cred that I’ve got editors who’ll just look at my work.

I admit this may take a while.


Submissions challenge: I hit the wall about how many simultaneous subs you can make with one manuscript

Submission Tracker 2I have gotten 11 submissions done so far this month, entered three contests, and I can’t seem to decide what to do next.  My novel is almost ready to submit, I could just start sending query letters to agents, but if I did, I would have to really rush through its final read-through if it got requested.  And if it’s not ready to go out, why would I start submitting just to fly into a panicked editing rush if someone wants to see it?

Then there’s my short submissions.  I can’t seem to simultaneously submit them without feeling this strange anxiety.  I know that this is what lots of successful writers do.  So why can’t I just do it?

Meanwhile, the ‘full’ of my memoir is still out with an agent in New York.  It’s time for a response but I am afraid to write and ask about it, because I know that the answer is overwhelmingly likely to be “yeah, sorry, but we’re going to pass.”

I wonder if this happens to anyone else, unable to move forward because they’re unable to check on a manuscript?

So I have just the short fiction and memoir pieces.  I read somewhere that you should not do simultaneous submissions that are not evenly matched — where if the less exclusive magazine accepts, you’ll be disappointed to take the manuscript out from the more-prestigious.

Meanwhile, yeah, that image is my submission tracker.  The colors stand for such things as completed/not complete ms., submitted (green) accepted, rejected, rejected with note, and suggested submission that I haven’t done yet (that’s yellow).


More “Should writers pay to make submissions?” Jane Friedman has answers.

I was reading along a Google search thread which I generated in my quest to find out how much it actually costs to use Submittable if you’re a literary journal (best info:  $180 to $1100 a year, depending on how many subs you get) where I turned up this really thought-provoking blog by Jane Friedman, which builds on mine of last week, when I admitted to become willing to pay for subs.img_20180703_0758292105117800.jpg  The essence of Jane’s blog post is:

“Hey writers, I used to be on the side of ‘no paying for submissions, no matter what,’ but the economics of the situation have changed. “

You totally should read this.  In fact, if you haven’t, probably a lot of the questions you’re asking yourself and the writing universe are answered on this well-developed blog by a magazine and book publishing insider (worked at both Writer’s Digest and Virginia Quarterly Review).  Talk about working both sides of the fence.

Jane also offers a writer’s coaching service that looks pretty reputable, and the charges are right there in digital print, no request form needed.  Best blog find of the week, perhaps month.  Thank you Jane. 


My Third Submissions Challenge Begins, and I explain why I decide to pay money to research and submit

It may be a huge reversal in writer philosophy but I have dropped my refusal to pay for writing support services,  having joined Literistic ($8 a month) and Duotrope ($5 a month). Under Literistic’s advice (given in its free, and excellent, Submitting 101 course) I also decided that it’s okay to pay to submit to contests.

Why did I change my mind about paying for writing services? The argument made by Eliza Robertson (Twitter: @ElizaRoberts0n) in Submitting 101 was overwhelming:  the potential return on paying for submissions was much more than the cost.  The reason for not paying to enter contests at this point, I began to see, was pride, the money being hardly significant.

For me, this is because years ago I went to teaching school for the purpose of making money. Using this strategy, I reasoned, I would never surrender creative control on topic or design of my writing work in order to get money from editors. I had been working in magazine journalism and had seen more and more crossover of “the wall” which is supposed to exist in magazine publishing between the advertising department and editorial. I felt my artistic integrity was being compromised; the ‘giving the people what they want’ was taking over, and it was not the readers but the advertisers who were the people some editors cared about.

That being the case, paying to get information or even paying to enter contests is a small concession.  I rate my time’s value by the rate I’m paid hourly as a teacher, and if I measure it that way, there’s no question that both Duotrope and Literistic’s charges are worth the time I save.

I stop short of saying “this is my hobby, and it’s not an expensive one when you think about it” (having sold my horse after five years last spring, I know what it is to have an expensive hobby. ) This is placing a premium on making art.  It’s more like what I told my younger brother last week, when he asked if he should take time to do art:

“Always take time to do art whenever possible,” I said. And I mean it, not just for him, but for every person who feels so inclined.

And spending a few bucks so you have more time to do art, and less time researching publications, is totally worth it.

On to the Submissions Challenge Number 3:  Since during the first challenge, I submitted seven times, and in the second, 16 times, for the third I will try for twenty submissions.

A report is due back from me no later than October 22 … we’ll see how this goes.