Tips for Submitting to Literary Journals

Photo by Mohammad Danish on

I’ve talked about how important it is to submit to literary journals, but how does one submit to literary journals successfully? Because there’s plenty of options out there, they all have their own guidelines, and many will say no. It can be a difficult and frustrating process (especially with rejections), but you are a writer. Your writing has a home somewhere. But as you grow as a writer, you have room to learn and recognize mistakes writers make when submitting to journals and magazines.

I’ve been a prose reader at Farside Review for a few months now, and I recently just became a prose reader for Sepia Journal. Needless to say, I’ve read a lot of fiction with the intent of either accepting or rejecting them. These are a few things you can do improve your chances of acceptance.

Check Your Grammar and Punctuation

This should go without saying, but it’s actually a pretty common thing for readers to spot tiny mistakes while looking over submissions. And sometimes when there’s a few things going on with grammar and punctuation, it can take away from the good qualities your story may have.

Grammar and punctuation both seem like small things, and sometimes, as writers, we just don’t notice if we put a comma in the wrong place. But when submitting to literary journals, these small things can become big. One of the best things you can do when preparing to submit is reading your draft several times, just as you would do if you were writing a full book. Taking the time to check and double check will definitely show, and it will comes across how much you want to put your best forth.

Another great option is getting a second opinion, such as an alpha or beta reader, or even a friend for a quick read. A second pair of eyes creates a new perspective and potentially find mistakes you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.

Have Believable Dialogue

I once took a creative writing class that focused on the short story. One of the main lessons my teacher, Dr. Sarah Burton, taught that stuck with me the most was about dialogue. She explained how writers often use dialogue as a way to get their message across, but it never comes across as natural because the characters aren’t saying things you would normally hear in a conversation.

And after learning that, I realized how much I see this a lot in all different kinds of works in progress, especially with short forms. You can’t put as much into a short story as you would a novel, so if you want to get a point across you have to do it quickly. The point is, if someone wouldn’t say it in real life, they shouldn’t say it in a story.

Having believable dialogue will SHOW readers what you’re saying, which follows the classic “show, don’t tell” mantra that everyone chants. And with many literary journals today wanting you to write on certain themes, keeping yourself from falling into the trap of shoving these themes into the forefront by having your characters say it is a definite plus.

Don’t Put in Too Much

It can be also tempting to include a lot of information in a piece meant for a literary journal. This doesn’t apply to everything, though. Many places look for longer pieces such as novellas, long fiction, or even novels. However, when literary journals look for fiction, flash, and other genres, they generally look for under ten thousand words.

The temptation is to add a broad scope to a short story as if it were like a book. Sure, your story has to have detail, but a short story doesn’t have as much capacity as a novel would. That doesn’t mean your story can’t have depth. Pick one subject, one theme, one message you want to talk about and do as much as you can with it.

Make Sure It’s a Good Fit

Finally, take a look at what the journal is looking for and make sure you follow that to the best of your ability. This isn’t going to work every time, but it doesn’t help to send the same piece to ten different places at once when they’re all looking for something specific. Rushing the process only makes things more frustrating, for everyone. Journals tell you to take a look at published pieces for a reason. But it’s possible to tailor something to the journal and still let your voice shine.

Remember, rejections are normal. This isn’t foolproof advice for success. Just don’t give up. Rejections are frustrating, but it’s a frustration that you don’t dwell on, because it doesn’t define you. Just keep working, learning, and submitting.

Want to know more? Check out some of my other posts while my portfolio is under construction! You’ll also find some helpful links to my work in journals in the Original Writing page. You can find me in Ariel Chart, The Cedarville Review, Nailpolish Stories, Bluepepper, 50 Word Stories, The Aurora Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Drabble, Anti-heroin Chic, Art of Autism, Your Daily Poem, Sanctuary Magazine, and Sledgehammer Lit. You can now also find my FREE microchap at Origami Poems Project, which I am also offering here.


Leave a Reply