How to Get Started with Submissions

Decide to Begin the Journey
After years of traumatizing manuscript-feedback classes and many failed writing groups, I decided it was time to jump into the cold, foreboding lake of submissions. You can edit until you die. But at a certain point, enough is enough. Time to start shopping your work around. But where to start?

I decided to write this to tell you about my process. I’m not widely published, but I submit with gusto. You can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket. You cannot get published if you don’t submit. Submissions are a part of your job as a writer.

Where to Submit
Everyone knows certain venues like Harper’s and Ploughshares. Certainly, I encourage you to dream big. I do. Go for it, submit to the top tier publications. You never know. But while we all have a chance of being the next big discovery, it’s important to realize the pond is small and shrinking everyday. Best to start looking at the wider landscape out there.

I always read the annual O. Henry Prize Stories. I believe it is the best short story collection. Though in my humble opinion the quality and breadth has seriously declined in recent years, Best American Short Stories is also a must-read for aspiring writers. I look up the bios of the writers I like the most. Where else have they published?

What about the “second tier”? I tend to think if it has a state in the name, it’s second tier. Then there are those journals of the “Bob’s Basement” ilk. You have to decide what is the best strategy for you. If you feel you need to start submitting to lesser known journals to build up confidence, that’s perfectly okay. I mostly submit to places not according to how well-known they are, but where I think my piece would be in like company.

The best tool I have found to discover more obscure lit reviews is Twitter. I follow hundreds of lit journals on Twitter and the “Who to Follow” column on the left has helped me discover many journals I otherwise would’ve never heard of. Poets & Writers Magazine also has a comprehensive list of literary reviews on their website.

Keeping Track
There are pay services to track, such as Duotrope. This website can also help you find places to submit to. But from the beginning, I have created my own spreadsheet.

Submission Log Screenshot

The color coding and format might drive someone else into a seizure, but it makes sense for me. I have columns for, above all, the length of pieces the publications accept, when their reading periods are and if there are fees to submit. I have colors for a story that is still out (green) and when they get rejected (red).

I started submitting seriously eight months ago. Currently, I am sending out four short stories. I have received 41 rejections and 29 are still pending. Rejections can come back in as short as a week to as long as six months…and beyond.

My usual schedule is to devote the better part of two days a month to submitting. However, if I’m editing or writing and not getting anywhere, I’ll take a break and submit.

This is a good link about the proper format for manuscripts:

Full credit and all rights reserved to author William Shunn, Twitter: @Shunn

Cover Letters
You can find examples of the standard format of cover letters many places online. Here is an example of one of mine:

Dear Exclusive Literary Review Fiction Editor,

Please consider my previously unpublished short story, “Scared Stiff,” for inclusion in Exclusive Literary Review. This is a 2,300-word fiction submission. This piece is under consideration at other publications.

Thank you for your time and for this opportunity to submit.


Scared Hopeful

Include a list of three of your most current publications at the bottom. If, like me, you are a beginner, leave this blank.

Some publications ask for a short 50-100 word biographical note to be included with the cover letter.

My current bit:

Stephanie Golisch writes screenplays, short stories, travel essays and poetry. She is co-founder of the Roving Writers zine and was published in the Lost & Found anthology of PDX Writers. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Read her blog at and follow her on Twitter: @StephGolisch.

Snail Mail
Many journal editors still cling to their masochistic desire for paper cuts. Kinky. Hey, everyone’s got their guilty pleasure. I buy large brown envelopes in bulk and I know the work schedules of everyone at my local post office. I don’t usually send out enough of any one story at a time to make a trip to the copy place worth it.

As always, pay attention to the fine details. Many reviews do have preferences on staples and paper clips.

Best of Luck to You!
I hope my two cents can help you in some fashion. There’s no easy way to begin, you simply take a deep breath and start. Rejections sting, but I have gotten somewhat used to them.

I’ve heard the statistic tossed around that it’s harder to get published in a lit journal than to get into Harvard. I don’t let that stop me, but this knowledge softens the inevitable blow when I see that self-addressed stamped envelope lurking in my mailbox carrying its message of rejection.

Have heart. What is difficult to attain is most treasured. Take it from musicians, artists and actors: The first break is the toughest one to get.

Please let me know if you are successful in placing your work!

7 responses to “How to Get Started with Submissions

  1. It’s amazing how different genre and “literary” markets are for short fiction, given how fuzzy the line is between the pieces themselves. Genre markets never charge reading fees, almost never accept snail-mail submissions, and have response times that absolutely destroy litmags. The literary magazine isn’t dead (or, in my opinion, dying), but it needs to learn from the innovators, and right now, all of those innovators are in genre fiction.


  2. Ian, I couldn’t agree more! I couldn’t believe how different the process was for you and my “writing spouse,” Nadia, who is a YA/fantasy author. Many lit journals are still resisting being dragged into this brave new world!


  3. Thank you for posting this; I need to start submitting again. I did regularly in the past and had very good results, but my life has been so scattered the past few years that I’d gotten out of the habit, except for writing online. A very helpful post!


  4. Stephanie,
    Thank you. Wiring is a solitary sport and it’s nice to know there are others out there, dreaming, scheming.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.