You’ve wondered, worried and labored over every word and phrase in your latest piece of short fiction. When you perfect the last edit and pronounce your piece “done,” go ahead and have a celebratory break with a latte and a few cleansing breaths. Enjoy this time, because when you come back, you’ll realize that you’re anything but “done.” You’re about to start the tedious and daunting task of submitting your work for publication. Don’t panic. Just learn to think like a literary journal editor. While all journals and magazines have their own unique submission methods and procedures, there are a few tips that will serve you well over most mediums.
Let’s talk cover letters…
- Always include a cover letter, unless the publisher specifically requests otherwise. Not including a cover letter comes across as flippant and frankly, just a bit lazy.
- Keep it brief. Editors are often frazzled people. Don’t offer up a list of five dozen previous publications, just give them the highlight reel.
- Entertain. Tell the editors why you’re qualified to write the story you’re submitting or tell them where the inspiration for the piece came from.
The main course: your short fiction manuscript…
- Pay close attention to the submission guidelines and be sure to submit your work in the format and/or file type requested. Ignoring submission guidelines is like saying “Here, editor. You spend your time reading my work. But just know that I took absolutely no time reading or considering your standards.”
- Avoid font insanity. More than likely, the editor reading your work already has a headache. Don’t add to the misery with something offensive like four different fonts or endless italics.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread. Basic spell/grammar check is not enough. Take the time to read your manuscript aloud and you’ll inevitably discover errors that your computer missed. Also, pay attention to consistency in your spacing, indents and margins. Basic proofreading errors can render a good manuscript completely unprofessional and doom it to the rejection pile.
Now, just wait…
Some publishers allow you to “nudge” them if you haven’t heard anything regarding your submission after a specific period of time. Most do not. So… don’t! If you haven’t heard back and you’re still within the standard response time window, or even if you’re just outside it, think carefully before you “nudge” an editor. Sometimes, they bite.
Dealing with it…
Rejections happen. They are not personal and sometimes, they aren’t even intended to be a reflection on the overall value to your piece. Editors are considering things like upcoming themes, available space, trends and timing. So your fiction just may be stellar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for every publication. Never shoot back a terse reply to a rejection notice! Not only will you burn your bridge with that particular publication, you just may end up with a reputation in the small world of literary journals as a diva.
Acceptances happen, too. And it’s natural to be thrilled when they do. Thank your editors promptly and provide them with any additional material they have requested. Don’t leave them hanging.
And most importantly, please remember: despite mounting evidence to the contrary, editors are people too!
Kerri Farrell Foley is the managing editor of Crack the Spine Literary Magazine (http://www.crackthespine.com/) and the author of “In the Margins.” (http://www.kerrifarrellfoley.com/p/in-margins.html)