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How to Submit Your Writing to a Literary Journal

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

When it comes to publishing short fiction, submitting to literary journals is a significant part of a professional writer’s work. Over the course of your career, you may send a thousand cover letters to accompany your literary fiction short stories or science fiction novellas to literary magazines. Learning how to submit stories for publication is an important part of freelance writing.



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6 Things to Consider When Submitting to a Literary Journal

Submitting a piece of writing to a literary journal is a relatively simple process. The most important thing you need on a personal level is a thick skin and the expectation that you will get many rejections. Freelance writing is hard work, but if you follow these steps and keep submitting your best work, you’ll be in good shape to get a piece published.

Here are some tips for how to submit to a literary journal:

  1. Select a piece of writing you are proud of. You should first have a piece of writing that you think is worth publishing. New writers should be especially discerning to make sure the piece they are sending is submittable and showcases their skills. Remember that you are making an impression on an editor whether or not they choose to publish this piece.
  2. Submit to appropriate publications. Research the publications you are sending your work to. McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, and Tin House are all reputable publications, but they all publish very different types of creative writing. Make sure that you are submitting your best work to literary journals that publish similar work. Sending flash fiction to a poetry review or short fiction to a nonfiction print journal is not a good use of your time and money. Emerging writers should do a Google search to find a publication that aligns with their writing style and subject matter.
  3. Consider the tier of the publication to which you submit. There are many tiers of publications, and where you submit your writing should depend somewhat on where you are in your writing career. Established writers can submit to a top tier literary journal or poetry magazine. If you are an emerging writer, you need to cast a wider net and submit to smaller magazines that feature new writers.
  4. Pay attention to submission guidelines. Different publications have different guidelines for how to submit your work. If you’re submitting the same piece to The New Yorker and The Atlantic, make sure that you are following the correct protocol for each respective publication.
  5. Pay the fee. Many literary publications require a reading fee or submission fee along with your piece. Make sure to pay this fee in order to get your work read and evaluated.
  6. Know the process for withdrawing a submission. If you submit the same piece simultaneously to multiple literary publications, you need to be prompt about withdrawing your piece from consideration if it’s accepted elsewhere. Online submissions can usually be withdrawn easily via a submissions website or by sending a simple email.

How to Write a Cover Letter for a Literary Journal Submission

One of the most important parts of submitting a piece to a literary journal is a cover letter or query letter. Remember that a cover letter is not a personal essay, but rather a short informational note that attracts attention and gets your piece pulled from the slush pile for consideration. Freelance writing is hard work; do not be discouraged if you receive many form rejections in response to your submissions. Here are some tips on writing a good cover letter:

  1. Look up the correct contact information. Make sure you have the correct contact information for each letter. If you’re submitting a piece to The Virginia Quarterly Review and The Cincinnati Review, triple-check that you’re sending the correct letter to each publication. Making mistakes and sending the wrong cover letter most likely means your piece will not get read.
  2. Keep it short but sweet. There is no set word count for a submission letter to an online magazine or print magazine, but you want to keep your query letter as short as possible. Your letter should introduce your piece, mention relevant credits, and reference personal or professional connections to the editor or publication if you have any.
  3. List your credentials and prizes. If you are a new or unestablished writer, make sure to mention any credentials or prizes you may have received. You can also feature quick pull quotes from reputable book reviews.
  4. Explain your connection to what you’ve written. If you are submitting an essay or a piece of creative nonfiction it’s useful to write a sentence or two about your personal connection to the work.
  5. Proofread. Always proofread your letter before sending. The last thing you want is to misspell an editor’s name or include another embarrassing typo.
  6. Know the implications of simultaneous submissions. The literary world is small, and it’s important that you withdraw your piece from consideration at publications once it’s been accepted elsewhere.
  7. Be patient. Allow editors a reading period before you follow up. Response time can vary from publication to publication. Be patient and trust the process.
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