10 Tips for Getting Published in a Literary Journal (especially ours)
We here at Cosmopsis Books get quite a few submissions each time we put out a literary journal. The sad part in this publishing world is that we receive a few hundred submissions and accept 15-20 authors for each issue. Rather than continue the mystery surrounding our journal (and editorial tastes), we figured we'd lay it right out as clear as day.
10. Be professional
We all know that when we're going to an interview we should wear nice clothes and comb our hair; meeting a publisher for the first time (even online) should be no different. By all means, don't hold back your sense of humor (if you have one), but when filling out a form or sending out an email, be sure you've spelled everything correctly (especially the names of the authors you claim to be among your favorite) and try to use complete sentences (when appropriate). If you're offering a web site that represents you as a writer, your MySpace profile with pictures of you at Burning Man is probably not the best idea.
9. Choose your best work; consider placement
It might seem like common sense that writers should send in their best work to be published, but many writers openly tell us that work was derived by a classroom exercise, was written "quickly on the bus," or was torn from their middle school journal. The work represents you as an author and should reflect how seriously you take your job. Since writing is a process and often requires revision, don't brag about how little time you spent working on a piece.
Secondly, consider a submission of 5 poems. Always put your best poem first. Your submission is not a mix CD you're sending to a friend; instead it's your way to show someone the work you're capable of, and if they don't get a positive first impression, they might not read on. Sound unfair? So does reading 500 poems in two weeks.
8. Do follow up. Don't nag.
If you're told that you'll hear back from a publisher in a month and it has been two, it's perfectly acceptable (even desirable) to take the initiative to ask how the process is going—provided it's in a polite way. In general, though, don't continue to submit the same work each week assuming that it will only slip into the publisher's computer at the correct witching hour. That will make the publisher think you're sending form submissions—a work sent to multiple parties at the same time.
7. Follow the guidelines
If you've looked over Cosmopsis Books' own submission guidelines, you would see that if you have a sonnet, it's more difficult to get published than if you have a poem in free verse. Publishers often have a niche, and finding those niches will help you tremendously as an author. Also, see tip #5.
6. Submit as many works as an editor will accept
We often receive a submission from an author who clearly shows mastery of his or her skill, but whose piece just doesn't fit in the work we've already accepted. It might be that we already have a story about a swimmer (or a pervert or a single mom or a horse rancher) and we don't want another. It might be that we have a traditional set of work and receive something experimental or vice versa.
To minimize your chance of this happening, submit multiple pieces. The Quarterly, for example, allows you to submit 3 pieces of short fiction and 10 poems. Why not send as many as you can? It will dramatically increase your chances of publication if you fall into this common category.
5. Know the publication
If you're submitting to an online journal, download a few issues and read them...thoroughly. If they issue a book buy it or check it out at a bookstore or library. You cannot form a true impression of a journal or magazine from skimming one story. What if it feels to you like non-fiction when in fact it's fiction? What if you happen to pick up a special issue with a theme? Doing this will take you longer to submit to each publisher, but it will also dramatically increase the likelihood that they will choose your work. And if your ethos and style blend incredibly well, you might form a deeper relationship with the publisher—a relationship that might lead to further publications down the road.
4. Find an "in"
Small and mid-size publishing companies rely on a network of authors and publishers to accomplish their goals, so try your best to get in that network. How? Offer to help read and write reviews. Or find affiliates and submit work for publication there. For instance, if you see a certain publisher or author listed on your target publisher's web site, send an email of interest to that person or organization expressing your interest in getting published.
3. Be persistent
Our rejection to acceptance ratio for CQ1 was 12 to 1. For CQ2 it was 18 to 1. As the journal grows in readership and popularity those numbers will get even worse for authors trying to publish. That means you need to not take rejection personally and keep at it as long as possible. Submit work for each journal (and manuscripts in the off season), and broaden your scope to include dozens of books, journals, magazines and web sites. Read the tips on this web site and contact published authors to get further advice.
2. Get Feedback
Out of necessity publishers often ignore authors' requests for constructive criticism simply because there isn't time. But you should not give up altogether. Many of them will, when not accepting submissions, offer feedback on a particular work. And if a publisher can't give you feedback, you should find someone who can. Read the piece aloud to your self first. Give it to friends and family members to see if they have any advice. Ask other writers their opinions. In fact, if you join a writers' group it would help even more.
1. Market yourself
When a publisher chooses an author, she is not merely just choosing letters on a page to print and distribute; she is, in fact, choosing individuals to represent her project in some way. This means that the more a part of the authors' community you can make yourself, the more likely you are to be selected for publication. What helps? Other publications, interviews, a web site, credentials. You obviously don't need to have a web site to be published anywhere, but having one could send a message that you're serious about writing. Likewise, if a publisher notices that you've been published elsewhere, it says that you've endured the grueling process of submission and rejection. Here at Cosmopsis Books we pride ourselves in searching for new, unpublished authors for each issue of the Quarterly, but many other journals do not share this ethos.