It’s a scary literary magazine world out there, folks. No doubt about it. We at Embers Igniting know this to be true not only because we are, well, a lit mag, but because we’re also writers. Personally, I live on both sides of the publishing fence, the magazine editor side and the starving artist side; I’ve learned a few things, and I will continue to learn things. I’ve had successes and failures in both roles, and I’d like to share my knowledge with you. Hopefully these tips will help you be successful not only in submitting to our magazine, but also to others.
1. Make a plan
There are thousands of literature and fine art magazines out there. Really let that sink in—thousands. This is both exciting and intimidating. It means that there’s more than likely a good place for your stuff, but it also means a surplus of titles to wade through. Not only are there so many, but they all have different submission guidelines, styles, and times they accept submissions. Some don’t charge a reading fee while others do, some accept online submissions while others are strictly snail mail. If you don’t make a plan, you will feel lost, as if you’re shooting darts in the dark at moving targets. Even with a plan, you’ll feel that way sometimes. By a plan, I mean narrow your scope. Maybe you only want to submit online to magazines with no reading fees that are looking for flash fiction of 1,000 words or less. The more focused you are on your target, the more likely you are to hit it.
Another part of your plan should be the strategy aspect. Make up a tier system; this could be organized according to magazine prestige, circulation, or simply your love of their mission. Then decide where you want to start submitting within this organized pyramid. Some people shoot for the top tier right away, and though they’re usually unsuccessful at first, they can’t say they didn’t try. On the other hand, some people feel that they should start at the bottom tier. They submit to niche magazines or those with statistics that say they publish 50% of submissions (a crazy high amount), because they want to accrue publishing credits quickly. Tailor your scope and strategy for success, whatever “success” means to you.
2. Get to know the magazine
Most lit mags have a page called “Staff” or “Masthead.” On these pages they’ll have at least a few of their staff members listed with a little bit about them and their role with the magazine. Read this page so you can address the correct people in your submission/cover letter. It shows you did your homework and you’re engaged with their magazine personally. Read past issues of magazines to get a feel for what they publish. You’ll have a better chance of getting published if you narrow your submission options down to magazines that publish your genre or style. Some lit mags include past issues for free on their websites, but many require payment and/or a subscription. Past volumes of Embers Igniting are available for free right here–just saying. For those that you have to pay to read, if you’re passionate about their mission, consider coughing up the money for past issues or a current subscription. You not only get to read their publication, but you also support them and the greater establishment of lit mags.
3. Follow the guidelines
This one sounds simple, and truly, it is quite simple. Read submission guidelines and follow them. Unfortunately, I can tell you from the magazine world that this isn’t as much of a given as it might seem. Perhaps people don’t like to read the rules, or they’re mass submitting and don’t take the time to individualize their submissions.
Allow me to tell you a secret—following the guidelines not only shows you to be a professional, but not following the guidelines is very likely to get your submission thrown out. It won’t even make it to the slush pile. Take the few extra minutes to tailor your submission to your chosen magazine’s guidelines. How do they want the file formatted? Do they ask for a cover letter? What’s their maximum word length? Magazines don’t just throw these rules together to be a pain in the ass, they do so purposefully. Do them the courtesy of following them.
4. Pick a simple font
This is no time for Chiller, Magneto, or Freestyle Script. Why? Before editors read even one word of your piece, they’ll see the font. They should not open it and recoil or start like they’ve opened a shoebox holding a dead rat. Simple fonts should be used for three main reasons. One, complicated fonts are distracting. They take focus from the actual words. You want your words and the story they weave to be the focus. And don’t think that it’s ok to use Chiller because you wrote a horror story and you want to add to the scary effect. It’s distracting. Always. Two, complicated fonts make the piece difficult to read for the editors. They have to read a lot of stuff, and they don’t want to waste their precious eye power on Bauhaus 93. As a matter of fact, they may toss your piece out rather than exert energy to get through it or change the font themselves before reading it. Three, complicated fonts show you’re most likely a greenhorn, new to writing and inexperienced in formatting. Being a greenhorn is absolutely fine, but don’t scream it with your font. It will color the way your piece is read. So which fonts are viable options? Calibri and Times New Roman are safe bets. If you’re writing a screenplay, use Courier New.
5. Proofread your stuff
This is another one of those “duh” tips. Yet, it’s disregarded quite often. Read your stuff. Catch those typos and grammatical errors that could very well be the tipping point between acceptance and rejection. If you’re too close to your work, so close you don’t really even see the words anymore, ask a trusted friend to proofread it. Try to find someone with a firm grasp of the English language and grammatical conventions, please. The odds of your work getting published plummets with each typographical error, not necessarily because they’re difficult to fix, but because it undercuts the authority of the author and the integrity of the piece as a whole.
I’ll have five more tips on submitting to lit mags in part two of this post. Embers will be opening for submissions in two months, and I hope this series is helpful for all of you considering sending us your work. And you should send us your work, by the way. Do you have any specific questions about how to be successful with your submissions? Let me know!
By Madeleine Mozley