Even though there is a surge in the number of online and print literary magazines in the last five years or so, getting published as a writer still continues to be a serious business. Technology has greatly alleviated the degree of reticence associated with many written manuscripts, and more and more authors are willing to give their works a loyal readership by publishing them through various media. In the case of online literary journals, however, I feel that this relationship is far more intimate, perhaps because a majority of editors and writers value the aesthetic composition of a piece rather than the monetary compensation it might achieve. In fact, most of the editors of literary journals work on a shoestring budget and fund their literary avenues entirely out of their pockets, and their readers and contributors accept and value that. The editors, on the other hand, respect the work submitted to them for their merits, and do not take anything else into consideration. This intense collaborative aspect of publishing that is almost selfless, according to me, is something that makes this writing space a thriving landscape.
If you are a writer submitting to a literary journal, there are certain things that you must keep in mind before hitting that ‘Send’ button. There are numerous literary journals out there waiting to add your name to their contributors’ list, and if you keep the following points in mind, the process of submission would certainly become a gratifying experience for you.
1. Discard your prejudices: A lot of writers dwell under the assumption that most of the literary magazines solicit the majority of works that they publish, and barely glance through the so called ‘slush pile’ ( a label that I completely abhor). Though many articles have claimed this to be the case with many of the top-tiered journals, almost all the ‘small’ literary magazines completely rely on the submissions that they receive to give shape to their issues. And this is because the editors value the potential of your writing. As the editor of Hermeneutic Chaos, I receive a lot of submissions where the writers self-deprecate their own work by announcing that they are not “fit for the journal”and requesting me to offer a detailed feedback whenever I reject them. As writers, we must be confident about the writing that we produce. Every piece of writing bears testimony to a particular emotion and experience, and we, as editors, value that. Please do not be overwhelmed by the writers and writing that you see in a particular literary magazine. Your writing is equally good, trust me.
2. Design your cover letter properly: This is something that has been continuously emphasized on by various editors in numerous articles, but I feel that it requires another mention. Your cover letter is like that fence that gives structure to your submission, and so you must build it properly. The cover letter must not be terse, but neither should it be elaborate. An ideal cover letter addresses the appropriate editor, mentions the name of the pieces that are being submitted, and briefly introduces the writer to the editor. Since most of the literary journals accept simultaneous submissions, it is important to mention whether your work is a simultaneous submission or not. Most importantly, do not brag about yourself or your publishing credentials at all. Most of the editors do not even go through them before reading your piece. Let your work speak for itself.
3. Read the previous issues of a journal before submitting: This becomes important especially in the case of online journals, where all the issues are readily available for the reading audience. Spend some time with the work that they publish and their thematic priorities. Understand the aesthetic criteria of a journal before submitting work to it. Do not send a piece that does not fit their editorial criteria as it will be automatically rejected. When you submit your work to a journal, ensure that it respects its aesthetic contemplation.
4. Understand the notion of a response time: At Hermeneutic Chaos, responses are sent to the submitters within 2 days, usually much sooner. That is because all the submissions are read by one person which makes it easier to arrive at the decisions. However, many journals have more than two editors, and several readers who read the submissions as they arrive, and reach a consensus after thorough discussions. These journals may have a response time of 1-6 months. Do keep that into consideration before submitting your work to them. I have seen many writers complain about the ‘long’ response time of a journal that explicitly mentions the six month wait one may have to endure if one submits to them. If such a time period does not bode well with you, try a different journal with a much quicker response time.
5. Do not resubmit a rejected piece to the same journal: For the simple reason that the editors remember each and every piece submitted to them. Therefore, submitting the same piece two months after it was rejected will not change their opinion towards it.
6. Respect the decision that the editors take: Do understand that the editors are only biased towards good literature that fits their mould; nothing else influences their decision. So if your work is not accepted by them, it is not because your writing isn’t good. It only means that there is another literary journal out there that will publish your writing. So take inspiration from your rejection letters and move forward. There will always be a literary magazine that will love your writing.