Submitting to Literary Magazines

Popshot coverThis past December, I was browsing through magazines at a bookshop (Kinokuniya in Singapore) and found an eye-catching illustrated cover with these words: ‘Popshot Magazine: The Illustrated Magazine of New Writing’.

And thus began my foray into submitting my writing to literary magazines. I felt motivated and determined to get a story published in this brilliantly-produced magazine – and more. It was free to submit, a way to get used to frequent rejections and a good gauge of the level and quality of your writing in comparison with others from around the world.

In this blog post, I’ll give an overview of the submission process and introduce several literary magazines (all based in the UK, though they accept submissions from anywhere).

  • Literary magazines accept short stories, poems, flash fiction, non-fiction, etc. They’re published online or in-print or both.
  • They don’t usually charge a fee for submissions, but that also means they don’t (or can’t afford to) pay if you get chosen for publication (though if it’s a print publication, they’ll often give you a free copy).
  • If you want monetary prizes, I suggest looking into writing competitions, which I won’t be addressing today. (For those confident and daring, the most famous and acclaimed competition is the Bridport Prize.)
  • For Twitter Fiction (aka micro fiction, nanofiction, etc.), Nanoism and 7×20 are the most highly regarded. If interested in this particular story form, look here for more information.

Before I go into detail, I want to thank Krishan Coupland of Neon magazine for his extremely helpful article: ‘How To Submit Your Writing To Literary Magazines‘. It personally helped me when I began submitting and I’ll be referencing it throughout this post (I still refer back to it from time to time). Most of what I expound below in ‘Submission Process’ is contained in this article in greater detail, so have a look for additional information!

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Submission Process

First, you’ll have to find literary magazines that you like. Each magazine will have a different focus or theme, so you’ll have to do a bit of research to figure out if your written pieces fit what they’re looking for. This usually means reading works that have already been published so you can get a feel for their style (most magazines have sample pieces on their websites). Always look through their submission guidelines – peruse them, thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly!

1. Cover Letter

When you submit a piece of writing, you’ll almost always need to include a cover letter. Keep in mind, it’s also the first thing the person reading your submission will see, so you’ll want to make a good impression. Krishan says that it should be ‘short and to the point’ and let your writing speak for itself instead of trying to sell it. It’s good advice especially if you consider the amount of submissions the editor has to go through – he or she most certainly won’t want to waste time reading a long superfluous cover letter.

But I’ve also read elsewhere that a guy was more successful when he wrote a witty cover letter, making it stand out from the rest. Regarding this, I’m still trying to figure out which is best, but for now, I’ve been following Krishan’s advice and invaluable template, which I’ll post here:

Dear [MR or MS] [EDITOR’S NAME],

Please find attached for your consideration my previously-unpublished, [WORDCOUNT]-word short story “[STORY TITLE]“. This is a simultaneous submission, but I will let you know immediately if it is accepted elsewhere.

Thanks in advance for your time.

Sincerely,

[YOUR SIGNATURE]

A few points:

  • If you can find the editor’s name, address him or her directly.
  • ‘previously-unpublished’: some magazines won’t accept pieces that have already been published (called ‘reprints’), some do.
  • ‘simultaneous submission’: this means you’ve submitted the piece to several magazines at once. Again, some magazines don’t accept simultaneous submissions, but others do. If it is accepted by another magazine, you’ll have to notify them.

2. Biography

Often, if they require a cover letter, they’ll also ask for a short biography, usually in third person and roughly 50-100 words. Krishan says: ‘You can include information about where you’re from, if you’ve had work published in literary magazines before, where you have studied or what you do for a living.’

As an example, here is mine (56 words):

Justin Lau was born in Singapore and raised in Japan. He is bilingual and feels most comfortable speaking Japlish, a hybrid of Japanese and English. He is a writer, musician and vagabond at peace. He is currently an undergraduate student studying English Literature at Durham University. He has been published in Seven By Twenty, Inkapture and The Bubble.

3. Fonts

‘What font should I use?’ This was a question I kept asking myself. Obviously, if the guidelines stipulate a certain font, use that. But in my experiences, many magazines don’t specify what font to use.

Krishan links to an article about a short story standard manuscript format which I did find helpful but also irrelevant to many of my submissions, mainly because the requirements were not so strict and formal (e.g. simply pasting your story in the body of an email). In the article, William Shunn recommends limiting yourself either to Courier or Times New Roman, with good reason. But I wasn’t satisfied.

After looking around, I found this article: ‘The Best Fonts to Use in Print, Online, and Email‘. It explains the difference between ‘serif’ and ‘sans serif’ fonts (which I never knew) and suggests fonts for each medium. A lot of literary magazines seem flexible and if you can choose a font that makes your story easy to read and look good, why not?

Oh, and always double space. There’s a reason why essays in school are always double-spaced: it’s just so much easier to read.

4. Format

Some magazines (such as Popshot Magazine and Neon) ask you to submit your story/poem by pasting it into the body of the email. Some magazines ask you to attach a Word or Text file by email.

Some magazines use an online programme called Submittable which requires you to create an account and helps keep track of all your submissions. Here is a screenshot of the Submittable programme when submitting short fiction to Litro Magazine:

FirefoxScreenSnapz017

And here is a screenshot of my personal Submittable page which lists all my submissions:

FirefoxScreenSnapz016

As you can see, you can check the status: ‘Received’ (submitted and still waiting for a response), ‘Declined’ (a nice way of saying it was rejected), ‘Withdrawn’ (if you personally withdraw your submission for whatever reason). It’s a handy programme and commonly used so it’s worth making an account.

If you want more information, I recommend (again) Krishan’s article: ‘How To Submit Your Writing To Literary Magazines‘. More information can be found regarding: list of literary magazines, glossary of unfamiliar terms, a note about rights, format guidelines, online and postal submission programmes, keeping records and possible outcomes, etc. And be sure to read his Neon magazine!

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List of Literary Magazines

1. Popshot Magazine (editor: Jacob Denno): With its growing popularity, submissions have increased and the selection process has become extra rigorous – and for good reason. The 60+ pages contains short stories, flash fiction and poems, accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Who wouldn’t want their story or poem published with an illustration? An independent literary magazine publishing 20-30 stories or poems by new writers bi-annually, regardless of status and nationality (‘the most exciting new writing from around the globe’), submissions open for a month in December and June. Each issue revolves around a certain theme, such as ‘Time’ or ‘Travel’. Since there’s only a month from the revealing of the theme to the submission deadline, there’s not much time to write a new story and polish it, but it’s such a beautiful publication that I’ll definitely be trying for years to come (hopefully it won’t take that long).

Submission Guidelines

  • blog_2012_october_10_04Published: Bi-Annually, Print/Online
  • Open for Submissions: December, June (for a month each)
  • Theme: Yes (e.g. ‘Time’, ‘Travel’)
  • Accepts: 3 poems/short stories/flash fiction per submission
    • Short Stories: <2500 words
    • Poems: <25 lines
  • Simultaneous Submissions: —
  • Reprints: Allowed (if you retain full publishing rights)
  • Receives: —
  • Format: Email (body)

2. Neon (editor: Krishan Coupland): Krishan Coupland is a Creative Writing student at the University of East Anglia and founded Neon in 2006. In his words: ‘Our tastes tend towards the dark and the surreal.’ Indeed, a glimpse into an issue reveals the twisted and shocking, yet poignant. Read the latest issue online for free!

Covers copySubmission Guidelines

  • Published: Thrice a year, Print/Online
  • Open for Submissions: All year
  • Theme: No (‘I prefer darker pieces, especially those with an element of the surreal or speculative.’)
  • Accepts: short stories, flash fiction, poems; also reviews, images, comics, graphic poems, scripts, novel extracts (enough work to cover at least 3 pages)
  • Simultaneous Submissions: Allowed
  • Reprints: Allowed
  • Receives: One contributor copy + royalties (£5 – £10)
  • Format: Email (body)

3. Litro (editor: — ): Litro is published both as a print magazine ‘for the reading pleasure of London commuters’ (apparently 100,000 copies are distributed for free around the UK each month) and online. Litro Magazine is based on a monthly theme (e.g. ‘Horror’, ‘No Such Luck’, Diaries’) and publishes fiction, non-fiction (memoir, literary journalism, travel narratives, etc.) and original artwork (photographs, illustrations, paintings, etc.). Litro Online is more flexible and is non-themed; it accepts fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, reviews, columns, interviews, etc.

FirefoxScreenSnapz018Submission Guidelines

  • Published: Print (monthly) / Online
  • Open for Submissions: All year
  • Theme: Yes (print) / No (online)
  • Accepts: Print (THEMED short fiction, flash/micro fiction, non-fiction (memoir, literary journalism, travel narratives, etc.), original artwork (photographs, illustrations, paintings, etc.)) / Online (NON-THEMED short fiction, flash/micro fiction, essays, non-fiction, features, reviews, columns, interviews, photo essays/comic series)
    • Print Pieces: 3000 words (<5000 words)
    • Online Pieces: short fiction (<5000 words), flash/micro fiction (<800 words), essays (<2000 words)
  • Simultaneous Submissions: Allowed
  • Reprints: Not allowed
  • Receives: —
  • Format: Submittable (attached Word/Text file + photo)

4. Ambit (editor: — ): Founded in 1959, this extremely prestigious magazine accepts unpublished, original submissions from all writers, including new artistic talents. That’s encouraging for the ambitious considering Ambit has published critically acclaimed writers including J. G. Ballard and Carol Ann Duffy! And their acceptance rate is a mere 3% so if your work gets published, that’s something to be well proud of.

217cover copySubmission Guidelines

  • Published: Quarterly, Print
  • Open for Submissions: 1 Feb – 1 Apr, 1 Sept – 1 Nov
  • Theme: No
  • Accepts: 1 short story or flash fiction, 3-6 poems
    • Short Stories: <5000 words (flash fiction: <1000 word)
  • Simultaneous Submissions: Not allowed
  • Reprints: Not allowed
  • Receives: Contributor copy or copies + cheque (UK writers) or extra copies (overseas writers)
  • Format: Submittable (attached Word/Text file)

5. Fuselit (editor: Kirsten Irving): It’s difficult to describe what kind of magazine Fuselit is. It’s a self-proclaimed ‘half magazine, half collaborative art project’ and if you flip through the e-magazine (free!) it’s exactly that. The format of stories and poems, artwork and sounds (yes, sounds!) makes for a unique magazine that stands out from the rest. They also print a limited 100 copies of the magazine. Each issue revolves around a ‘spur word’ (aka theme), the next one open for submission being ‘FOSSIL’. It’s a funky and gorgeous magazine worth looking into!

FirefoxScreenSnapz019Submission Guidelines

  • Published: Online (limited Print release)
  • Open for Submissions: All year
  • Theme: Yes (‘spur word’, e.g. ‘FOSSIL’)
  • Accepts: poetry, fiction, arts, sounds; also open to ‘comics and sequences to collage, varieties of non-fiction or anything we haven’t thought of. ‘
  • Simultaneous Submissions: —
  • Reprints: —
  • Receives: One contributor copy
  • Format: Email (body)

6. The White Review (editors: Benjamin Eastham, Jacques Testard): My first impression upon visiting their website was that it looked extremely clean and professional. It’s a young London-based magazine (arts journal) that began in 2011 but has already garnered plenty of attention and acclaim. It is published as a quarterly print magazine and also releases new content on their website every month.

THE-WHITE-REVIEW_Issue-11Submission Guidelines

  • Published: Print (quarterly) / Online
  • Open for Submissions: All year
  • Theme: No
  • Accepts: Print (fiction, 3 poems, non-fiction) / Online (fiction, poetry, cultural analysis and opinion)
    • Print Pieces: <1500 words
    • Online Pieces: 500-3000 words
  • Simultaneous Submissions: Allowed
  • Reprints: Not allowed
  • Receives: —
  • Format: Email

7. Granta Magazine (editor: — ): A highly esteemed literary magazine first founded in 1889 by students at Cambridge University. Each issue is theme-based and contains a mixture of fiction, non-fiction and photojournalism. It has published some of the most famous writers, not limited to: A. A. Milne, Sylvia Plath, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Roberto Bolaño, A. S. Byatt, Gabriel García Márquez, Kazuo Ishiguro, Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan, Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, etc. Whew! I’ve read several issues and each one had its hits and misses. But I was impressed and thoroughly enjoyed one of their latest issues on Japan (Granta 127). It’s well worth reading – I recommend browsing through each issue’s theme and finding one that interests you.

Granta magazineSubmission Guidelines (Unfortunately, they’re currently closed for submissions ‘to catch up on our reading’.)

  • Published: Quarterly, Print/Online
  • Open for Submissions: —
  • Theme: Yes
  • Accepts: —
  • Simultaneous Submissions: —
  • Reprints: —
  • Receives: —
  • Format: Submittable

Other literary magazines include: The Pygmy Giant, The Literateur, Inkapture, Lighthouse, Brittle Star, East of the Web, Dream Catcher, etc. Search for them yourself – there are hundreds, maybe even thousands out there! (Krishan has an extensive list of literary magazines based in the UK: ‘Links: Literary Magazines‘.)

Submitting your writing requires a little faith, a little luck and a strong unwavering heart that can handle rejections. Let me just say, despite receiving many rejections, each one still hurts. But don’t ever despair for too long – it’s just one person’s opinion. Who knows? Some other editor might love your piece! Never give up, it’s an adventure. And the hopes of being published is a great incentive to keep writing, editing and polishing your work until it’s damn good!

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UPDATE (1 Oct 2014): Granta is now open for submissions from 1 October to 1 April! Submission Guidelines

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