So you’re looking to submit your work for the first time ever, but keep finding reasons to put it off. I get it. I’m in that same boat right now. A cover letter won’t take much time to draft but you have other things to do, or maybe you have so many usernames and passwords already that you don’t want to sign up for a Submittable account.
Maybe you’re not ready for that first rejection letter. Perhaps you double majored in Procrastination during your college career. Whatever the reason, here’s your boot to the butt to get your work out there—with a few quick tips below to increase your work’s chances of getting into the “Maybe” pile once you do.
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to what they like to see in submitted work. Certain literary magazines tell you outright what they’re looking for—White Stag, for example, is looking for poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction strictly from women for the second issue of their third volume. In the past their themes have revolved around the human psyche and, of course, the journal’s namesake: a white stag.
But it’s not always so clear what a journal is looking for. Obviously, the best way to figure it out is to read whichever publications you’re most interested in and get a feel for the kind of work they accept.
To help your writing stand out from the submission pile, here’s what I’ve noticed during my work with Poetry City, USA:
Use a common font. Let your work speak for itself. Content is more important than fancy or large lettering. This is not to say everything has to be left-aligned and can’t have any italics anywhere—but make sure your formatting choices add to the content of the poem rather than distract from it.
Your poem or story does something different. You can write about trees in a way no one has before and make something meaningful. Same for tsunamis, stars, or how visceral heartbreak really is. They say no idea is original, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show the world how you perceive it—and there will be a place for you and your voice. It’s just a matter of finding it.
The work itself feels finished. Every choice you’ve made, from words to punctuation to line breaks, feels intentional. The imagery and metaphors aren’t random, but deliberate. The voice of the work has authority: it stands for what it says.
Start now! A magazine can’t accept your work if it isn’t in their submission pile. If you’re busy with school, take ten minutes to compile some work and send it out so you have weekly coursework and final projects to keep you occupied while you wait (fingers crossed) to hear back from the editors.
Don’t let perfectionism hold you back.
It’s so easy to get caught in that endless cycle of workshop and revise, workshop and revise, workshop and revise as you strive to make your poem its very best.
Eventually, you’re not making any real breakthroughs, just rearranging a piece that is already in its best form. Step back and look at your piece objectively. Learn to recognize when a poem is ready to be sent out into the world.
I’m going to be completely honest, when I started writing this blog post, I still hadn’t submitted anything—despite the amount of completed poems sitting on my computer. But this is the best time to do it!
This is my call to action for you: Compile your best pieces and start looking for literary magazines. There are so many options out there, and the list is ever growing. Recently I sat down and did exactly this (White Stag was one of the literary magazines I chose to submit to), and I realized a really neat thing: submitting is easy.
The hard part—and the most exciting—is waiting to hear back.
Meet the blogger:
SANDRA YOUNGS is a senior at Hamline University, currently pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing. She holds an AFA in Creative Writing from Normandale Community College and works as an associate editor for Poetry City, USA. She lives in Chanhassen, Minnesota, enjoys eating ice cream in cold weather, and can’t stop writing about trees.