Where to Submit Your Work for Publication: Advice for Beginners

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This post is for new creative writers—writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry—who don’t know where to begin seeking an audience for their short-form work.

Maybe you’re launching a writing career without the benefit of an MFA program. Perhaps you come from a different professional background altogether, having little to do with creative writing. Maybe you’re a lawyer, a tax accountant, a doctor, or an Uber driver. (All clients I’ve worked with, by the way!) Where do you start looking for places to submit your shorter form creative work?

Here’s a list of resources I shared recently with a friend who’s writing ghost stories while pursuing a masters degree in urban planning. (Proof that you don’t need an MFA to write and submit.)

Submitting Your Writing: Resources

  1. Clifford Garstang’s list. Novelist Clifford Garstang has been ranking literary magazines for years using a rubric of his own design. His free, public rankings are helpful if you’re overwhelmed by choices. Maybe you want to narrow down your submission list based on metrics like how often a journal nominates its contributors’ work for Pushcart Prizes. The Garstang list is a great way to educate yourself on what’s out there for literary writing markets: who the big players are and who has the potential to signal boost your work by getting it included in anthologies. However, keep in mind, there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of great magazines and journals not included on these lists, and the outlets on Garstang’s lists are very popular and well-respected. Popular = greater competition. If you’re just breaking in, you may want to start at the bottom of these lists while you’re building up publication credits, or start somewhere else altogether. (See Duotrope, below.)

  2. Duotrope. Duotrope is a subscription service ($50/year). It’s a comprehensive database of literary publishers (presses) and magazines. You can search by category and employ a number of filters to target the journals or book publishers that may be interested in your style of writing. For example, do you write fabulist fiction? Women’s fiction? Cowboy stories? Long narrative poems? The more specific your niche, the more you’ll benefit from this service. Duotrope allows you to filter out the venues that are unlikely to want what you’re offering. You can also track your submissions directly in their software, consult statistics about acceptance rates and response times, and read interviews with magazine editors who describe their aesthetic sensibilities. The site also tells you if an outlet us currently open or closed to reading submissions. I rely on Duotrope most when I’m looking to submit a piece that feels non-mainstream. This site has a learning curve, but once you master it, it’s a huge time-saver. You won’t be sending your futuristic cowgirl steampunk to Ploughshares, for example.

  3. Submittable. This free site functions as the electronic submissions portal for most literary magazines. Once you set up an account, you can pre-load a standard cover letter containing your contributor bio, which saves time. (Just be sure to tailor this boilerplate letter to the outlet in question each time you submit.) Once logged in, click the “Discover” button to look for places with upcoming deadlines. The service is also searchable by keyword. However, rather than looking here for places to publish, most writers rely on Submittable to submit or withdraw their work after finding the venues somewhere else. (Magazines that use Submittable tend to have a “Submit” button on their submissions pages.)

  4. Creative Writers Opportunities List (Yahoo email list serv). If you don’t mind an influx of daily email, sign up for this email newsletter and you’ll receive daily opportunities from publishers, writing residencies, and even universities looking to staff open teaching positions. About 80% of the notices coming from this list are submissions calls. The list skews academic, but the open submissions calls are useful to poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers of all levels and styles.

  5. Other sites/venues. The above four, in my opinion, are the easiest ways to get your feet wet and become familiar with what editors want. However, you can also self-educate by consulting the following: Poets & Writers magazine (they maintain a list of publications on their website); The Review Review (a site where contributors review literary magazines); Newpages (a compendium of lit mags and small press book reviews); and Twitter. With Twitter, check out hash tags like #writingcommunity, #fiction, #flashfiction, #poetry, and #poets. Just beware: while Twitter is a fabulous way to network with writers, agents, and editors, it’s a Pandora’s Box of tangents and pop culture conversations. You may soon find yourself doing more socializing and reading than writing. Buyer beware.

Are you getting ready to submit your writing to literary magazines for the first time? Starting this fall, I’m offering critique and line editing for short stories and creative nonfiction. To learn more about my process and rates, contact me.

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