Every so often, when my students' work reaches the stage where workshop participants say, "You should send this out," the initial joy turns into bafflement: How do I actually do that? Submit my work? And where to I send it? After all, marketing your writing is an entirely different skill than honing your craft. It's an administrative task, not an artistic pursuit, and best done when the muse itself eludes you.
Following are some suggestions on how to go about submitting your work. Caveat: My suggestions apply to literary writing. For journalistic writing, a blog focused on freelance writing, such as Michelle Rafter's Wordcount, will be the better source.
1. Read literary magazines. Your work is more likely to fit into magazines that you like. In order to find those, you need to read. Browse literary magazines at a large local bookstore to see what's out there and which magazines tend to publish your genre. However, what bookstores carry can be spotty, so read online as well and order current and back issues if you like what you see. Many good literary magazines publish entirely online or at least make excerpts available. As a starting point, if you write nonfiction, refer to my lists of the best, second and third tier, as well as online magazines for literary nonfiction. If you write fiction or poetry, a good source for rankings is Perpetual Folly. By reading literary magazines you will discover new authors whose work you will fall in love with; follow them, see where else they publish. Subscribe to those literary magazines that resonate with you; it's rather fun to be engaged with the literary world in this way.
2. Develop a system. I've written about this at length, so am not going to repeat myself here. Just follow the link. Setting up lists is tedious, but it is a necessary evil. You need to figure out where you would most want to see your work published, and you need to track where you're sending it. Don't just send it out to any old magazine. Be discerning. You've spent a lot of time writing, so give it your best shot.
3. Create a simple cover letter. You only need to relay essential information, namely contact info, genre and any publishing credentials. Don't explain your work, it should speak for itself. And don't worry if you have not been published before; literary magazines are in the business of discovering new writers. For reference, check out my sample cover letter.
4. Don't give up. Rejection is the name of the game. The average, among my MFA friends, is about 30 submissions before a piece gets accepted. So you have to keep at it. When a rejection comes in, send that piece out again. If you receive editorial comments back, consider yourself lucky as they are rare. If a magazine encourages you to send them something else, don't submit anything right away. Wait a few weeks, so they feel well considered. Submitting is a lot like dating, strangely enough.
Intrigued? Find lots more on submissions by clicking the "Submissions" tab under Labels on the right. Questions, concerns? Let me know. I'd be happy to answer to the best of my knowledge.