Believe Quality Writing Matters: Put an End to Submission Superstitions
By R.M. Cooper
A few tidbits of submission advice I’ve read over the years:
The Best Cover Letters should…
a. address editors by name…
...always: This personal touch shows you took the time to research the journal prior to submitting.
...never (unless you have a prior relationship): Feigning a personal connection makes you look desperate and your letter unprofessional.
b. include your publication history…
...every time: No matter what they claim, an impressive publication list will make editors pause and take your work seriously.
...only when requested: Bragging about past publications does not indicate the strength of your submission and only detracts from the time an editor will spend with your piece.
c. contain preemptive threats…
Dip a toe in the ocean of submission advice, and you’ll find the waters a sort of writer’s block miasma of chlorine and typhoid. As a publisher, my chief concern with this sort of advice is that the central question it answers is How do I get published? instead of How do I improve my writing?
Undoubtedly, all writers need to keep updated on market and publishing trends, and many magazines and websites (including this one!) do a wonderful job moderating the discussion by filtering vital writer information. The problem is that in addition to every valuable resource, there’s also opposing schools of thought between snail mail and electronic submissions, endless cover letter “how-to’s,” and DIY templates for submitting under the harvest moon.
Once you’ve read the debate over envelope versus email publication likelihood—or whatever your tipping point is—there comes a point when every writer has to ask themselves: Do I believe I live in a world where quality writing determines publication, or superstition?
I can only speak from my experience as an editor, but at Sequestrum we don’t care about anything beyond quality writing. Our solitary goal is to publish the best writing possible and share it with a passionate, engaged audience. Everything else is nitpicky and time consuming. We have submission guidelines, though handfuls of submitters inevitably don’t read them every day.
While ignoring our guidelines isn’t step one in getting a Pushcart nomination, believe it or not—regardless of whether someone indented correctly—we read and evaluate every submission we receive. In my experience as a writer and editor working with university and independent publishers, I’ve encountered no shadow group or skull society of editors looking for reasons to reject your writing and promote their plan of world domination (Hail Cobra!). There is no single trick or tip that will improve your odds of being published, except to write better.
What does “writing better” mean? The best advice you’ll ever hear comes from Larry L. King: “Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” This is to say, instead of reading the story or submission trick behind a writer’s success, read a story or poem they published. The best tip for any writer is to look for ways to improve their craft, and do so tirelessly.
I don’t deny the possibility that journals exist which practice the opposite of what I’ve said. As with all superstitions, those of the lit journal game likely stemmed from reality, and I’ve seen my fair share of bizarre submission guidelines to make me hop on one foot when I click “send” on Submittable. But lucky for contemporary writers, there is no shortage of journals seeking quality work. By supporting only the publications whose editorial direction and ideals you agree with—ideally whose publications you enjoy reading—you’ll help foster a world where editorial shenanigans disappear, and quality writing matters. In turn, your quality writing will, well, matter.
That, and keep a fresh sprig of calico fur in every SASE rejection you receive. I heard that’s how L. Ron Hubbard got in The Atlantic.
R.M. Cooper’s writing has appeared in journals including Fugue, Portland Review, Berkeley Fiction Review (2014 Fiction Award recipient), Whiskey Island, Ellipsis, Lumina, and elsewhere. He is the founder and managing editor of Sequestrum, a journal of new, emerging, and internationally-acclaimed writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Sequestrum is a paying market, offers pay-what-you-can subscriptions, pairs every publication with a visual component, and features contributor interviews all on a bi-weekly basis. Subscribe, submit, signup for our email list and more here: www.sequestrum.org. Bring your best calico furs.