How I Changed My Submissions After Editing a Major Lit Mag
by Allison Linville
There are some important lessons to learn about submitting that can be gleaned from reading or editing for a literary magazine. As a writer, I know that rejections are part of the submission process, but after a while, it can be daunting to edit my rejected pieces if I thought they were polished in the first place. Magazines receive a TON of submissions, and usually only about the top 10% of submissions are passed up to editors –-the rest are read and rejected by readers. Below are a few tips, based on changes I made to my own submissions after going through the slush pile, that can help your work make it into the group of submissions that get more in-depth consideration.
A few obvious things before we get started with the real tips. 1. Really read the magazine, at least once. Make sure your work is relevant. This is for real—editors are not joking when they suggest it, and it’s obvious when people ignore the suggestion. 2. Follow the guidelines. Read all of them, even if they are long. 3. Check for typos. Check again. 4. Think about if your work is applicable to the broad readership of the magazine. Is it contemporary enough? Related to societal issues the magazine represents or the issue theme? Be as realistic as you can in your evaluation of your own work.
Nine Tips to Get Your Submission Passed Up the Line:
1. Use a readable, common, yet professional font like: Garamond, Cambria, or Georgia. No scripts! Make the submission look literary but not unreadable.
2. Do an edit of the piece where you imagine half skimming the submission, after reading thirty similar submissions that day. Would it be intriguing? Would anything make you want to reject the piece immediately?
3. Rewrite the first paragraph until it grabs you. Remember, most readers will only get a few pages in and then reject—unless they are taken by the piece. For poets, consider order here—make your first poem the most intriguing.
4. Proofread your submission with language economy in mind. Too many "I"s can make a piece feel solipsistic and trimming prepositions, conjunctions, articles, and pronouns allow the pertinent ideas to stand taller and bolder.
5. Poets, consider reformatting any block prose longer than about 200 words.
6. Don’t write an elaborate cover letter. It’s nice to mention any connections or the magazine specifically, but it’s not a big deal.
7. Keep the bio short and to the point. Nothing more than 3-5 lines, #butforreal.
8. If you get rejected, don’t respond with inappropriate language or requests for feedback. We’re sorry we can’t offer personal feedback, but feedback for 4,000 rejections would require another staff of volunteers.
9. Use your manners when discussing edits to your piece for publication, when accepting a rejection, when working with the editor. It’s a small literary world out there—you’ll run into people again.
Allison Linville received her MFA from the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana, where she also worked as the editor of CutBank. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Brainerd Fellowship. Her poetry has been published in Ghost Town, Tahoma Literary Review, the Bellingham Review, Cascadia Review, Cirque Journal, West Trade Review, the Whitefish Review, and more. Stay in touch at: allisonlinville.com.