The Ultimate Guide To Getting Your Short Stories and Poems Published (part 1)

Someone told me once, “Writers write. Paid writers submit, submit, submit.”

Even if you don’t get paid for your submissions at first, if you are interested in making a name for yourself as a writer, submitting is just as important as actually writing.

In the spirit of this, I’ve recently finished a huge round of submissions of several pieces to many, many publications. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s a necessary evil (to use the term loosely) of the writing life.

Many writers are loathe to submit because it can be a huge pain and confusing. After all, you’ve put a bunch of work into writing, revising, and polishing your writing. And it would be nice to be done then and there. There’s nothing wrong with finishing the writing cycle there, but if you want to be a published writer, you’ve got to keep trekking.

Want to be published? Ready to submit your writing? This is my ultimate guide to submitting your short stories, short creative non-fiction, and poems. I’ll be breaking everything down into easy-to-follow steps. I’ll be talking about all the nitty-gritty details so you can understand each step of the process and find a home for your writing.

This is part one where I’ll cover some of the things you need to know before you start submitting.

Because this series is about short prose and poems, when I say “publication,” “magazine,” or “journal,” I mean the same thing. Magazines and journals just mean collections of writing pieces: Creative magazines and journals are way different than People magazine or than an academic journal.

Know Your Writing

First and foremost, you should consider what categories your story or piece fits into. Is it prose or poetry? Fiction or nonfiction? Realism or speculative? It’s okay if your piece doesn’t just fit into one category cleanly, but it’s helpful to have an idea of what types of publications you are looking for. Some places are interested in poetry but not prose. Others are interested mainly in prose but only realistic fiction. Others still may be open to a variety of works.

It is also helpful to consider what your audience is. It’s likely you’ve thought about this as you’ve written your piece, but some publications will only take writing meant for particular audiences.

The length (word count) of your piece is also a huge determining factor in your publication options. In my experience, in the world of realism, anything over 10,000 words is going to be difficult to get published in a journal or magazine (but not necessarily impossible), though in the world of speculative writing, there will be more journals/magazines open to this length. The common cut-offs I see in realism are flash fiction (1,000 words or less), short story (3,000-4,000 word maximum), and longer short stories (anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 word maximum). But speculative publications are open to publishing novella and novelettes as well as short stories. Some publications only publish flash fiction while others cap all their prose submissions at 3,000 words while others are open to longer forms. The point is that you should remember the word count of your writing piece as you look to give it a home.

One last particular area to consider is what themes your writing has. Some journals and magazines do themed issues, so you may be able to find a publication that fits your writing’s theme. Some publications as a whole only publish writing centered on a certain theme (even if loosely). Beyond conventional themes, it’s also worth thinking about the location/setting of your story (some journals focus on particular geographic regions), any social/political issues your writing deals with (some journals are interested in these issues while others are not), and any religious themes your writing may have (some journals like Image are interested in religious writing).

In general, consider what general categories your writing fits into so that you have a bit of a general idea of what type of publication may be best for your piece.

Know Yourself

Many publications either focus on publishing particular types of writers or will have special editions or contests for particular types of writers. If you are a young writer, there are lots of opportunities meant for emerging writers. I also recently ran across a journal for writers over fifty. Some publications are specifically meant for women writers. I’ve also seen a fair number of journals that are interested in publishing writers from particular geographic regions (like southern writers). These are just a few examples, but the list goes on.

Once you’ve got a general idea of what advantages/limitations your piece and you may have, you can begin looking at publications. And as you look at publication guidelines, you’ll get a better sense of what categories exist that your writing would or wouldn’t be a good fit for.

The easiest place to start is with a simple search for the type of publication you’re looking for. Something general like “best literary journals” will bring up a variety of lists (some more helpful than others). One list that I have found useful is this one of 100 of the top literary journals.

Another great place to look is in Poets and Writers’ database. You can sort by the genre you’re interested in as well as the subgenre and whether the journal takes simultaneous submissions (more on those in part two). There’s different information listed for each journal (like their reading period—which is just when they accept submission—and sometimes their audience size), but sometimes the listing is out-of-date, so you have to check their website before you rule an option completely out. I’ll warn you though that some of the links are broken (I assume) and forward to less than reputable (and appropriate) websites, but to avoid this, you can just search for the journal in a separate tab through your search engine of choice (rather than using the provided link in the database). Any inaccuracies, broken links, or outdated information isn’t the fault of Poets and Writers though since all the information is self-reported by the journals.

The two sources I’ve listed above largely focus on literary journals (contemporary realistic writing). If you write speculative fiction, there are a few specific magazines I can recommend as a starting place: Asimov’s (science fiction), Analog (science fiction), and Fantasy & Science Fiction (both fantasy and sci-fi as the name suggests).

There are publications out there for every type of writing—it’s just a matter of doing a bit of looking. As I said above, it’s important to know what general categories (especially genres) your stories could fit into. Do a few searches for “magazine for [your genre] writing]” or “journal for [your genre] writing.”

Now that you’ve got some potential options for where to submit, there are a variety of different criteria you can use to narrow down the pool. Next week’s post will take about how to find places to submit to. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, comment with what would be helpful to know about the submissions process. And share the post with your writing friends!

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