Last week, I talked about everything you need to know before submitting your writing and where to find some publications. If you missed that post, you can find it here. This week, I’ll talk about how to narrow down your list of publications so you can pick the ones that are best for you and your 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. I personally like to go through long lists of potential options and pick out my best options along the way, but it’s not as though there’s only one right way to do this.
Where Should You Submit?
What’s a reading period?
The easiest criteria you can use to narrow the pool is whether the publication currently accepts submissions (sometimes called “reading period” or “submission period”). If a publication is closed to submissions, you can easily strike that from your list or save it for when the submission period opens. However, some journals will be indefinitely closed for submissions, which happens typically when the journal is overwhelmed with submissions and needs to catch up.
What are simultaneous submissions?
Another obvious criterion is whether a magazine accepts simultaneous submissions. Simultaneous submissions are when the journal is okay with you submitting your piece to them and other publications at the same time. Many journals are okay with this (so long as you tell them immediately if your piece is going to be published elsewhere), but some are not. I personally drastically prefer simultaneous submissions since I can submit several places at once, rather than having to wait for a reply before resubmitting somewhere else.
Are submission fees worth it?
You should also consider whether you are willing to pay to submit. Many journals require a submission fee that can range from anywhere between $2.50 (USD) to $8 (USD). I’m personally not a fan of submission fees (sometimes called reading fees) just on principle (and many journals share my opinion). I don’t think it’s fair to ask writers to pay just to have the journal consider their writing. And having done some editorial selection work, I can tell you that quality is only one factor that editors consider when reading submissions. Don’t get me wrong: Quality is a huge factor. But sometimes perfectly good pieces get rejected simply because there isn’t enough room. For example, if the editors have a choice between 1 long prose piece and 5 poems, they may choose to include the 5 poems since they can have more writing pieces and more writers in the issue.
The upside is that journals that charge submission fees often are more able to pay the writers, so you may pay to submit, but there’s a chance you could get some of your money back. Writing contests hosted by journals almost always charge reading fees, which is how they get funds for the prize money. On this matter, I’ll pass on something I’ve been told before. A writer I know says she has a friend who submits to a lot of writing contests and finds she breaks even on submission fees versus prize money won.
Some journals have taken to charging an optional fee when you submit (often called a top jar submission). Typically, the journal says they treat both top jar and non–top jar submissions the same.
Ultimately, it’s up to you with what you think is prudent and what you can afford.
With these easy face-value criteria out of the way, I’ll take a bit about some of the nitty-gritty criteria you can use to find places to submit.
What is the publication’s reputation?
Don’t submit to shoddy journals. Just don’t. Your writing deserves better.
Are they legit?
An easy first step to figure out whether a journal is legit is to quickly search their name. Even if nothing other than the journal’s website comes up, then that’s a good sign. There are plenty of scams in the publishing industry, so doing a bit of research is always prudent. Writer’s Beware is full of articles about publishing scams and how to avoid them.
Even if a journal is legit, it’s also good to see what its reputation is. Is it the industry leader? Is it a great place for beginning writers? (Those two categories aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive either.)
Who’s been published there? What’s Been published there?
Another good sign is to look at who and what has been published in the journal. If you recognize some of the authors (or can judge that the writers are good writers based on the writer’s bibliography), then the journal is likely a well-known publication. If you like the writing, then it may be a good home for your writing as well.
How big is their audience or reader base?
If you can find the journal’s audience size (some journals list their audience number on the above-linked Poets and Writers’ database), this can tell you how well-known the journal is too. However, many smaller journals have top-notch reputations, so this isn’t always an accurate test.
Many of the niche journals are associated with a college and their English department or graduate program while speculative journals tend to be a bit easier to find information about (Asimov’s has been around for quite some time).
Have their writers won any awards you’ve heard of?
You can also check out if the journal and its writing has won any awards.
what’s their website like?
Sometimes you can judge a journal based on their website. If the website looks nice, there’s a chance the journal is a bit more reputable. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. But frankly, this is a pretty spotty litmus test. Some websites are simply outdated.
Who edits the publication?
One final spot to check can be the journals editors. Who are they? What is their experience? Do you think they would like your writing? Do you think they seem like good editors or writers?
brace for impact and submit!
Now that you’ve narrowed the list of potential publications to submit to, you’ll need to decide which ones to actually submit to.
My advice is to pick a variety of publications. Pick some that are very prestigious and pick some that are more middle of the road (but also don’t settle).
And be prepared to wait a while to hear back. Many journals have expected reply timelines of months.
The next step is to submit, submit, submit! And part three in the series (coming soon) will be on how to manage and interpret confusing submission guidelines and forms. Stay tuned!