Note: this post is part of a series from a class on submitting work to literary journals created for the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program. Part 1 covers reasons writers don’t submit their work, and part 2 helps writers prepare to do so.

If you’ve read my previous post on preparing yourself to send out your work, you’ll know I left off with STRATEGY #3: shifting the emphasis from self to others, or “gatekeepers are people, too.”

The basic gist? Literary journals are run by people, like us, who are passionate about good writing. They work in a challenging business with limited resources, at organizations that are often understaffed. Be nice to them.

Your homework, part 4: Take two hours and select ten journals you like. (You’ll find several resources for finding journals at the end of this post). Read their “About” pages. Read a sampling of stories, poems, or essays. Find out who the editors are. Google them. Follow them on Twitter. Heck, friend them on Facebook. Comment on their blog posts, like their fan pages, and share links to content you enjoy. And wait, here is a truly radical idea: SUBSCRIBE to one or more of these publications!

Okay—now we’re ready to talk spreadsheets.

Create a new spreadsheet in Excel.

Here are the columns your spreadsheet should include:

  • VENUES (name of journal)
  • RANK (I use 1-3, 1=I would be ecstatic to be published by this journal or magazine, 2=I’d be pleased, and 3=I’d be satisfied)
  • DEADLINE (I list reading periods and/or deadlines for contests)
  • EDITOR (where possible, list and address the editor specific to your genre)
  • NOTES* (this is where I put my subjective response to a journal, based on my own aesthetic and personal values and professional goals. Just a sentence or two. For example, here are my notes on Vestal Review: “Simple design, more traditional leaning content (lead story last issue is Stuart Dybek)—good pedigree, lots of interesting writers.” *I also include links to content I like, or other info I might share on social media in the “notes” section.

Additional things you might add:

  • COST (I track costs for regular submissions and contests for tax purposes)
  • REPORTS (I only note when a journal notifies if I’m submitting to a contest)
  • RESEARCH (I add URLS and info about new journals as I happen upon them, so I have an ongoing list of venues to research, evaluate, and add to my master list)
  • NO-GOs (I list journals I know I won’t submit to, to avoid confusion or repeating research I’ve already done)

Your homework, part 5: For each of the ten journals on your list, fill in the information listed above. I recommend ranking journals as you go. I also recommend using the URL for submissions guidelines rather than the journal’s home page. Add notes about things you might share on social media as you go: a journal whose mission you respect, even if it isn’t a good fit for you, or a story, poem, or essay you particularly enjoyed. Then, each week, when you’re working on submissions, there is a readymade opportunity to pay it forward by supporting one of the journals on your list.

To touch back on my initial post about blocks: several writers who responded to my query on Facebook said they were overwhelmed by the number of journals, had trouble prioritizing their writing, struggled with disorganization, or had poor time management skills.

I must confess that I was pretty overwhelmed when I set out to create my “hit list.” First, because I felt I needed to create a comprehensive overview (a version of perfectionism, in which I feel I need to know everything before I can proceed and take action); second, because time spent researching journals is time I’m not writing; and third—I think this is the most pertinent “block” I encountered—if I created the list, finished it, and had all my editors and deadlines and notes in order, well, then I had to…SEND out my work.

I began by narrowing the field a bit. I’ve recently written several flash fictions, so I found a list of online publications at Bookfox (the site, by John Fox, has a lot of information and resources for writers) ranked by how many visitors each site receives. A big part of the prioritizing had already been done for me, so I could look at other aspects of each publication with my “template” of aesthetic and personal values, etc. in mind. Then I sent to my top-ranked journals (1=ecstatic!) and noted the date submitted. I also (nerd alert) use the color fill feature in excel—green=sent, yellow=next up, and red=rejected. Red also equals send a NEW submission, immediately.

Since then, I’ve added journals that accept short stories. I spend a couple of hours each week researching new journals, tracking current submissions, sending out new stories, and posting about journals or stories that I’ve enjoyed.

Note: I think it is important to update your sheet at least once a month— if you go longer than that, important details will get away from you, and you will lose momentum.

That’s it! It took me some time (approximately 40 hours) to do all of the leg work described in these three posts, but then, I was developing a class on the subject and creating a system for myself to use. I’ll bet you can do it in twenty. Best of luck!


Where to get information:


Teachers, did you know you can adopt a literary mag for your writing classes through CLMP, the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses?


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