A Modern, Simple, & Realistic Guide To Publishing

Writing is weird, now. Resumes are largely digital, despite the expectation that an applicant’s cover letter be simultaneously formulaic and unique. Abstractional poetry can all but guarantee commercial success, while exemplary prose in a work of fanfiction is somehow seen as frivolous, unprofessional, and irrelevant.

Not to mention the frequency in which the light in a stranger’s eye goes out when you tell them you have an English degree and are then met with the question: Oh, so you want to be an English teacher?

No, Oscar, I do not. Many of my friends are teachers, and although I sincerely idolize their compassion and ability to connect with younger humans on what is truly a beautiful level, I would rather lick the sun.

In fact, the United States needs competent language education because literacy in the country is actually a big-ass problem. Although I personally would not make a good English teacher, there’s a huge, huge need for them considering over 32 million people in the US “have ‘below reading’ basic skills.”

To be real, any corporation in the country would benefit from a highly skilled team of writers. Of course, whether that team is trained in marketing, rhetoric, technical or grammatical syntax, grant writing, or in something creative is largely dependent on the focus and needs of that company. Regardless, every business ever needs a skilled, capable wordsmith.

However, that’s not to say writing as a craft should be a function of capitalism.

Robert Frost didn’t bust his ass for a paycheck. Jack Kerouac certainly didn’t go through it just to appear on a light-grunge Tumblr profile. Edgar Allen Poe wasn’t aesthetic for the fun of it, and Homer didn’t mean to end up in every freshman’s classroom, but here we are.

If you can manage to separate the free and utter joy that writing can provide you with the soul-sucking, perfectionist masters of the material world… Or furthermore, if you crave an outlet for your expression and desire to show the word what’s really inside you, then I would suggest sending in your work for publication.

Trusting your inner world to critics may be daunting at first and that’s understandable, but there’s tons of great advice online. For now, I hope to make this as simple as possible for anyone who’s wanted to try publishing their work but maybe wasn’t sure how, or maybe they just needed the extra encouragement!

By the way, this is it. This is the encouragement you needed.

First thing’s first.

Find A Journal That’s Compatible With Your Style

By now, you should know the style of your own writing really well. (If you don’t, I suggest reading anything you can get your hands on and then comparing it to your own natural inclinations.)

Is your poetry more lyrical, or straight-forward and narrative focused? Do your poems typically end up in the same structure, or are you experimental with spacing and enjambment? Are you bilingual, and do you include both your first and second languages within your poems? Is your fiction long-winded, or do you prefer to write micro-stories? And so on.

Before you even begin gathering your prose or poetry in a single document, you need to find a journal you want to submit to — ideally, a journal or magazine that you not only vibe with, but can clearly see your own work fitting in. If you just type in “literary journals” on Google and then throw your work at random publications, you are not going to get published.

Think of it like this — the masthead of those publications put a great deal of time and energy into cultivating a coherent aesthetic. If their journal is about maritime travel and you send in poetry about star-gazing alone at night, at your old elementary school’s soccer field while pretending your anime boyfriend is there beside you, that’s an automatic delete and a complete waste of everyone’s time.

So, naturally, this will be the most time consuming part of the entire process. Researching journals.

There’s a billion different ways of finding databases of journals online. For example, you could type in “literary journals poetry feminism” on Google and I’m sure some good things would come up.

Poets & Writers has a huge collection of literary journals on demand. All you have to do is type in a genre you’re interested in, choose whether you want those journals to include simultaneous submissions or not (we’ll get to that), and hit the filter button.

Then, choose a journal and go to their website. They’ll have an “Archive” tag somewhere on their main menu, and get to reading! Seriously. Don’t bother unless you really think you’re a good fit for them. (And you will find good fits for your work. Promise. There’s so many options out there holy crap.)

Make A Submittable Account

If you are a writer who is even thinking about sending in your work, whether it’s now or in the future, you need to make a Submittable account. Submittable is good for many glorious things, but for now, it’s relevant because most journals (whether they publish in print or digitally) require a Submittable account to submit with.

After finding a good match for your work and style, find and click the “Submit” button, which you will also find on their main navigational menu.

Chances are, they will redirect you to their Submittable page and it will look like this:

Fairly simple, yeah?

For the title of the submission, you could make it as simple as your last name and then the amount of poems or fiction you are submitting. So, mine would look like “Torres — Five Poems.” I’ve seen plenty of writers do this.

Or, if you’re bougie (or want to add a little flavor), you could come up with something creative. Maybe your submission focuses on mental health, or identity, or… dogs! I always assume a lot of people are using their last name as the title for their submissions, so I’ve started coming up with original titles instead.

Make it as unique as you want! There’s literally no way to mess this part up. As long as you’re not inappropriate or disrespectful, it’s all good.

The cover letter is a little different. I use a formulaic setup — but then, after researching the journal’s masthead and mission statement, will write something sincere and specific to whatever I am sending in.

If you can, address the editors by name. You will find their name in the “Masthead” or “Staff” section of the website. Doing this shows them you actually care enough to learn about who will be reading your work.

Always thank them for their time. They don’t have to read your writing. They choose to. You are not entitled to be read and coddled and accepted, so be polite and let them know you appreciate their effort!

Lastly, if your work discusses sensitive material or needs to include trigger warnings, put them there. It could be as simple as, “Just to let you know, my poem ‘In The Bathroom’ mentions themes of disordered eating and body dysmorphia. Please be aware of this!”

Trust me. This will go a long way.

Compile Your Prose Or Poetry Into A Single .DOC or PDF File

Next comes the actual document you’ll be sending in! This is easy-peasy.

By now, you’ll have read their submission guidelines, so you know how many poems you’re limited to. A lot of journals will ask for 3–5 poems, but I’ve seen journals that only ask for 1. I’ve also seen journals that have asked for 10. It really depends!

What you don’t want to do is put ANY identifying information in your document. Do not put your name or address in there, or anything that should be in your cover letter, any hello’s or goodbye’s… nothing! The journals read blindly to keep things as fair and anonymous as possible.

All that should be in that document are the poems and prose in question. Keep the font simple. They are not looking for “flair” here. The editors read hundreds of submissions with every issue, so you want to keep things easy for them. Helvetica is a safe choice. So is Times Roman. Many journals will actually ask for Times Roman, so make sure to keep an eye out when reading their submission guidelines.

As for spacing, if the journal has a preference, they’ll let you know. If there’s no instructions on spacing, I’ll use 1.2 or 1.5 to try and keep things easy on their eyes. The font should be around 11–12 pt. Again, if the journal wants something specific, adhere to their requests. They’re TIRED LOL. Give them a break!

After that, click on the Terms & Conditions option if the journal has one, make a wish, and send your shit in!

What Comes After? You Make A DAMN SPREADSHEET

Please. I’m begging you. Make a spreadsheet on Google Drive. It will save you… so many tears. Literal tears. I’ve seen it happen. People will send in their work (and a lot of it), only to not remember what they’ve sent in later on when submitting to another journal. Breakdowns ensue.

It’s super simple and really fast. This is all you need to set up.

Keep track of the journal’s name, the date on which you submitted your work, whether they used Submittable or their own personal engine, the names of the poems or prose you submitted, and whether they were accepted or not.

This will save you SO much stress, and the spreadsheet will always be accessible on Google should you need to refer back to it.

How Long Will You Be Waiting?

As always, the length of time depends on the journal and the size of their staff. The general waiting time is 3–5 months. After that, it’s appropriate to shoot the journal an email and (POLITELY) ask what’s up and inquire as to the status of your submission.

This may sound like a long time, but this is standard. You might have to get used to the idea of waiting that long for the result, but it’s chill! If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen and everything will be good in the world.

Again, keep in mind that the staff probably gets hundreds (thousands, if the journal is popular) of submissions with every issue, so patience here is absolutely necessary.

In The Meantime… Invest In Simultaneous Submissions

Simultaneous submissions sounds tricky, but all it means is submitting the same poem or story to more than one journal.

Most journals allow this, however, some do not. Read their submission guidelines and be aware of their preferences.

This is why you created a spreadsheet. To organize what you send where, and to check off what is accepted or not.

Now, if more than one journal accepts a piece of work, you are allowed to choose which journal publishes that work. It’s similar to applying for jobs — when two call back, you choose one and “break up” with the other.

Keep it respectful. Thank the journal you want to withdraw your work from and let them know you sincerely appreciate their validation and effort. Then, thank the journal you want to go with and let them know how happy you are!

Guess what? That’s it!

Extra Tips & Suggestions

  • Keep and compile a masterlist of journals you’re either interested in or want to submit to in the future. You can do this via Google Docs. My literary journal master-list is, like… eleven pages long now, and it will save you HOURS in the long run.
  • I have a best friend who’s the primary editor for an up-and-coming literary journal. When I asked her why editors reject pieces that mesh really well with the journal’s aesthetic and mission, she simply said, “Sometimes, there isn’t a reason. Maybe you’re just in a bad mood. Maybe you’re overworked and tired. It means nothing.” So, in essence, what she meant is that rejection is not a reflection of you, your worth, your hard work, or your ability.
  • Prepare for rejection. You will be rejected. A lot. I’ve been rejected dozens of times. My college professors, who I consider to be incredibly talented and well-read, have been rejected even more so. These are people who teach for a living and who’ve published full-length books, and they are still and often, unilaterally rejected. Tenacity is needed! If your work gets shot down, you try again.
  • Take your time. This is not a sprint, and it is easy to get burnt out. If you enjoy competition, you may enjoy the process — I certainly do. But, rejection is hard, and it never feels good. Make sure to take care of yourself and remember that you do NOT have to commodify your writing. Just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean you need to be published. This is for YOU. Not for your employer, or your family. You.
  • Publishing will not be lucrative at first. A lot of journals cannot afford to pay their contributors, but many can! They will let you know in their submission guidelines whether or not that’s the case. But please don’t go into this thinking you’ll end up like Rupi Kaur. Until your name becomes a big deal in the community, this is a matter of making your work accessible and allowing your heart to be shared with other people. If this sounds like a scam or a capitalist game to you… yeah. It’s best to keep the purity of art in mind during this process. As cliche as it sounds, connection is what matters. Money and livelihood can come after.
  • Be yourself. I KNOW HOW DUMB THIS SOUNDS, but editors do not want to see the same dry-ass shit every time they open a document. Be professional, but not robotic in any sense of the word. It’s okay to be who you are in your submissions. They will notice your extra effort.

So, a big good luck to ya’ll. I sincerely hope this has helped you in any capacity. Please, let me know how things work out. Have fun and take care!

I live in New England where I read, write, & recite poetry in gay bars. I study feminism, the occult, and explore queerness in relation to both! (Not bitchy.)