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Submitting to Literary Magazines

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This section of the OWL seeks to demystify the process of submitting creative work to literary magazines. We’ll review topics such as how to figure out what to submit in the first place, how to find good potential homes for your work, and how to maximize your chances for acceptance. We’ve also included examples of writing relevant to the submission process such a cover letter and a biography as well as an acceptance and rejection letter to provide a look into what correspondence with literary magazines looks like. 


You’ve done it! Whether it was a lightning bolt of inspiration or weeks (months? years?) of writing and revising, you’ve crafted a piece of creative writing you’re proud of. Maybe it’s a sestina; maybe it’s a lyric essay. Whatever it is, you want to get it published. Reasons for publication are numerous: wanting to see what others think of your work, seeking a way to bulk up your CV, or hoping for a chance to get some hard-earned cash, just to name a few. Regardless of if you’ve submitted 100 times before or this is your first time, this resource will help you navigate the submission process. 

We’ll start by thinking through what you can submit in the first place. Next, we’ll move into thinking about where to submit, considering strategies for finding places to submit in the first place as well as how to discern whether or not a particular publication is a good fit for your work. After, we’ll think through the logistics of how to submit and talk through an example cover letter and biography (written materials you’ll almost certainly be asked to include in your submission). Finally, we’ll discuss what happens after you submit and review a few example rejection letters as well as an example acceptance letter. 


There are three main considerations when discerning what to submit: 1) whether or not a piece has already been published, 2) the genre of a piece, and 3) the length of a piece.  

First, if a piece has already been published, including on a personal blog, a website, and/or on social media, your piece is almost always not eligible for re-publication. The same goes for work that has already been self-published. Lit mags (also referred to throughout this document as literary magazines, literary journals, and journals) want to be the first to feature your work in question and not just “another place” that offers your work a home. 

Second, different lit mags accept different genres. For example, if you only write short stories, you won’t be able to publish in Rattle, which only publishes poetry. If you write in multiple different genres, you might find that you are able to submit your fiction to one magazine, and your essays to another. 

Third, lit mags often have length restrictions, which can vary widely. You might be able to submit poems only if they are 50 lines or less; or, you might be able to submit any type of prose so long as it is 6,000 words or less. If you tend to write particularly long pieces but want to submit to a lit mag that has length restrictions, try finding an excerpt of a larger work to submit or condensing your work for the sake of submitting it. 


After deciding to submit what work to submit, one question often looms: Where do I submit? Finding lit mags is just a Google search away. Chances are, you’ve heard of some flagship publications: The New Yorker, Paris Review, Ploughshares…. Just as there are myriads of different types of writing in the world, so too are there myriads of different kinds of lit mags. Some have been around for decades; some were founded earlier this year. Some only publish online; some only publish hard copy. Some are themed (nature poems only, zombie fiction only, Wyoming-themed work, etc.). Some operate through universities; others are independent. Some require payment to have your work read (usually a smallish fee, say, $3) whereas others allow you to submit for free. Some pay their contributors, though most don’t, or do only minimally. Some ask you to submit your work through Submittable (an online submissions-management platform) whereas a select few ask for hard copy submissions mailed to their office. (For more on this front, “How do I submit?” is a good place to start.) Seeking the right home for your work can be intimidating, but it’s not an impossible task. Below are four strategies to help you find places to submit to in the first place. 

1. This list from Driftwood Press: a good starting point! 

If you don’t know where to start, Driftwood Press keeps a massive “Where Else to Submit” list, linked above, that includes links to hundreds of different magazines and presses, what genres they accept, when their submission deadlines are, whether or not there is a submission fee, and whether or not they offer compensation for publication. 

The enormity of the list can be overwhelming, but you can always select a few lit mags on this list at random and begin scanning their websites to see what their publication is all about as you consider whether your work might find a good home there.

2. What writers do you like? Where did they publish? 

Do you have a favorite author? Favorite poet? Take a look at a book of theirs and see where they’ve published. This is especially relevant for books of poetry, essays, short stories, or other work often published as a collection. Just like musical artists often release a few singles before their album, it is commonplace for a writer to have portions of their work published in lit mags before putting out a book-length collection. 

In other words, if you like Writer X’s work, maybe you’ll like where she publishes, too! If you are reading contemporary work, it’s helpful simply to read the “Acknowledgements” pages and slowly get familiar with the names of different lit mags.  

3. Look local. 

If you are a Purdue student, maybe you’ve grown particularly fond of the cornfields in Indiana, and publishing work through a local journal is particularly appealing to you. If so, maybe you’d be especially drawn to the Sycamore Review, The Indianapolis Review, or any number of other journals based out of Indiana. To find local lit mags or publishers, a good start would be to visit a bookstore or library in your area and browse their shelves to see what lit mags they’re carrying. 

4. Consider submission windows. 

A vast majority of literary magazines do not accept submissions year-round; rather, they may have a “submission window” where they accept work. Some magazines only accept work one month of the year, whereas others may have two different three-month submission periods during the calendar year. Some magazines might have a month-long submission window (June 15-July 15, for example) that will automatically close once they reach a certain number of submissions. If, for instance, you only have time to commit to submitting your creative writing in the summer months, you’ll want to find magazines that accept submissions in the summertime. As you begin the process of finding lit mags you like and want to publish in, it might help to make a document to organize when you can submit to which magazine.  


Below are three considerations to help you gauge if your work seems like it could be a good fit for the journal you’ve found. 

1. Read the most recent issue. 

This is arguably the most time-consuming (and perhaps frustratingly obvious) tip, but it has to go first. Just like the best way to figure out if you like a restaurant is to try its food, the best way to figure out if you want to submit to a lit mag is to give it a read. If paying the $10 or $15 dollars necessary to order the lit mag (or pay for online access to it) isn’t possible or doesn’t appeal, fear not! There is often online content for your perusal. Most, though not all, lit mags have online features, so while you may not be able to read the most recent issue in its entirety, you can still read work that the magazine’s editors deemed fit for publication. Even if a lit mag doesn’t publish any of their work online (or a paywall prevents you from accessing it), lit mags that offer contests will often publish contest winners.

2. Read the “About Us.” 

Beyond growing familiar with work the lit mag publishes, check out the “About Us” page. This will often include the mission statement / vision for the journal, which can also be helpful in discerning if there might be aesthetic similarities and/or shared interested between you and the folks who run the journal. Further, it can be great to look into who runs the lit mag. If you’re sending in a short story, who is the fiction editor? Look that person up—maybe even read a short story published by the editor. Does this person seem like they might be interested in the kind of work you create? 

3. If you are in touch with other writers, use them as resources! 

Not everyone is in the position of having other writers nearby, but if you are in touch with other writers and/or know of writers who have publishing experience, feel free to ask them if they have any experience with the journal you have in mind. Maybe they won’t, but maybe they will—or know someone who does. (Consider this is a broader encouragement, too, to seek out community as you seek readers for your work.) 


It’s important to make a few concessions, here. 

Concession Number One: There are many more writers than there are literary magazines, journals, and publishers.  

Concession Number Two: Except for the most widely renowned writers (think, those who have entire bookcases devoted to them at big-name bookstores), creative writing is not a lucrative field, and likely will not become one. 

These two concessions combine for Concession Number Three: Readers and editors for literary magazines are swimming in submissions. It’s not unreasonable for a magazine to receive 700 short story submissions and only be able to publish five of them, or to receive 200 poetry submissions and only be able to publish eight.  

Space within magazines, especially print ones, is at a premium; the time of the person reading your submission is at a premium, too. It is actually a great sign of encouragement when, in response to your submission, you receive what’s known as a personalized rejection rather than a form rejection. That is, you might receive a note informing you that, while the journal cannot publish your work at this time, they enjoyed reading it and would love to hear more from you in the future. (Read more below on I submitted: Now what?) 

So, will your work be accepted? Statistically speaking, it’s unlikely. But, it’s also unlikely for an NFL team to win a Super Bowl, or a scientist to win a Nobel Prize, or a student to get admitted into Harvard, but these things happen every single year. If publishing is something important to you, don’t let the odds stop you from trying.  


While publication percentages may not be particularly confidence-inspiring, there are things you can do to increase the chance your work will get picked up. 

1. Submit your best work. 

This is perhaps obvious, but it bears noting. As discussed above, readers for lit mags are often inundated with submissions. Submit your best work first to help yourself stand out. If you’re unsure which is “best,” ask a trusted reader for their opinion. Further, if you are submitting a packet (two different flash fiction pieces, or five pomes) rather than an individual work, start with the strongest. 

2. Read the submission guidelines! 

For better or worse, lit mag readers and editors are almost always looking for ways to easily shrink their stack of 1,000 submissions, to, say, 100. And then to 10. There is no easier way to get your submission denied than by neglecting to follow every submission guideline. This means that you should not submit four poems when the magazine only accepts three, submit a PDF when the magazine asks for a Word doc, or submit your fiction to the nonfiction category. Similarly, do not send in a 2,500-word essay when the journal asks for a 2,400-word maximum. 

Follow all submission guidelines exactly, not because it is so important to, say, have your bio in third-person as opposed to first-person, but because following these guidelines will allow the reader to immediately dive into the important material—your work—without getting bogged down by any logistical hiccups. Further, adhering to the submission guidelines shows that you yourself are a careful reader and that you respect the journal by following said guidelines in the first place. 

3. Make sure your work is a good fit in the first place! 

Revisit “How do I know if my work is a good fit?” above. 

4. Consider simultaneous submissions. 

Most journals accept simultaneous submissions, which is, as the term suggests, submitting your work story to multiple different journals simultaneously. Most journals will clarify in their guidelines whether or not they accept simultaneous submissions (a vast majority do, so long as you let Journal B know that your piece is no longer available as soon as Journal A accepts it.) If there’s a short story you really want in the world, consider sending it to a handful, maybe even two handfuls, of places. 


Another consideration for submissions is whether you’d prefer to submit to magazine’s general submissions, their contests, or a mix of both. Contests, offered by some—not all—journals, are generally more competitive and more expensive to enter (fees usually range between $20-$30). But, winning them almost always comes with clout as well as prize money, ranging from modest sums ($100) to larger ones ($1,000+). Sometimes, contest winners are selected by a guest judge (generally a respected and perhaps well-known writer), and other times they are chosen by the editors of the magazine themselves. 

One thing to note is that even if you don’t win the contest, it can be possible to still be picked up for publication by the journal as a finalist or simply as someone who caught the attention of the judges. Whether or not finalists and/or semifinalists are published alongside the contest winner (or winners) is up to the magazine’s discretion. 


On the websites of most journals, there will most likely be a tab that says “Submit” or “Submissions.” Occasionally, this tab is slightly buried somewhere on the webpage. (Look in the “About Us” or “Contact Us” sections of the site if you have trouble finding it.) 

In terms of actually submitting, a vast majority of journals only accept—or greatly prefer—online submissions. Generally, this is done via a platform called Submittable that allows you (as the submitter) to manage and track your submissions, just as it allows the journal editors to track and view their submissions. Sometimes, submitting is done via an in-house submission portal, and, in the rarest of circumstances, a magazine will only accept mailed, hard copy submissions. Regardless, the lit mag will (or should) have their submissions process clearly demarcated on their website in terms of 1) how to submit, 2) what time(s) of year they accept submissions, and 3) what they are looking for in terms of submissions (genre, page length, etc.). 

As noted previously, following these submission guidelines exactly is in your best interest. Beyond preparing your piece of writing for submission and figuring out the journal’s guidelines so you can follow them, there are two other pieces to the submission puzzle you’ll need: a strong cover letter and a solid, succinct bio.  


The cover letter is your chance to briefly let the journal know 1) what you are submitting as well as 2) why you are submitting to that magazine in particular. The best-case scenario for a cover letter is that you’ve presented yourself in a professional manner as an eager, capable writer with a strong reason for submitting to the journal. What follows is an example cover letter: 

Dear Audrey Li and the entire Coffee Journal team, 

Please consider my following poems, “Exciting Poem 1,” “Clever Poem 2,” and “Memorable Poem 3” for inclusion within an upcoming edition of Coffee Journal. I especially admired Ash Lever’s “Brilliantly Titled Poem” in your latest edition and would be honored for my work to be considered for publication in an upcoming edition of your journal. 

This is a simultaneous submission, and I will let you know immediately if any of these poems are accepted elsewhere.  

Thank you in advance for taking the time to consider my work. 


A. Writer


It’s helpful to make a few quick notes on this example cover letter and what this writer does well. She… 

  • Addresses, by name, the relevant genre editor to whom she has addressed the cover letter. 
  • Includes the name of the work she is submitting, as well as the professional, polite request to consider her work in an upcoming edition of the journal. 
  • Mentions something she specifically admires about the journal in question, revealing herself as someone who has “done her homework”—that is, she is showing that she really does have (at least some) vested interest in this magazine. 
  • Notes that her submission is simultaneous; that is, she is submitting these poems to other magazines as well. As previously noted, this is fine to do if the magazine accepts simultaneous submissions so long as she lets Coffee Journal know that one (or more) of her poems is no longer available as soon as she learned another journal has accepted them.  
  • Concludes the note by thanking the editor(s). Remember, these cover letters are being read by readers who are often underpaid or unpaid and who have, more often than not, dozens and dozens of pieces to read. Kindness in a cover letter is important here just as it is elsewhere. 

For more, The Adroit Journal has a great piece further explaining the ins and outs of cover letter writing with an annotated example. 


The biography is your chance to briefly give a glimpse of who your writer-self is. Common information to include is where you are from, where you went to or are going to school, what you do for work, and where you have been previously published (if applicable). Writing in third person is the best way to go.  

Generally, these are expected to be professional. That said, if the journal you are applying to is particularly quirky, or you have no desire to confine yourself to the constraints of a traditional cover letter, feel free to be quirky. The best-case scenario for a biography is that, similarly to the cover letter, you’ve presented yourself as a professional and given the magazine a small glimpse of who you are. 

For those of you asking, “What do I put for publications if I haven’t published anywhere yet?” the answer is simple: nothing. Don’t let your lack of publishing be a catch-22 stopping you from trying to publish in the first place. And take heart: Many magazines exist specifically with the mission to promote new and emerging writers.  

What follows is an example biography: 

A. Writer is a poet from Indiana. She received her MFA in poetry from A Super Excellent University, and her poems have appeared in This Cool Journal and are forthcoming from Another Cool Journal. She lives in West Lafayette where she teaches high school English.


Congratulations! Even if your work is not selected by the particular lit mag you submitted to, you are putting your work out in the world. At this point, you wait. Response times vary widely, from several weeks to up to a year (or more). Many magazines have submission guidelines indicating about how long you should expect to wait to hear back. Some will also ask that they not be contacted with an inquiry about your submission until a certain amount of time has passed. 

During the waiting process, don’t let your writing life be put on hold! A common saying in the journalistic field applies here: “Work is never finished, it just meets deadline.” Feel free to continue shaping the writing projects you submitted, or leave them until you hear back from journals and allow yourself to start writing in new directions.  


Generally speaking, there are two different types of rejection letters a lit mag can give, and—perhaps surprisingly—one of these is actually good news. The first type is a form rejection letter. This is a generic rejection, meaning this letter is copy and pasted to each person who receives it (with the exception of changing the submitter’s name and the title of their submitted work). A form rejection might look like this: 

Dear A. Writer, 

Thank you for submitting “Exciting Poem 1,” “Clever Poem 2,” and “Memorable Poem 3” to Coffee Journal. Unfortunately, we decided your work was not a fit for us at this time. 


The Editors 


A personalized rejection, on the other hand, while still a rejection, often includes some kind of encouragement. Two different examples, followed by an explanation of why a personalized rejection is good news, follows: 


Dear A. Writer, 

Thank you for submitting “Exciting Poem 1,” “Clever Poem 2,” and “Memorable Poem 3” to Coffee Journal. While we are not able to find a place for it at this time, we found your work exciting and greatly enjoyed reading it. We would look forward to reading more of your writing in the future. 


The Editors 


Dear A. Writer, 

Thank you for submitting to Coffee Journal. Though we have decided against publishing your work at this time, we found “Clever Poem 2” particularly moving. Please keep up in mind for future work. 


The Editors 

On the outset, the form rejection letter and the personalized rejection letters don’t have much of a difference. But take heart: That extra line in the personalized rejection letters is a big deal. Anything such as an invitation to resubmit, a specific, encouraging note about your work, and / or commentary about your specific pieces or writing are signs your rejection was personalized rather than a form rejection. This means that out of the large amount of work that journal received, while your work wasn’t part of the teeny percentage chosen for publication, it stood out to the editors. It’s not a bad idea to consider submitting again a future reading period for that lit mag; if you do so, consider adding a note in your cover letter that you’ve been encouraged to resubmit.  


In an interview with Michigan Quarterly Review, poet Hannah Ensor spoke well on creative writing awards (and, perhaps by extension, publication): “I think that it means a lot when you do win, but it means almost nothing when you don’t.”  

In a world where editors and readers for lit mags are swimming in submissions, a rejection is not so much a condemnation of your work as a “out of the 100 pieces we received, this is not one of the five we are able to accept.” This isn’t to say that rejection doesn’t sting; no one likes getting turned down. For better or worse, rejection is simply part of the process. 

Further, being rejected from a particular journal is not necessarily a suggestion that your work isn’t a good fit for the journal; much is up to chance in terms of who first reads your work. Many lit mags, especially larger ones, have teams of readers that will curate a small portion of submissions for more serious consideration by the section or genre editor(s). Your submission to Coffee Journal this year may be read by a completely different set of eyes than last year.  

Finally, consider the following positive spins on rejection: 

  1. Rejection is an invitation to keep writing.  

On the one hand, it’s an opportunity to return to your work: What might be revised? How might you make your work come more fully into its own? On the other hand, it can be an opportunity to dive into something new, with all the knowledge and experience you’ve now gained from writing what you’ve already written. (If having writing that never gets published is a depressing thought, consider this encouragement by accomplished writer Anne Lamott in an essay of hers embracing the messiness of first drafts: “Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”) 

  1. Rejection is an opportunity to revisit why you write in the first place. 

Why did you write that story, that poem, that essay in the first place? Rejection can provide a tangible time to revisit your “Why?” as a writer. If you’re writing for the money and you’ve gotten numerous rejections from paid awards, perhaps writing is not the most prudent path forward. If you’re writing because you feel you have something to say, because you love language, because it’s a way for you to discover what you’re thinking and how you feel about the world, well…rejection can’t touch those motivations. Remind yourself why you got into writing in the first place and keep at it. 


The purpose of acceptance letters is simple. You’re in! Like a job offer, an acceptance letter from a lit mag means you have an offer for publication—they want you if you want them. After your work is accepted, there a few things that will happen: 

  • You will need to read and sign a contract detailing: 
  • What the lit mag needs from you (such as an updated bio) between that moment and publication. 
  • What happens with the rights of your creative work (this page by Poets & Writers details copyright information in more depth). 
  • What compensation you will be provided with (if applicable). 
  • You may correspond with an editor from the journal to perform final edits and/or revisions of your creative piece(s). 
  • You may need to submit an updated author information, such as a bio, and/or a finalized version of your creative piece(s). 
  • You need, if applicable, to immediately withdraw the work that is being published from any other lit mags you submitted it to. This is generally done by contacting the magazines through Submittable or by emailing the editors—lit mags’ Submissions page will generally clarify how they’d like to be notified if you need to withdraw part or all of your submission. 


Dear A. Writer, 

Thank you for sending us “Exciting Title Number 1” and “Memorable Title Number 3.” We greatly enjoyed both of them and would like to publish them in Coffee Journal’s next edition. 

As per our submission guidelines, we offer three free copies of the edition in which your work appears. Please click here to confirm acceptance.  

Thank you for sending your work! We look forward to hearing from you. 


Audrey Li 

Coffee Journal Poetry Editor 

Just a few things to note, here:  

  1. Getting an acceptance does not necessarily mean the journal is accepting every piece of work your sent; it simply means they are accepting one (or more) of your pieces. 
  2. Generally, acceptance letters are more personalized; the magazine has chosen your work and is eager to make a good impression on you just as you’ve made a good impression on them. In this vein, acceptance letters are generally sent from the particular editor who chose your work or oversees your genre, whereas a rejection letter is often from the unnamed “Editors”. 


Submitting work can be any number of things: exciting, gut-wrenching, confusing, tedious. Regardless of your personal attachment to—or detachment from—the submission process, it’s an important process to understand as a creative writer. Even though the odds may be that a rejection is much more likely than an acceptance, you never know unless you try.  

Imagine if the writer of your own favorite book never took the chance to submit it for publication in the first place. Thank goodness they did take that chance so their writing could change you and others—in however big or small a way. This chance, submitting work for publication, is one that you can take, too. 

Best of luck, and happy submitting! 


Submission Etiquette: The Cincinnati Review has a short, helpful article on submission reminders.  

Writing Cover Letters: The Adroit Journal has a great piece explaining the ins and outs of cover letter writing. 

Submission Opportunities: Driftwood Press: Where Else to Submit 

The Invisible Art of Literary Editing: an in-depth look into the inner workings of literary magazines. 

Submittable: a common platform lit mags will request submissions through. 

Copyright Information: This page by Poets & Writers explains relevant copyright information for writers.  


Jenkins, Marlin M. Somatic Pinging: An Interview with Hannah Ensor, Michigan Quarterly Review Blog, Mar 25, 2019, 

Lamott, Anne. "Shitty First Drafts.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers. Ed. by Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005: 93-96.