Everything You Wanted To Know (and Plenty You Didn't) About Lit Mag Submission Guidelines
Lesson 4 of 12 of Sorry For The Inconvenience — A Submitter's Guide To Lit Mags
Welcome to Lesson # 4 of Write or Die 101’s first writing course: Sorry For The Inconvenience — A Submitter’s Guide To Lit Mags. If this is the first time you’re joining us, you can find the first three lessons here.
I have some news! This was supposed to be two lessons. Then I had this fun idea last week that will replace Friday’s lesson. (No, I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll find out on Friday). Because of that, this lesson is super long. Like — go pee and get some pretzels kinda long. And a quick reminder: I do swear in these lessons. If that isn’t your thing, I understand but just a heads up.
Lesson 4 will include:
A general introduction to submission guidelines.
Where to find them and a few little tips.
Creating your Hell-No List and checking eligibility requirements.
A breakdown of different types of reading periods and submission calls.
[Video] How to find any piece of information in submission guidelines instantly.
‘Let’s Fuck With Mark’, where I pick apart ONE ART’s submission guidelines bit by bit, explaining what everything means along the way.
Final notes on the ethical dilemma of simultaneous submissions & previously published works.
Discussion about what matters and what doesn’t while reviewing guidelines.
Here we go. You can find details on all of the lit mags mentioned and links to further readings and resources in this spreadsheet.
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So, what are submission guidelines?
Well, that depends on who wrote them. In an ideal world, they provide a writer with everything they need to know to submit to a lit mag. We don't live in an ideal world (because: bees), so, from time to time, it turns out submission guidelines are a place you go to scratch your head and question the trajectory of your life. That's because there is no standard. If an editor is a picky person, their guidelines will be picky; if they are lazy or entitled, guess what? Most of the time, guidelines fall into one of these four camps:
There are three places you’ll find a magazine’s submission guidelines:
On their website, under ‘submit,’ ‘submissions,’ ‘contribute,’ ‘write for us,’ ‘join us,’ and so on. (If it’s not under those, check their ‘about’ or ‘contact’ pages.
If you don’t find it there, google: [Magazine] submission guidelines, and you should get a direct link.
On their submission portal page (Submittable, Duosuma, Moksha, Oleada, etc.) These will often be linked in a magazine’s guidelines and lead you off-site to their portal.
Warning: Roughly 15% of magazines do not update their guidelines to match their submission portal. I don’t know why they do this (ahem, laziness). So, default to the portal guidelines if they exist.
Somewhere the fuck else. Either because the magazine has an experimental call method (like HAD) or because they’re only on social media (like Thread Lit Mag), you might have to Dora the Explorer your way to finding wtf a lit mag wants.
That’s the best case. Worse case: a mag thinks it’s only right for you to follow them everywhere and sign up for their newsletters to receive calls. And, I mean…OK, sure.
Eligibility Requirements and Your Hell-No List
Before diving into any guidelines, you should check for Eligibility Requirements. If you don't fall into their eligibility, you're shit out of luck; move on.
Then develop your Hell-No List. This is a list of your personal standards for a lit mag. It will save you time knowing what you are and are not comfortable with while submitting. You don’t want to start and learn later; Hey, wait a minute, I am wasting my money with all of these fees! Or maybe you only feel comfortable submitting to lit mags that have been around 5+ years. There are loads of reasons.
Some examples of reasons people might nix a lit mag right off the bat:
They don’t accept simultaneous submissions.
They charge a fee to submit.
They don’t pay their writers.
They only put out submission calls on social media.
My Hell No List:
Fees over $5
No clear reading periods
Side note: If you come up with a hell-no list, you can use Chill Subs’ “Hide” feature. This way, whenever you search for lit mags, you’ll never see the ones that don’t fit your requirements.
Reading Periods and Submission Calls
Sometimes, in communities with a gatekeeper dynamic, there can grow a misconception that those with the keys are always right. This is not true. Reading Periods and Submission Calls are a prime example of this. If a lit mag doesn’t tell you whether they are open or closed or when you can submit, move on. If you really like their vibe, set a date to check back in. That, or if you’re super dedicated, you can set up a change tracker. There is a cheap one called changedetection.io. It’s a bit technical and overkill for most folks, but if you’re a technical person who is into overkill, have at it. Basically, what this does is ping you whenever a change happens on a website.
But there are thousands of lit mags, and more than 50% were founded in the past five years. It is a growing industry, and you, as the writer, deserve respect. I don’t say that as a tsk-tsk to editors, but just as an important thing to keep in mind as a general rule: don’t waste your time.
Caveat: If no reading period is mentioned and the lit mag accepts EMAIL submissions, it usually means they are always open. If no reading period is mentioned and they use a submission manager, check there.
Reading periods & calls are generally presented as follows
General Calls/Reading Periods → Periods of time where a lit mag is open to all genres they generally accept.
Always open → Submit whenever, forever.
Rolling - Submit whenever. If they list deadlines, it just means your work will go in a specific issue. (Sometimes ‘rolling’ is used synonymously with always open).
Single Genre Calls → Many magazines open for different genres at different times. Only submit to the genre they are open for.
Submission Caps → Many lit mags have submission caps on their reading periods. For example, they’ll only accept 500 submissions but be open for two months. For some really popular lit mags, these caps can fill up within a day or two so if you see one on a lit mag you like, mark your calendar.
Free reading periods → Several lit mags have fees but set time aside each period for free submissions. Sometimes it’s a week, other times it’s a whole month (like Electric Lit)
Theme calls → Loads of lit mags have theme calls. Some are short-lived, others define the lit mag (like Scrawl Place). Love them or hate them, they are becoming more and more popular. Sometimes they are somewhat open-ended, like ‘Love’ or ‘Magic.’ Other times, they are more specific, like ‘Eldritch Horror in a chicken coup.” Some lit mags have gotten really creative with these calls. One bases them off Tarot Cards. Another does something with star signs. The good news is that if you’re targeting top-tier magazines, theme calls are a great opportunity to submit with less competition and know what the lit mag is looking for. New England Review, Harvard Review, and Kenyon Review are all top-tier lit mags that have periodic theme calls. Use these to your advantage.
Special Calls → These vary slightly from theme calls in that it doesn’t always have to do with a theme. Sometimes it is about the writer or an event. They vary. ONLY POEMS, for example, has a call for Poet of the Week.
Anthology Call → When everyone gets together to throw short story anthologies at guys who play acoustic guitar at parties.1
Expedited Submission calls (I’m almost done, I promise) → Usually paid, this is when a lit mag has the option for folks to submit and receive an answer quickly. The fees for this can add up, and it doesn’t impact your chances, so use these sparingly.
Print Calls vs. Online Calls
Several magazines have issues both in print and online (or print issues with an online blog). Some folks really want to see their work in print, so pay attention to this. If you submit outside of their print reading periods, you’ll only get published online. Here are a couple of examples:
Print: We will accept submissions for our spring 2024 print issue, Conjunctions:82, Works & Days, via Submittable from October 25 – November 5, 2023. All submissions will also be considered for our weekly online magazine.
Online: Submissions are open year-round by postal mail for our biannual print issues and weekly online magazine, which is not subject to thematic restrictions. Please see below for instructions.
Print: Gulf Coast's Regular Print Submissions Period is Open from September 1 through March 1
Online: Gulf Coast will be closed to submissions for Online Exclusives from December 21st to January 25th.
*Gulf Coast is a great example of a lit mag whose Submittable Page is way better organized than their actual submission guidelines.
But how to find these quickly? Since, as anyone who has been submitting for a while will tell you, guidelines are not always easy to parse (though they outta be). So I'll teach you a little trick that not only helps here, but with this entire process.
There is a browser called ARC. It's new. It’s free.
Just to reiterate what I mention in the video, use “Ctrl + F,” then type your question and hit “Enter.”
OK, now let’s fuck with Mark
I went back and forth over the best way to discuss all the different aspects of submission guidelines. In the past, I’ve made a dictionary of terms. For this, I’m going to try something a little different.
I greatly appreciate the growing push for clear, simple submission guidelines. Recently, Mark Danowsky, the editor of ONE ART, wrote a piece about simplifying submission guidelines in Lit Mag News. I can think of no better way to break down guidelines than to fuck with Mark.2
Here we go. Here are ONE ART’s Submission Guidelines
~ Rolling Submissions ~
Right there at the top, Mark provides the when of submitting. Otherwise known as the “reading period.” ONE ART is “Rolling” (see above). Off to a good start.3
*UPDATE 8/18/23* — Please wait at least two months between submissions.
*UPDATE 2024* — New Submission Guidelines for haiku/senryu.
Mark follows this with some updates. That’s rare. Love it (but don’t expect many journals to do this).
Submissions can be sent in the body of an email [or] as an email attachment. (preferred methods)
Here, Mark clearly lays out how to submit. This is much more important for lit mags that take email submissions; here’s why:
Submission Portals like Submittable will hold your hand through different elements and direct you on what to do.
If an editor asks you for a specific subject line (Mark does not), you must pay attention to this. It isn’t nitpicking; several email servers allow for automation that picks up on subject lines. If you miss this, the editor will never see your submission.
Email attachment submissions can be sent as: .docx [or] .doc [or] .rtf
Submissions may be sent as a Google doc (if necessary)
Please do not send PDFs
ONE ART offers options for document types (.docx, Google Doc., pasted), but most lit mags will ask for .doc, .docx, or PDF. I’ve found that .docx is the most common file type for all submissions. Always save your work as a .docx, and you’ll save time in the future.
Please contact about snail mail submissions.
Mark also mentions sending via ‘snail mail’. This means sending by post. I’ve never done this and never will. It did not come in my millennial upload package on the day I was ungratefully born.
Send 1-5 poems (10 pages max) + bio (any length)
Excellent! Super simple ‘what’ guidelines. ONE ART only accepts poetry, so let’s not give Mark too much credit here. (By bio, they mean ‘literary bio.’ I’ll talk about that more in my cover letter lesson.)
Preference for concise free verse (but will consider formal poems that read in the manner of free verse)
Clear, concise. OK, here, Mark deserves some credit; that's nice. Some lit mags have like six paragraphs about their preferences.
Please refrain from simultaneous submissions as our typical response time is one to five days. (Please note that this is a preference. You will not be punished for sim subs.) Same day responses are common. Usually, we respond in three days. We do our best to respond within one week. If you have not heard anything after one week please reach out.
This is a bit unique. Simultaneous submissions mean you can submit your piece to multiple places at once. Most lit mags are cool with this, but some are not. ONE ART is somewhere in the middle, considering their response time. Note: If a lit mag doesn’t mention this at all, then simultaneous submissions are OK. More on that later.
Response times are counted from the moment you hit submit. And, speaking of response times, five days is quite rare. The most common is three months, followed by one month, then six months.
No previously curated work. What does that mean?
ONE ART will consider work that has previously appeared or is self-published on social media, a personal blog, forum, or message board, and poems that were recorded during a poetry reading or event. We do not accept submissions of work that has been previously curated (aka. published) in books, magazines, or similar sources that are publicly available.
What they mean here is ‘Previously Published.’ I have looked all the way through my bag of fucks-I-give and can’t seem to find a single one about how folks choose to call things in indie lit so long as they make it clear what they mean. Mark does, so…cool.
This ‘curated’ trend was started by Rattle editor Tim Green in a Lit Mag News essay. It is interesting. I even sort of agree with them. But submission guidelines are messy enough without tossing new terms around. So: previously published. This means different things depending on the magazine. Sometimes they mean nothing that has appeared online. Sometimes they mean you better not have ever read it out loud to your cat. If they accept them, they’ll state their restrictions (as Mark does). If they do not mention previously published at all, it means they do not accept them.
ONE ART is intended to be a safe space for all….
A note on fostering inclusivity (always good to see).
ONE ART does not accept AI-created poetry….
And not accepting work that uses any AI (oof, good luck).
Submissions are free.
Then we have their fee policy. Nice. No fees. No mention of pay, though. That’s not unusual. If there is no mention of pay, it usually means they don’t pay. However, if there is no mention of a fee, it does not always mean there is no fee. Sometimes they won’t mention it in their guidelines and then slip it into their submittable portal later.
A fee of over $5 is an absurd request if it is not a contest. The industry standard is $3. If there is a fee, pay extra close attention to all factors of a submission. Otherwise, it is throwing money away with your time.
When pay is listed, note the wording: by piece, by page, by word, by contributor, etc. The difference can mean a lot more or less money for you. Some, like VQR, pay $1000 for poem bundles. Others can only afford $10. Low payments are not something to balk at. It tells me that the lit mag has a small staff with a minimal budget and still wants to compensate writers. That’s admirable. (Unless they’re also charging an outrageous fee).
Common payment ranges: Poems: $10 - $300 per poem. Short Stories: $25 - $1,000 (can go higher for prestigious magazines). Essays and Articles: $25 - $2,000. Rates by Word Count: $0.01 - $0.10 per word (up to $1.00 per word for prestigious outlets). Some anthologies will pay with royalties cuts.
Submissions to ONE ART should be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
We encourage keeping your Cover Letter as simple as possible. Please mention if you are a previous contributor. Please include a 3rd person bio.
Clearly identified email to send your work to. Looks good. No mention of a subject line, so it’s safe to assume this is always used for submissions.
And cover letters, ah, those silly things. Lesson 5 will be all about those. But OMG, they give a cover letter example! Love it. Pigeon Review, Northwest Review, and several others do this. It takes ALL the pressure off for writers.
Next, we have your rights (to party):
Rights revert to author upon curation (aka. publication). ONE ART reserves the right to reprint your work in other formats. ONE ART reserves Archival Rights for all curated (aka. published) materials.
Solid. Some other things you might see for this are
First Serial Rights: Grants the magazine the first publication of the piece. Rights revert to the author post-publication.
One-Time Rights: Allows the magazine a single publication, while the author retains the freedom to republish elsewhere.
Exclusive Rights for a Set Period: Gives the magazine exclusive publication rights for a specified time, after which rights revert to the author.
Non-Exclusive Rights: The magazine can publish the work, but the author retains the right to publish it elsewhere simultaneously.
Electronic Rights: The right to publish the work in digital format, which can be exclusive or non-exclusive.
Anthology Rights: The right to really lay into that guy with the acoustic guitar.
Reprint Rights: The magazine acquires the rights to republish work that's been published elsewhere.
All Rights: The magazine obtains complete control over the piece, restricting the author from future republishing.
The most common one you’ll see is ‘First Serial Rights,’ but keep an eye out for lit mags that want ‘All Rights.’ This means they can reprint and profit off of your work without your consent in the future. Be sure you love and trust the editor who asks you to sign this.
Please wait at least two months between submissions.
Straight forward. If a lit mag doesn’t mention this, you can submit to them again whenever you want. Do not feel obligated to wait.
If you’d like to support ONE ART, please consider making a donation. This will not affect your likelihood of acceptance or rejection.
Always a nice note to see. Lit mags need support too.
If you use Duotrope, we encourage you to report your submissions.
Ahem, you can also report your submissions on Chill Subs. What? This course is free. Get off my back.
We are proudly listed on Chill Subs.
We are a member of the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP).
Oof, do we want to get into this? I suppose we can. The CLMP is a nonprofit that helps lit mags. They really do. Their membership logo on a lit mag’s website means that the lit mag in question follows certain ethical guidelines and meets certain standards. Often they do. It is a pretty good marker. But I’ve been a bit irked lately that their rule about outrageous submission fees is rarely enforced. So, meh. Take that as you will.
Excellent. So, prizes. Only lit mags can nominate your work for these prizes. There are four main ones:
I have, let’s call them, feelings about how these various awards are run in indie lit that I’ve written at length about here. But for the writer submitting, and for the lit mags, it is great to see. It means your work could be nominated, bringing it more attention and inviting the potential for even more high-fives. It is something that will motivate me a bit more to submit somewhere. It shows a commitment on the part of editors to do what they can to celebrate and promote their writers.4
Finally, Mark rounds things off with a big list of representative poets. Love that. Much nicer than when a lit mag only says, “Oh hey, these three really big names published here once.”
Things Mark missed:
No mention of formatting. For anyone who has been submitting for a while, you can tell ONE ART has a relaxed and friendly vibe. So they likely don’t care how you format your poems within a document. But that is not always the case. I will talk more about formatting in Lesson 5.
No mention of ‘multiple submissions’ by name since it is implied (5-day response time and all that). But multiple submissions refer to whether or not you can submit several pieces at once (as separate submissions).
With such a short response time, Mark doesn’t mention withdrawing your submission. This is when you’ve submitted to multiple places, and it is accepted in one before the others have responded. You need to tell the others it is no longer available. This is a simple button in Submittable, or you can send an email. There is no need to be apologetic or explain here. Be polite, simple, brief, and do it quickly.
Whether to include identifying information or not. Mark doesn’t mention this because it is a submission through an email. It would be kinda tough to remove identifying information. I’ll talk about this more in the next lesson, but if you see a request for ‘Blind’ or ‘Concealed’ in the guidelines, it means you’ll want to remove any identifying information from the document you are submitting.
What ONE ART has is a great example of ‘Be Cool and We’ll Be Cool’ guidelines. If you want examples of some editors not being cool, go read Mark’s essay.
TOOL: I’ve gone ahead and cooked up a spreadsheet you can use to determine what to do if something is missing from a lit mag’s guidelines. You can explore that here. I will update that sheet based on any comments on this post.
On the ethical dilemma of simultaneous & previously published submissions:
I’d like to cover a couple of ethical dilemmas writers have to grapple with. I’m super tired of the side-mouthed way of everyone talking about them, so here’s the deal.
If a magazine doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions, should I listen?
If a magazine doesn’t accept previously published, can I lie?
On simultaneous submissions: Here is the thing. Nobody will know you simultaneously submitted unless you mess up and tell them. Even withdrawing your submission isn’t a sign it was sim-subbed, no matter what they suspect. Editors do not have some communal database or gossip chat. Lots of writers sim sub to places that don’t accept sim subs and never have an issue.
On previously published work: If you publish something on Instagram and the text is an image, there is no way for the lit mag to find it after you delete it. Also, most mags can’t be bothered to check. If it was on your blog and you took it down, or in a defunct mag, or print mag, whatever. It is highly unlikely an editor will know it was previously published, especially if you tweak it a bit and change the title.
So why not do these things? The same reason you don’t piss in the communal pool.
Or maybe you do.
On What Matters and What Doesn’t
For the discussion, I want to talk a bit about what’s not directly stated in most guidelines that lead to stress and questions. For example…
It DOESN’T matter when, during a reading period, you submit in terms of acceptance/rejection rates. It only matters when a lit mag has a submission cap (you’ll want to get in there as quickly as possible).
It DOESN’T matter if you have an MFA. No lit mag has an academic requirement. The only requirements you need to worry about have to do with demographics for eligibility in some lit mags.
It DOESN’T matter how many times you have submitted to a lit mag, so long as you’re being polite and following guidelines. Many — most lit mags love to accept writers who have tried and tried again.
It DOES matter when you follow up on a submission. Most lit mags list their response time. Following up before that elapses is considered a bit rude.
It DOES matter if you are polite in your communications. One of the few ways you can actually damage your chances with a lit mag is to be rude.
It DOESN’T matter if you’ve been published before. Over and over, I hear editors talk about how much they love being a writer’s first publication.
Let’s keep this to what we’ve gone over in this lesson. In the next lesson, I will talk about cover letters, author bios, and formatting. But for now, what are the questions between the gaps? The questions that have go unanswered because they are considered too long or vague to explain within most guidelines.
I want you to take a look at some guidelines. Specific ones. There is a reason for this that I’ll share soon. I’ve selected an array of different ones so you can explore them based on what you write and submit.
Each has their own style. What questions remain after reviewing them, if any? Which did you feel most confident to submit to and why?
Thank you for joining! On Friday, we’ll move on to Lesson 4: Deconstructing Submission Guidelines. If you’re new to this course, you can find the full breakdown and schedule in my introduction post.
If you enjoyed this lesson, please consider becoming a paid subscriber and sharing it with your friends.
I don’t think I need to explain this one so…
Mark is not alone here. Louisa is also an editor there. But for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to use “Mark” because he’s the one who wrote the essay.
Hah! Side note. Mark changed this to: “ONE ART has Rolling Submissions. Always. We are open 365/24/7.” after I asked for permission to use his guidelines. That’s cheating, Mark! But yes, that’s much clearer.
Especially since several prize nominations require submissions via snail mail. Ew.