Submitting to Periodicals - an Editor's View

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  1. #1

    Submitting to Periodicals - an Editor's View

    There is plenty of advice about seeking publication in periodicals written from the writer’s point of view, but I think it is also worthwhile to consider things from the editor’s position too. A lot of work gets spiked without being read, simply because writers don’t cover off the basics before submitting.

    Submission Guidelines

    The vast majority of periodicals, both on and off line, don’t exist to make money. Some do but most are done for the love of it. People who work on the publications often do so in their spare time, or on a part-time basis. The big hitters will have full-time staff, but they also attract a higher level of submissions. To make their lives easier, publications create submissions guidelines to assist in their day-to-day working. These guidelines will be freely available to writers.

    Few editors have time to read every single submission which lands in their inbox. As a result, anything that doesn’t adhere to the submission guidelines will be spiked. They’re not being nasty or vindictive; they’ve asked for something a specific way and if you can’t be bothered to adhere to that, why should they bother reading your work?

    Submission guidelines aren’t there to trip you up. Read what they require and either deliver it that way or look elsewhere for markets. I know one editor who received malware in a .docx file. Now he won’t even open them. His guidelines state that writers must paste work into the body of an email. Around 40 per cent of what he receives now are .docx files. He just deletes them.

    Many poetry publications ask for poems to be left aligned. If you have one where the lines form the shape of a unicorn, there are two choices. The first is to not submit. The second is to contact the relevant person and explain why the poem needs to be the shape it is and see what they say. Don’t just send it in because they won’t read it.

    Respect guidelines with regard to word count, formatting, typefaces, etc..

    If you want an editor to treat your work with respect, respect their submission guidelines. Read them twice and follow them. The only guideline to watch out for is a reading fee. If a publication wants a reading fee, walk away very quickly.

    Editors won’t remember you, but most keep databases and the data will remember you and everything you do. If you have a few pieces deleted for failing to adhere to guidelines, the chances of your work being read in future will diminish.

    Dear Sir

    Starting a covering letter with Dear Sir/madam or Dear Editor is common. It also is lazy. Editors are people and they have names. The vast majority of publications have mastheads (even the on-line ones) so take time to find out who the relevant editor is. Here’s something to think about; most editors would prefer to read a covering letter addressed to the editor in chief than one addressed to Dear Editor. If a poetry or fiction editor is listed, address it to them (obviously dependent upon the piece being submitted). It’s a small thing but one that works. While we’re on the subject...

    Cover Letters

    Some publications will ask for a cover letter. Some will say one isn’t necessary. Regardless, always include a cover letter. It’s rude not to. It’s also a chance to set yourself up as a nice person to work with. Don’t make it a CV or a bragging statement. Just introduce yourself and your work, tell them why you think the submission is a good fit for their publication and thank them for their time.

    In the submission guidelines it often states if your Bio should be included with the cover letter or in the MSS. If it doesn’t mention where to put it, chuck it at the end of the cover letter. Clearly mark it as being your Bio. Note that if they tell you not to send a Bio, then don’t include it, but if they make no reference to it, add it to the letter.

    Edit your cover letter. A poor one may well result in your work being rejected.

    One final point is that if you write under a nom de plume, include your real name in the letter. This will be needed if it’s a paying market but it’s also nice to let editors know who they’re dealing with.

    First Rights

    Most periodicals are looking for first publication rights. If the piece has been published before elsewhere (including your own website of blog, or even in the open areas on forums) many won’t touch it. Don’t submit work that has been published because if they find it in a search they won’t touch you with a bargepole, probably ever again. Editors know editors, so the damage might not be limited to one magazine.

    Read the rights the periodical expects and ensure you are happy with them. Most seek first publication rights and after publication all rights revert to the author. Some retain the right to reuse the piece in anthologies.

    There is no quicker way to piss off an editor than for them to discover a piece they’ve used was published elsewhere. If you want to submit a reprint, contact the periodical and ask if that is acceptable. Some will look at reprints but often the bias is very heavily weighted against using such work.

    Simultaneous Submissions

    This debate splits writers, but from an editor’s point of view simultaneous submissions are a necessary evil. Writers are impatient and want to submit to dozens of periodicals on a first-come, first-served basis. If the piece is accepted, they then inform all other periodicals it has gone. Most writers see simultaneous submissions as their right so editors have to offer it!

    Nearly every editor has had a situation where shortlisted pieces need to be replaced at the last minute due to simultaneous submissions. It’s a pain in the arse. Withdrawals are noted down in the database. Once writers have pulled work a few times from any given periodical, the editor will think twice before even shortlisting other pieces.

    If you have patience, don’t make simultaneous submissions. Having been an editor, I never do and I always tell them that in my cover letter. It is up to each writer to decide how they feel about simultaneous submissions, but the vast majority of editor’s prefer to not have them.

    Personal Taste

    Most publications have a number of editors, typically with one overall editor and others dedicated to different areas of the publication such as poetry, fiction, non-fiction. The publication will have a style guide or style statement, but that is only a small part of it. Something every writer needs to understand is the editor’s personal taste.

    By way of an example, take ‘Out of this World,’ a Sci-fi fiction magazine I just invented (it might already exist, who knows?). It is looking for original Sci-Fi stories of between 1,000 and 3,000 words. If you’ve just written ‘Apes from Uranus’, a 2,500 word story, this might seem like a good market. However, not matter how well it’s written, if the fiction editor hates animal-based characters, you’re not going to be published.

    Read the periodicals you intend to submit to. Examine what they’ve published, because that is what the editors like. The information is all there; just read it and absorb it. If there are a lot of Nun stories, maybe adapt it to Nuns from Uranus. Either that or find another periodical that likes Apes.


    Just because a periodical isn’t a paying market, or is only on-line, or is very niche it doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to accept everything that ends up in their inbox. Many writers use specific periodicals to market their writing, with the payback coming through finding new readers for novels or collections.

    Initially you will receive more rejections than acceptances, but treat it all as a learning curve. The more you submit in the right manner, the greater your chances of success will be.

    Shut Up

    Most rejections are short, non-specific and fairly nice. Some are encouraging. A few are scathing. If they’re formulaic, accept it. The editors are running a periodical, not teaching you to write. If they’re nice, that doesn’t mean you got close. It just means that the formulaic reply is nice. If they’re scathing, grow a thicker skin.

    Never, ever, ever, ever respond to tell an editor they’re wrong, or that they’ll feel silly when you’re the next Barry Bigballs. They won’t care. They won’t be wrong and they won’t feel silly. What they will do is ensure that any future submissions are deleted immediately and they might even tell other editors what a cock you are.
    Last edited by Pete_C; June 6th, 2018 at 02:03 PM.

  2. #2
    Well bang goes my dream of publishing an extremely personal, extremely cathartic (for me) novel drummed out in morse code by fifty semi-naked South Seas islanders.

    Actually, no. The vision is what it is. Coming to the street just outside a pubishing house near YOU.

    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge

    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"


    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous


    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!


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