Business of Art | Literary Submissions 101

Business of Art | Literary Submissions 101

Top tips for getting your work seen by editors and publishers.

When it comes to getting your work published, writing is only half of the job. Submitting your work to publications is also a big part of being a writer, and it requires some strategizing. Not sure where to begin? We compiled a series of tips from previous NYFA Current articles, plus updated best practices, and some very helpful advice from former #ArtistHotline guest chat participants Elisa Gabbert and Lincoln Michel. So take a deep breath, gather your courage, and take note of the tips below before starting to submit your work!

Step 1 – Doing the Research

It might sound obvious, but we will say it one more time for the people in the back: you must read and familiarize yourself with the publications you’re considering sending your work to. What kind of work do they typically publish? Do any of their published works stand out to you? Who is their audience? When do they usually have open calls? 

If you’re not sure how to begin this research, a good place to start is by following the steps of your main inspirations. Where have they published before? Have they written about their process anywhere? Do they talk about it in interviews? Interact with them on social media, but don’t expect them to take you by the hand and answer all of your questions, especially if unsolicited. Every now and then writers will feel like engaging on Instagram or Twitter, either creating threads or soliciting questions. Take advantage of these moments, but don’t be invasive. You can also follow hashtags like #pubtip and #querytip, used by writers, agents, and editors to share snippets of advice for aspiring writers. Another great way to understand where your heroes currently are and how they got there, is by reading the “Thank Yous” and “Acknowledgments” in their publications. 

Step 2 – Getting Organized

Step number one means you’ll collect a lot of information, which can quickly become unparsable. Before that happens, we suggest preparing a spreadsheet where you can organize all the publications you believe are a good match. Here’s a sample spreadsheet with some basic information you should have on hand for tracking your submissions. You might have to submit several times before getting a yes (and that’s totally normal), so make sure to track your “yes” and “no” responses and feedback received (if any) for future applications.

Feeling overwhelmed? Prioritize your submissions. What is your dream venue? If it’s a super-selective place, they’ll probably require a more extensive publication history. Focus on building this history first, perhaps applying to smaller names in the industry, and then aiming for the powerhouses. The most important thing here is to make sure this process doesn’t compromise your writing time. Here are a few tips on how to balance your time between submitting work and making it. 

Step 3 – Selecting Materials

Your “favorite-ever-thing-you-have-ever-written” is probably great, but it still might not be the best fit for a particular open call. When choosing what materials to send out, ask yourself the following question: does this work fit seamlessly with the other stories, essays, or poems this platform typically publishes? Choose objectively.

Along with your writing, open calls may ask for other supporting materials. The main one, and arguably, the most feared, is the cover letter. According to Lincoln Michel, writers don’t need to worry so much about them, focusing on keeping them short, direct, and simple. It’s still important to know who you’re writing to, though. Show you did your research by matching the style of the publishing venue, Elisa Gabbert advises. CVs, references, and bios are other common files requested. Learn how to prepare them with these older, but golden tips from BinderCon. In terms of design, err on the side of cleanliness. Stick to the basics unless formatting is a big part of your text (for example, if you’re writing concrete poetry). 

Last but not least, follow the guidelines! Remember, one very important thing must happen before an editor even gets to read your submission: you must make it out of the slush pile. Due to competitiveness or likely lack of time on the side of jurors, you might receive a rejection simply because you did not follow simple rules like sticking to the word count or labeling your files correctly. 

Step 4 – Dealing with the Nos

Rejection is normal and does not necessarily mean your work is not good enough. Maybe your manuscript got lost in the slush pile—it happens to the best of us—or maybe it was not a good fit for the platform at that particular moment. 

Use rejections as a teachable moment. Ask for feedback if possible, but don’t be offended if editors are not able to answer. If you do get a response, don’t feel pressured to internalize all critiques or to revamp your work completely. Know your writing and your value as a writer so you can process useful commentary and disregard the rest. Follow the advice of Gabbert and develop a network of trusted peers (folks in the industry, friends) that can be your beta-readers and be ready to accept and learn from honest criticism. 

– Luiza Teixeira-Vesey, Designer/Marketing Officer

This article draws inspiration from #ArtistHotline, an initiative dedicated to creating an ongoing online conversation around the professional side of artistic practice. Our goal is to help artists discover the resources needed, online and off, to develop sustainable careers. You can follow NYFA at @nyfacurrent​ on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Find Elisa Gabbert and Lincoln Michel tweeting at @egabbert and @TheLincoln.

Have an arts career question? You can contact NYFA staff directly by emailing [email protected].

Image: Gil Avineri (Fellow in Printmaking/Drawing/Book Arts Fellow ’14); Ghastly Spread Between; 2009; color pencil, ink, acrylic, photo,collage on paper

Amy Aronoff
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