7 Things Literary Magazine Editors Wish You Knew
Before I started my life as an Editor-in-Chief, I was a new writer looking to find a home for all of my work. I perpetually lived on Newpages and exhausted Google with such terms as "literary magazine emerging author," "new/ emerging author submissions," and others that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. And like many of you, I would come across submission guidelines that sometimes left me scratching my head.
I never understood why margins really mattered, or why so many publications were so particular about line spacing and fonts. When I'd get rejection letters (yes, we all get them) I'd be put off by the cold (dare I say, generic) tone. After all, I worked hard on that piece, I deserve a personal response! OK, so maybe that's a bit dramatic, but I'm sure you are familiar with the sentiment. The point is, I didn't understand the process until I was on the other side of it. So I thought I would share some of those insights with you and give you a better idea of just what editors want from potential contributors.
Remember: We're Human
I know it can be difficult to believe sometimes, but those on the editing staff of literary magazines are, in fact, human. Not only are we human but we are also humans who happen to care a great deal about our publications and our contributors. Many editors do what they do on a strictly volunteer basis; there's no money, no glory, and no paid vacation. What they do have is an ever-growing pile of submissions, publication deadlines, and quite a few emails to write. We chose to be editors because we have a passion for literature. We do it because we believe in the power of the creative voice. But it would be lying to say that we don't experience fatigue every once in a while, especially when we receive countless submissions that fail to recognize the simple fact that we are sentient beings with a capacity to feel.
We care about you as a writer, and we strive to give you every consideration we'd want as writers ourselves. So next time you submit, remember you are not working with machines; respect and politeness go a long way.
This is something I can't stress enough: Follow directions. Nothing is more obvious than a potential contributor who hasn't read the submission guidelines. As a writer, I always tended to think that certain guidelines seemed arbitrary. Now that I'm on the acquisitions end of things, I have realized that those guidelines exist to help the publication run as smoothly as possible. If a magazine wants submissions in standard format, there is a reason (we've found these to be easier to read and format later on). In our case here at Chantwood, we maintain a blind selection process and so when we receive manuscripts with biographic info attached, it's blatantly obvious our submission guidelines weren't considered. As people who are volunteering our time, this can be frustrating; it basically tells us that our time and efforts aren't being respected since we'd have to manually remove all of that info before our editors can read it. To put it simply, we are disinclined to respect those who put in no effort to respect us. So next time you send your work out to find a home, read those guidelines carefully. You'll be glad you did.
Familiarize Yourself With the Publication
When submitting your work to a literary magazine, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the publication. Many publications offer some sort of preview or free issue. Read through a few pieces and notice common themes or topics. And if it isn't clear from a read-through which types of work are preferred, you can always check—you guessed it—the submission guidelines. This ties into the first two points we've already touched on. If a publication asks for only works of nonfiction, the editing staff will be put off if you submit a Swords and Sorcery fantasy. If overly political content is on their no-go list, don't send pieces about how the party you disagree with is ruining the country. Consider the amount of time you will sometimes need to wait before you hear back from a publication; you wouldn't want to wait around for months on end just to hear that your piece was rejected because it didn't follow certain guidelines. Take a bit of time in the beginning to get things right, and it could save you from months of waiting and potential aggravation.
Proof Your Work
This is one of those things one would hope would go without saying, like "Hey! that coffee is hot," or "Red Bull doesn't actually give you wings." But, alas, this is the world we live in. By the time your manuscript reaches the editors' desks, it should be as close to perfect as possible. Don't get me wrong, a few typos and small mistakes here and there are fine; we've all been there. But multiple errors, poor spelling or grammar, and sloppy formatting don't leave much to impress. You're already competing with thousands of other writers, and submitting an unpolished manuscript is like shooting yourself in the foot. I should also point out that a sloppy manuscript is the sign of a writer who doesn't care about her work—not exactly the impression you want to give.
Some of you might be thinking that you aren't sure about your grammar or spelling skills, and that's OK. Not to be glib, but that's what spellcheck is for. You can also have a friend or relative Iook your work over. For those pieces that need to be extra perfect, consider hiring a freelance editor on Upwork or Fiverr—there are cases when it could be well worth it.
Handle Rejection Gracefully
Rejection hurts. Sometimes there's no way around it. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn't get easier. It hurts when you're a new writer and it hurts when you're an established writer. But here's the thing you have to accept if you're going to stay in the writing game: You will be rejected. Yes, sometimes it will be because of the quality of your work. But more often than not it just comes down to numbers.
Many publications put out issues on a quarterly basis, while others publish more frequently, some less. There are only so many spots available in each publication which means that the majority of the received manuscripts will be rejected. So when you receive a rejection letter, take heart, you're in good company. What you shouldn't do is email the editing staff and inform them how incompetent they are or how blind they are to your genius. One of my favorite bad responses simply said "FU."
We always block future submissions from those who don't handle rejection gracefully. You may think you're brilliant, and you may well be, but no one wants to work with someone who can't handle an inevitable part of the writing game with class.
Your Support Matters
Remember that I mentioned that most editors are volunteers? It's because most publications aren't pulling in enough money to pay staff members. The truth is, most publications aren't pulling in enough for a continued existence. That's why your support matters. As writers, we all want for our work to be published, to be seen. When you support your favorite lit mag, you are helping to provide a platform for yourself and for other writers like you. Become a subscriber, donate, follow and share on social media, just find some way to show your support. It's in your best interest as a writer as well as a reader for your favorite publications to continue to grow. Convinced yet? Good, because I happen to know of a fantastic Iit mag that's looking for new subscribers...
Keep writing. Keep crafting. Keep creating. Keep sharing your work. After all, editors do what they do because they love art and literature. Without you, none of those things would exist. So keep right on truckin'. We can't wait to see what you'll do next.
I hope these tips have been enlightening and helpful! Be sure to check back soon for more insights. Thanks for reading!