How to Make Literary Magazine Editors Happy

Submitting to literary magazines can be a bit of a minefield, to say the least. Literary database Duotrope has around 6,000 poetry, fiction and non-fiction publications listed on its website, and there are probably many more in existence that aren’t listed in this directory. Some are online only, some only appear in print, some don’t accept email submissions, some are only open to writers in particular geographical locations or with specific demographics. Each one has its own requirements when it comes to format, word or line limit, simultaneous submissions, and more.

Find the right match
With that in mind, it can feel overwhelming to try submitting your work for publication. Finding the right magazine or journal to publish your work is a bit like dating. There is no simple formula for writing the perfect poem or story and the perfect cover letter to guarantee acceptance. There is no quick fix for making editors happy. But like being successful in dating, the first step is to find the right match for you. In a later blog post we’ll talk about how you can find more literary magazines to submit to, but for now I’ll just point out that getting rejected doesn’t mean your work is bad – it just means it’s not a good fit for that particular magazine. Avoid submitting to magazines that aren’t a good match by getting to know the magazine before you hit send.
Get to know the publication
Different literary magazine editors will have different opinions on what makes a good story or poem, but you can submit a great piece of work and still get rejected simply because your piece, though well-written, isn’t a good fit for the magazine. So take some time to check all the submission guidelines or read an issue or two of the magazine so that you’re clear on the genres they tend to publish and the writing styles they favour. It might sound obvious, but submitting a horror story to a romance journal, or a fiction story to a non-fiction magazine, isn’t going to get you very far.
Read the submission guidelines
We’ve already touched on the submission guidelines, and this is another point that probably sounds very obvious, but do make sure you have read and complied with the guidelines. Is there a word limit? Where should you send your submission? Does the editor prefer work to be in the body of your email or sent as an attachment? Don’t give them any reasons to reject you that could easily be avoided.
Don’t forget those added extras
Don’t forget about things like sending a bio or a photo where requested – forgetting to do this probably won’t get you rejected but it saves the editor from chasing you for these extra bits, and makes their job easier.

If you’d like more information on how to improve your chances of being published in a literary magazine, there are lots of resources available. One particularly good resource is Jim Harrington’s blog Six Questions For… which features interviews with editors from lots of different magazines. Take a look at the Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine interview with me, and browse some of the other magazine titles for insights from many, many other editors. If you find a magazine on Duotrope that you’d like to submit to, sometimes there will also be an interview with the editor available for you to read. Please note that Duotrope is a paid-for service, but if you’re going to submit your work regularly it could be a worthwhile investment – more on that later, too.