DOs and DON'Ts of Submitting to Literary Journals

Hi friends. As most of you know, in addition to writing books, I'm also the founder and executive editor of Belle Reve Literary Journal. Our inbox has been open since April of 2013, and since then, I've learned a few things about being on the editor's side of the table. Here is a quick list of DOs and DON'Ts that would make me happy, happy, happy if all writers would follow:

  • DO submit a short paragraph about your short story. Give me a rundown of what I'm about to read. Pitch me the story quickly and in an interesting way.
  • DO include a THIRD person bio. I cannot even count how many times I've had to correct a writer's bio. After the hundredth time, it begins to irk you.
  • DO follow submission guidelines. If the guidelines say 5 poems. Do not submit 7. If it says a 2,500 word limit on fiction, don't submit 3,500.
  • DO try to make your e-mail submission as professional as possible. Remember this is our first impression.
  • DO try to respond promptly when you receive an e-mail from editors. If we're writing you, it's important.
  • DO mention where you heard about the journal. It helps us keep a record of what's working in terms of advertising.
  • DO rate journals on Duotrope, Every Writer's Resource, and wherever their website says they're listed. This helps us establish a reputation with both writers and readers. 
  • DO follow journals you submit to on Facebook and Twitter. Social media is invaluable to us, and we always need help spreading the word. If you'd be willing to submit to a journal, then in theory you'd have enough interest to follow it and contribute to its growth.
  • DO remember that we're not dream crushers. We simply have an idea about the tone we want our journal to have, and sometimes even good works don't fit it.
  • DON'T send us a long list of every publication in your bio. Some writers will send a 250 word bio. Don't be one of them. It's not flattering; it's inflating.
  • DON'T think you're the exception. If the guidelines have a word limit, don't think that your work is so great that I should overlook the rules. I have made exceptions in the past, but it's rare. It's best to follow directions.
  • DON'T send multiple e-mails to editors for any reason. I love hearing from authors! But I do not want my already booming inbox full of e-mails unless they are very important. Keep your e-mails to a minimum. It will save us all time in the future.
  • DON'T send us work that needs editing. This may sound crazy because we're editors, but we are not paid. Nor do we have an infinite amount of time to polish your work. Almost every submission needs some editing by us, but we prefer it to be minimum. We know it's hard to edit your own work, but please do your best. Read it aloud, and let a critique partner take a look before sending it to journals.
  • DON'T give up! Even if you receive loads of rejections, keep submitting. This is a subjective business. Always keep that in mind.
An example of an appropriate submission letter for Belle Reve:

Dear [Editor]:
I'm submitting [story name] for your consideration. I read about Belle Reve [...] and thought my story, which takes place in Alabama, would be a perfect fit for your southern journal.
[Name of story] is about a young boy who discovers an enchanted pond on a fishing trip. The morning's fog opened his eyes to a world he never knew existed. Later he must decide if what he saw was a dream or unveiled truth.
Bio: [Write in third person.]
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Then add your story/poems either in the body or by attachment. Easy, right? Please know that every editor is different. I can only speak for what I am looking for, but I hope that something in this post will help you on your submission journey.

Something else to note, I hate sending rejection letters. My heart aches a little every time I send one. All of us are in this business because we not only love reading good work but we love authors. We want to support them, build them up, and promote them. We're not evil people who take joy in saying "no." In fact, a lot of editors are writers. All of us at Belle Reve are. We know what it feels like to be on the other side of rejection. It hurts. We truly feel your pain, but try not to let it get you down. We all receive rejections. Keep your chin up.

Write On and Submit Away!