Submitting to Literary Journals: Three Quick Tips for Beginners

Writing can be a labor of love. Finishing a piece that you’re proud of feels like a Herculean accomplishment at times. Taking the next step and starting a whole new process by sending that work to literary journals can be just as intense and exhausting. As a writer who has been on both ends of the Submittable scene—sending off poems in hopes of publication, as well as screening submissions to either accept or reject—I try to always keep these tips in mind. While every publication is different, and every writer has their own approach, it never hurts to circle back to the basics.

1. A cover letter is not a resume.

While a cover letter can certainly help the readers & editors contextualize your work better, this is not the place to tell your life’s story! Keep it short and sweet, making sure you include any specific information the journal requests. As a submitter, noting whether any pieces are simultaneous submissions is often the most important part of the cover letter. Transparency is key! As a reader, I always take a look at the cover letter. There’s always a real human being with a creative soul behind every submission, and a cover letter is a healthy reminder of that.

2. Embrace your bio.

You’ve probably seen at least one author’s bio packed with a list of prestigious journals they’ve been published in, an MFA, and a few books and awards for good measure. If you’re just getting started with your publication journey, there’s no shame in a quick two-sentence bio that covers your name, where you’re from/where you live, and what you like to write about. Some journals will even ask you to narrow your bio down to a certain word count. Remember: there’s always more to a writer than their bio, and the worst thing you can do is lie. 

3. Pace yourself.

Not submitting to journals every day does not make you any less of a writer (now repeat that to yourself every morning in the mirror). Submitting work can be time-intensive, but don’t let it take over your life. Find days to just write without submitting anything. Take breaks from the process altogether and let your creative mind reset. Get back into the publishing cycle again when you’re ready. If you missed the submission window for a particular journal, it’ll most likely be open again in the future. Remember those writers with the long, spectacular bios? Those achievements didn’t happen overnight, let alone in the course of a year. Be patient, nurture your craft, and submit your work when you feel ready.

For any readers who might feel inspired to get back into the submission game, there’s good news: the ASP Bulletin is currently open for submissions through August 7th! You can send us regular prose submissions, or enter up to five poems for our First Annual Poetry Contest (judged by the spectacular duo that is Teri Ellen Cross Davis and Saida Agostini). Here’s a word from Editor in Chief Hannah Grieco about what defines a successful submission: “We are looking for deeply personal writing that surprises us. We love bold vulnerability, unusual forms, and unexpected beauty in strange places.”