Beginners Guide to Publishing in Literary Magazines – Advice from Ann Stoney

One of the many women who impressed me at the Women At Woodstock 2017 Writers Retreat was Ann Stoney. Not only is she a beautiful writer, she gets herself out there. Ann has racked up an impressive list of stories published by literary magazines over many years of writing. She’s a pro.

I asked Ann if she would share her experience with the rest of us. How does she find writers’ competitions and calls for entries? How does she choose the right ones for her writing style and goals? How does she WIN?! I’m just starting to submit my work to publications and competitions myself, finally, after all these years, so I’m hanging on every word. If you’re an aspiring writer too – or even if you’ve earned a few publications or awards yourself but know that you could always use good advice, read on. Here, from Ann, is:

Beginners Guide to Publishing in Literary Magazines

There are literally hundreds of well-regarded literary magazines out there, waiting for your submissions. Here are some basic tips from a fellow writer who’s experienced limited success, and is still working on it.

The first step is to investigate writing resources like Poets and Writers magazine, and websites: Every Writers Resource, New Pages, Literistic, among others. They can hook you up not only with literary magazines, but also conferences, retreats, grant money, writing programs and anything else a writer might need. Look for magazines that are accepting submissions from “Emerging Writers”, writers who have not yet published a book, or in a publication with a large readership.

If time permits, research the magazine websites, and the writers they’ve published in past issues. I say if time permits because this is a challenge if you’re submitting your piece to lots of them simultaneously. And you should be. I’m talking fifty and above. Surprised? Given the number of talented writers out there, you can’t expect to get published if you limit your submissions to a few. Research a few, submit to a lot.

Even agents and editors will tell you that choosing pieces for publication is a highly subjective process. What one reader doesn’t like, another reader might. The literary business is, in some ways, a crapshoot. This is why it pays to submit, submit, submit! Make sure you notify the other magazines if your piece gets accepted somewhere.

To give you an example of the crazy literary world, one of my stories won an honorable mention from Glimmer Train (one of the top fifty magazines) and was a semifinalist in the American Literary Review fiction contest and guess what? The story has yet to be published. My submissions on this story that won accolades are close to the 50 mark. How crazy is that? Getting published requires grit, determination and patience. You have to be in it for the long haul, and not get discouraged every time you get a rejection.

The second step is to not expect results right away. Unless you’re submitting to well known magazines with paid staff, you’re dealing with devoted readers who are volunteering their time to plough through your submission along with hundreds of others. Don’t expect a response for at least three to six months.

Once the rejections start piling up, you’re ready for the third step — learning to differentiate between the positives and the negatives. Feel lucky if you get anything beyond a rote rejection blurb, “We regret this story isn’t right for this magazine. Good luck placing it elsewhere.” A more positive rejection might be, “Although this story wasn’t what we were looking for, your writing recommends your talent; please send us more.” Tape the positive ones to your wall and target those magazines. Then do as you’re told and send them more!

In order to send them more, you need a body of work (fourth step). I try to balance my writing time between creating, revising and submitting. I might work on a story for a few days, then take a day off and submit one story to several magazines, perhaps ten in an afternoon. This is not an impossible task, given that most of the magazines now use an online program called Submittable. Be sure to track your submissions, on paper or in a database, making note of the name of the magazine, date submitted, type of submission (contest, general), name of piece submitted, and rejection/acceptance date.

Before submitting to any magazine, do the work. Make sure your piece is as good as it can be. Unless you’re a genius, this means revising it until you’re ready to pull your hair out, based on critical positive feedback from your writing group friends, or an editor you’ve paid to lower the axe.

Speaking of writers groups and conferences, one step towards getting published is to become part of a writing community. One of the members of my writing group started a literary magazine, and voila! I was published. Sure, the magazine closed after a few months, but still, I can list it as a writing credit on my biography. And yes, you will need to submit a short cover letter and biography along with your piece. This is not the place to describe what your piece is about, but rather an opportunity to share with the editors how much you enjoy their magazine (if it’s true), and whatever information you feel is relevant to your writing life. Above all, make it short and sweet.

Good luck to you, fellow aspiring writers. And thank you, Ann, for sharing what you’ve learned as you’ve made your way along the path that we’re all treading.
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