10 Lessons in 10 Years: How To Submit To Literary Magazines


If you’re a writer, and you want to get published in magazines then you should read this list. If you keep these points in mind, you might be able to get published after all!


I had always wanted to be a published writer but that doesn’t have to be your story too. Writing beckons some at certain stages of their lives so it’s okay if writing is a recent thing for you. Have you scribbled down ideas in your diary? Do you have half-finished stories saved in your email drafts, in Word documents, or in notebooks? Are you toying with the idea of sending your work out to magazines to test the waters? Then this list might benefit you.


I remember scrolling through contributor bios of online magazines and wondering when I would find my name and work out there. Ten years later, I’ve been published in some of the magazines that I look upto like Litro for prose and Eclectica for poetry. I’ve learnt a lot in my journey of submitting to literary magazines so I thought I’d share some tips with you that might make the ride smoother for you.

  • Read the literary magazine’s content


If you intend to be a good writer, you should be reading good literature. What is good writing? While it is subjective, it’s also quite obvious. If you intend to get published in a good magazine, you should be reading their content. There’s simply no shortcut. There are a number of literary magazines out there now, you will find the names if you Google it. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you should read what magazines have been publishing. Firstly, you get a sense of the magazine editor’s choice and secondly, you get an idea of what works make up ‘contemporary’ writing. No matter what the ranking or reviews of a magazine tell me, I always read work that the magazine has published before I submit to them. It could be entirely possible that you write stories that don’t fit the magazine’s aesthetic. For example, you might write sci-fi but you’re submitting to a magazine that generally does not publish sci-fi. I read as much of the magazine possible, even the archives. I even check out the bios of the authors whose work I’ve liked and then bookmark other pieces by them that might have been published online. But that’s me. Let me make it simpler for you, if intend to submit fiction, atleast read what fiction they have published in their previous issue. If you’re not willing to invest time in the magazine, why should they bother investing in you?

  • Read the submission guidelines very carefully


Every magazine has their ‘Submission Guidelines’ page. While some magazines still prefer emailed entries, most use ‘Submittable’. It is a very user friendly platform, all you have to do is create an account and then you can easily track your submissions there. Please do not email the editor if the magazine guidelines has strictly mentioned that they only read submissions through their Submittable account. Minor details like this can be the difference between getting accepted or rejected. Basic spell and grammar check is a must. Proofreading your work is your job. Send a clean copy which is formatted in the specifications mentioned in the guidelines. Times New Roman, 12, Double-line spacing always works wonders, if no specifications are mentioned. Put yourself in the editor’s shoes for a minute, would you read something that is shabby? If you wouldn’t, don’t expect your editor to either.

  • Personalise your cover letter


Always read about the magazine’s editorial team and if possible address the editor by name when you’re submitting. What I also do is I mention that I have liked a piece that they have published. This shows an interest in their magazine and makes the editor smile. I have been trying to get published in The Jellyfish Review for sometime now (Maybe I just suck at Flash Fiction but I’m stubborn that way. Writers have to persevere.) Chris is one of those few editors who has a very quick turnaround time and always mentions what he liked about the piece with every rejection. I remember mentioning it to him that I really liked ‘’Mooncake’ by Grace Loh Prasad (a piece that was published by him) for its exploration of the anxiety of dreams, death and familial ties, and that I’d like a reader to feel that way on reading my work.


  • Submit your best and final work only


I have been impatient in the past. It doesn’t help. There’s no hurry to get published, the magazine is definitely not in a hurry to either read your work or publish you. They receive many submissions daily. You’ve got one shot to make an impression, why ruin it? Make sure you only submit work that is your best final draft. If you send in a draft that is half-baked, and then make changes to it and send another version. Then make some more changes and send another, it only reflects bad on you. Have a friend go through your work before you submit in case you’re not sure about it being completely error free, maybe that will help.


  • Simultaneous submissions  


Most magazine guidelines mention that they accept simultaneous submissions. If you don’t want to wait long just to be read by a magazine, then do send your work to multiple magazines at once. Make sure to keep a track of the magazines you’ve submitted the same work to so that the moment one accepts it, you can withdraw it from others. Most poets have doubts about poetry submissions because generally poems are required to be sent in a batch. If you submit poetry in a bunch of 5-7, for example, if one magazine picks one poem of the lot, you can write back to other magazines that this particular poem has been accepted but others are still open to consideration.

  • Be patient but follow-up


Editors are humans. They are busy too. Many magazines mention their turnaround time in their guidelines, follow it. If they mention that they take two months to read a piece, then wait for two months. If you still don’t hear from them after that, then follow-up. Sometimes they take much longer than the time they have mentioned, follow-up but know when to stop and move on.

  • Don’t take rejection personally


Editors are hardworking and often get a lot of submissions. They have dayjobs and families to attend to. Running a magazine is their labour of love. You are not special, remember that. If you’re rejected, please don’t think that the editor is out to get you. Focus your energy on making your work better instead. What is better? If the magazine doesn’t tell you why they rejected your work, don’t give up. Only by reading more will you discover what your writing lacks. In my experience, writers take out their frustration by personally attacking editors on social media handles or talking ill of them behind their backs. The community is small, folks. They do find out you’ve been talking and it’s not cool.

  • Be true to your writing


Many writers wonder if magazines only publish material that is politically engaged or discusses an important topical issue. This is not true. Please do not alter your writing or be fake just to get published. If you’re honest to your work, then you will be noticed. Your work will stand out. If a topical issue means a lot to you, it will show. Do not expect to win brownie points by writing work that you think will be accepted. You are only compromising your ethics as a writer.

  • Build a network with other writers


I have been doing this since a decade now. I have made friends with the writers who share space in the same magazine as me. I have built my support system from online magazines. Many writers want to be published but they will not make any effort to read another writer’s work or engage with another writer. Talking to a fellow writer makes my day, exchanging work to be beta read is a win-win for both. Writing is an isolating task. Talking about isolation, in this time of isolation, friends who can make your day by just reading and critiquing your work online is a blessing but it’s also hardwork. Friendship is a two-way street.

  •  Take a break but never stop submitting


It’s okay to not continuously produce work worth submitting. It’s okay to pause and reflect.  It’s important to not get carried away with easy acceptances. After a point, do raise your standard. Send work to magazines with a low acceptance rate, the editors do edit your work if you get selected. They do provide feedback that editors of higher acceptance magazines don’t. In my writing journey, The Bombay Literary Magazine plays a very important role because Tanuj Solanki was the first editor who provided feedback and closely edited my work, making me see my work differently. (This was years back, the magazine has grown.) In our online world of magazines, it is easy to have multiple publications but quality is always more important than quantity. Pick wisely.

Hope this list has helped you gain perspective on publishing in online journals. You should be making most of your time now by writing! Create content that is worth sending out now! Happy Writing!

Michelle D’costa is a Mangalorean from Mumbai. She was born and raised in Bahrain. Her poetry and prose has been published in over 40 literary journals like Eclectica, Litro UK, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Coldnoon and more.She loves to interview writers. Her debut full-length short story and poetry collections are complete. She edits Kaani, an ezine for fiction. She talks about books on YouTube and blogs on WordPress.
Written by Rheea Mukherjee

Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee is the author of The Body Myth (Unnamed Press /Penguin India 2019) which was shortlisted for the Tata Literature Live First Book Award. Her work has been published and featured in Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Vogue India, Out of Print, TBLM, and Bengal Lights, among others. She co-founded Bangalore Writers Workshop in 2012 and currently co-runs Write Leela Write, a Design and Content Laboratory in Bangalore, India. Rheea has an MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts.