50th Episode! Rachel answers listener questions about publishing in lit mags.
This special episode is all about you, the listeners. Rachel answers your questions, mostly about submitting and publishing in lit mags.
Questions cover writing contests, the questions of whether to re-submit or not to re-submit, should you or should you not message editors who say they like your work, how quickly does writing about current events go stale. Plus, Rachel shares a little out-there theory about when you should time your submissions to lit mags.
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The first question in our Q&A comes from Melanie, who asks, What if I’ve submitted a piece of writing to a lit mag and then while waiting to hear back, I revise the piece and it ends up quite different. Do I let the lit mag know only if they reply with an acceptance or would I withdraw and resubmit the piece? And then she adds the joke. Would I tweet at the editor with a heads up? (And then says, just kidding.)
On the last option, yes, definitely. Do not tweet the editor about this. I suggest in 99 percent of cases it is best to wait until you have an acceptance before any further communication about your piece, because they may already be reading your submissions and will not take too kindly to have the same piece resubmitted. They may be making notes behind the scenes on that submission, talking with other editors, discussing the merits of your piece and then to have it withdrawn, and then a very similar piece submitted again would be troubling for them. Now, I said ninety-nine point nine percent. And that point one percent is reserved for situations where you’ve changed the piece so much that it’s unrecognizable compared to the original. And then only if you’re in the same submission period that’s open, then you could submit again. It’s so rare. I still kind of cringe as I say that because I know that they’ve put work in reading that first submission already.
So then in most cases, when you have a submission accepted, you can mention that you’ve made changes to the work and ask if they would like to see the revised version. So that’s a response you would make to the acceptance notification. And I’ve been on both sides of this. On the last issue of room that I edited, a poet sent me a revised version of the poem, once I’d accepted the piece, I preferred the original, though. I was really hung up on one line in particular, and I had picked the work because that line rippled and resonated with other works I had accepted already and started to put into the page order for the issue.
So, I used my editor’s prerogative and I declined to make the changes. Of course, as a writer, you then can choose to withdraw the work if you don’t want to publish the original. In that case, the poet did go ahead with the original. I’ll say I’ve also been on the other side of this too, where I had made changes to a poem that was accepted. The changes I’d made happened while I was in the residency and my mentor there said, “sure, you can tell them that you’ve made some changes and that maybe they didn’t notice the mistakes you did in the poem. But fortunately, you caught their mistake.” So, clearly, this is someone with a funny, sarcastic sense of humour. And so in that instance, I let the poem go as it was. I was working on the manuscript that became my book and in the book format I published my version, so my revised version does live, but just not in that particular publication.
So the poet whose original poem I published may feel the same way. And it’s not to say that any versions of the poem were better versions. In that case, they fit the issue. And I can say that for sure in my issue case, because I really would not have accepted the poem if it didn’t have that line in it, because of the way it fit into the whole of the issue. And the editor who took my poem may have felt the same, too, if I had submitted a different version after acceptance. So my advice to you Melanie would be to start thinking about what’s most important for you here.
If it’s the relationship or publication credit or the experience of being published, or is it publishing a specific version, vision, for your work. So then upon acceptance, you can open a dialogue with the editor if you choose to and ask if there’s an opportunity to make revisions and try to be open to their feedback and input. So some editors may already be ready to roll up their sleeves and might already have seen some of the trouble areas that you have addressed in revision and others may have wanted to publish just the version you sent, and they’re not interested in considering other versions.
The bonus of opening this conversation is you can learn a lot of what it will be like to work with said editor based on their response. And I’ll mention another anecdote from my history of submissions around that same time, when I was in that residency with my sarcastic mentor, I was invited into a mentorship program for a suite of poems I submitted to a journal. They weren’t accepted, but they had referred me on to a mentorship. But again, I had been working on these poems at this residency with my sarcastic, funny mentor, and it had been over a year since I submitted the work, so when I said it had changed since then, the mentorship coordinator got a little shirty with me and they weren’t super cool with the fact that I didn’t want to proceed with the poems as they were. But I made the choice that I didn’t want to proceed. So this is all to say that you want to tread carefully and make sure you know what your current priorities are with your project.
So in my case, I didn’t want to go back to old drafts of poems that I’ve been revising with the sarcastic, wonderful human, and guide already. And it felt OK for me to rub this particular journal the wrong way. And this was before Twitter was huge, but I would have probably sub-tweeted the heck out of that experience. And I remember doing the next best thing at the time. So I went to my in-person writing group and they were all like, “A year? No, sorry, your mistake, lit mag.” If you want to publish the work as it is, if the editor doesn’t want to make any changes and know that whether it’s an essay, a story or a poem, you can publish your version when it comes to your future book. So then it’s your call about whether to proceed with the original or whether you want to hold on to the changed version and try your chances of submitting and having it accepted elsewhere. So I hope that helps, Melanie.
And my second question comes from Stephanie, who says, I’ve been told that the rule is to never, ever submit the same piece to the same magazine twice. But what if it’s a piece that I initially submitted a few years ago and that has undergone significant revision since then? If I try submitting it again, will the lit mag remember or care that I submitted it once before? This is a variation on Melanie’s previous question, and I would say that if they did remember, then they would care, yes. And again, it does come down to the labour that they put in to read that piece and feeling like, you know, they’re being asked to do the same labour again. Sometimes there is a different editor and they won’t notice. Certainly, that’s the case at Room where we have a very large team where I edit. If you substantively change the piece and it’s changed so much that it’s nearly unrecognizable, maybe. But it is just bad form, and there are so many lit mags out there that I think it’s best to let go of that particular lit mag. I suggest you do a real scan of the lit mag landscape and find similar journals, journals that excite you the same way, journals that are publishing work in that genre, journals that you feel an affinity with and submit to them instead.
It’s your call, of course, but it is exceedingly rare for an editor to say, Oh, I want to see that same/ piece again. They’re reading just so much material that it seems so unlikely that they would say that. If it happens, it will be a very specific and unusual request and a request that they will make of you. So they’re making that call versus you. Sometimes they want to do a revision with you and work with you to change the piece, but it’s almost unheard of to have them ask you to resubmit that same piece.
I have heard of it on really, really rare occasions, but I can’t stress enough how uncommon that is. So with all the lit mags out there, you don’t need to narrow yourself to this one. There really most certainly are comparable publications out there if you take a look around, Stephanie. So good luck with placing that revised piece.
Now, here’s a question from Jo who says, If I took a workshop with an editor and later want to submit to that editor’s magazine, do I mention that I was in the workshop? And how long is too long to mention this kind of thing?
This is the kind of thing that I definitely love seeing someone taking a course with me. And then they’re submitting to an issue, of Room that I’m editing, specifically because they’ve usually resonated with a theme that I’m working on, I love that is going to help me situate that submitter and understand a little bit more about who they are and read their work with that in mind. And I want to stress that publishing is really about relationships.
So I would suggest that you use those relationships to get a closer look from an editor, who’s going to perk up similarly to how I do. My take is that this isn’t unfair or some kind of nepotism. All you’re doing is signalling that you’re serious, that you’ve been in a workshop, that you’re working at your craft and you’ve been doing that for some time and you’re signalling that this is a thoughtful submission. As for the length of time to make that mention, I would say that’s an evergreen opportunity. You can always refer to the workshop that you took with that editor for sure. And the reason I say to be sure to do this and kind of signal the relationship is that editors get a lot of submissions and among the many, many submissions are those from writers who haven’t done a lot of work on their writing, who maybe haven’t put in the work of revision or consideration. And we also get so many submissions where it’s clear the submitter knows nothing/ about our publication. So this little note will help your submission stand out and influence how it’s read. You’re starting with a little extra sprinkle of trust for your reader, the editor. And trust between writer and reader is really the essential ingredient when it comes to having your work accepted and read widely.
Now, here’s a question from Tamara, who says, I was wondering what your thoughts were on entering contests/lit submissions where we know the judge either personally or they’d be familiar with our writing.
So this relates a little bit to Jo’s question about mentioning that workshop. And so similar to that last question, where a judge who recognizes you as someone who is conscientious enough to work on your writing because I’m assuming you know them from writerly things, I think that’s a bonus. But of course, in this case, your submission will likely be anonymous and shuffled among a lot of work. So you might be surprised that the judge ends up surprised to know that it was your work they were reading.
The only thing is do check the contest guidelines in case there is a rule barring submissions from friends or family members, depending on the nature of your relationship to the judge. Also, I expect this happens a lot that if there’s a writer-teacher you like and you find out they’re judging a contest, it would be very attractive for you to submit to that contest because you resonate with their work and maybe they vibe with your work, too. Of course, you’re naturally going to be inclined to submit to the contest. And so as long as the contest rules don’t forbid it, it’s perfectly acceptable. There will almost always be first readers who forward work to the judge. So you’re not totally banking on recognition or any potential favouritism. And the fact that it’s anonymous also allows the judge to really choose the work they love best. They don’t know who it’s from or they’re not supposed to know who it’s from. And it really could be your work that is picked by that contest since you already have that potential vibe with the judge. So good luck on that contest submission.
Here is a question from Lou. And this is a question I’m really glad that you asked, Lou, because it is when I get a lot from a lot of writers. Lou says, I wonder if it’s OK to message back to an editor when I have received a submit-again rejection. Is it OK to ask, “what are you looking for in your upcoming issues?” so that I can get a sense of what to send them next.
Lou, what they’re saying with a positive rejection is they really like your work or felt some kind of spark in your writing, but it is really unlikely that they have more to say at this time. If they did, they would have said it in your rejection letter. So do not expect the editor to even be really clear about what they want from you next time. Often they themselves don’t know. So even if you were to ask them, there’s a really small likelihood that they’d be able to articulate it enough that the next time you submit to them would be exactly what they want.
What they’re submit-again rejection is saying is that they couldn’t publish this submission, often for really arbitrary reasons, like they already have three braided essays in this issue or two poems about refrigerators. And they liked yours, but it was too long, or too something ineffable. And the reasons they like your work are likely ineffable, too. Or they know, but they’re busy and have a lot of submissions to go through. So you’ve already made this positive impression. Congratulations, by the way, Lou. But I kind of think it’s yours to lose if you ask for more than what they are currently offering. So, they did more than the minimum required. They encouraged you. They didn’t just send you a standard rejection. So this first piece, I want to talk about that for a moment. It lost its chance with this editor. But by the way, it also means another editor may pick it up. So definitely send it out to other lit mags. Those submissions that are getting those positive rejections are very close to being published. Now, I want to turn to the next shot with this editor who did encourage you to submit again, what they’re looking for in upcoming issues will be defined in their call for submissions. So look there for that information rather than asking them to repeat it. And remember, so many editors say they like something when they see it/. So even if they tried to articulate what you should do next time, they really don’t know it themselves.
When you submit again, make sure to mention this encouraging note that you received. That’s really important. That’s your little extra sprinkle of attention. That’s that relationship building piece. And if they decline again this time and I would say that happens more often than you’d think, it’s the encouraging rejection. And then the next one is still a no definitely plan to submit again and again/. I’ve spoken with so many editors who are truly delighted by the persistence of some submitters. The submitter who kept coming back multiple times. I’ve heard stories like sometimes even 10 times before an acceptance, honestly, those are the submitters that those editors will never forget and they hold them really close to their heart. My next episode where I interview editors, they talk about such a submitter, but I’ve heard it time and time again from editors.
All right, the next question from Lacey is really great, it feels very topical in a couple of different ways. So Lacey’s question is, when I write a piece in response to current events, I always worry it will lose relevance by the time it finds a home. As a writer, she asks, is it worth sending out these timely pieces as fast as you can, even if you’d like to reserve them for a contest which might take months or certain lit mags which may be closed? I suppose, she says, this largely depends on one’s goals. But I’d love to know if there are any angles or considerations I should take into account.
So, Lacey, I am guessing that some of this is coming out of really/ current events. I’m going to use the pandemic as an example because that is something I’ve been talking with a lot of editors about. And I would say it’s such a mixed-bag right now. Some publications don’t want the immediate response in the work and to have more space for reflection. If you listen to Episode 45, Téa Franco, the fiction editor at Okay Donkey talked about finding that right timing for that kind of work.
And even in my last episode, 49 with Augur co-editor in chief, my last new episode, Terese Mason Pierre mentioned they’re not even accepting work about this topic at Augur, about the pandemic. That’s not going to be true for every current event, but it’s just something to bear in mind that there’s going to be this really wide range of reception, because also in my upcoming episode 51, you’re going to hear from editors at the Temz who are, you know, on the completely opposite side of that, so they published two pandemic topics right in the early part of the Corona-Coaster in 2020. That was a choice that they made to really respond in the moment. This is going to depend on so much on the topicality of the subject. I wouldn’t worry about it losing its relevance, though, but I do think you’ll probably have more success publishing it in the moment with some journals or much later with those other journals. So it’s sort of like those sort of two extremes, like publishing it right now are publishing it when there is more time for reflection. And you might find that you add more layers or reflection after that moment is passed. And certainly there is so much great writing about really specific events in history that resonates years, decades, hundreds of years later. So I really think you can put that part of your worry aside that it’s just always going to lose its relevance because I just don’t really see that happening. I think it’s great to have those really in-the-moment types of works.
And I think what you might find happens is that if you don’t publish it immediately, you may have more time for reflection and that might come up in a future revision before you publish it. So, I’m going to encourage you to maybe start imagining what it would be like to read that piece in the future. What kind of message in a bottle it might be to future you and to future us? And if the work that you’re talking about, the current events work has what we call contest sparkle—and I’m going to talk more about that in an answer coming up about contests—I would go for it, especially if that’s your goal right now, to build a CV for your writing and start working toward book publication because you’ve published in some great lit mags already. And aside, I know Lacey is a member of my membership community, so this is definitely the stage that she’s at, so Lacey, you specifically, that’s the advice I’d give for you. But for readers who are thinking about this too, are writing about really topical subjects or just current events, and don’t have many publication credits, it might make more sense to send it out with regular submissions at this time and to send it out sooner rather than later. And to many places, because as I mentioned earlier, you’re going to run up against different philosophies about current affairs. You can do your research on this or sometimes submission pages for journals will tell you if they don’t want topical material. And you can also tell that if you read back issues of the journal, so long as the editor and the journals vision remains consistent. If the piece doesn’t get picked up in this moment, you know, during that current event, during a specific presidency, during a specific coup d’état revolution, during an ecological event, if it doesn’t get picked up during that, you know, when that is at the top of the news, after you’ve submitted it to at least 10 places, that you’re pretty sure are good fits, just remember that it’s not over yet. You could put the work aside with a plan to revisit for more reflection and hindsight about the big current moment. Anybody who is writing about current events, I wish you a lot of luck with this. And also there are some publications that are really only about this, that’s their real focus, is to publish current-event writing. So check them out.
I’m interrupting myself/ and the special Q&A episode to let you know that if you’ve benefited from what you’ve learned in this or other episodes of this podcast about writing and submitting your work to journals, you might be a good candidate for my course that is all about publishing in journals. The Lit Mag Love course will help you get a big yes for your writing from a literary journal. The five -week course starts on May 18th and comes with lots of support and feedback for me. And new for the session, I offer a sliding scale pricing tiers to provide more access for writers who have lost jobs or had their income reduced. You can learn all about the Lit Mag Love course, find out what writers say about working with me, and get yourself enrolled for the course at RachelThompson.co/LitMagLove.
All right. This next question comes from Laura, and this is the question regarding contests. Sometimes I don’t want to submit to contests, Laura writes, because it means that peace cannot be submitted elsewhere until the contest closes, is judged and the winners announced. Is there a strategy for this? Should I always be writing a piece for the contest only?
My answer to this question is that Contest Sparkle is your writer-friend, Laura. So this is a term that I believe I picked up from Sierra Sky Gemma. And with apologies if I gleaned this elsewhere and I’m not crediting the right person. What I do know is that in my interview with Sierra, which is Episode 13 of this podcast, she talked about how there needs to be a little extra happening in a contest submission. A perfectly publishable regular submission often won’t make a good contest submission. So what I encourage you to do, Laura, is to really start learning to distinguish between those types of pieces and figuring out where to submit one versus the other. Contest Sparkle means your piece has a little extra in three areas. It sparkles in its unique subject matter. It relates to characters and topics you don’t read about often. It sparkles in that it takes a risk. Maybe it exposes a scary truth or insight about the writer. This might be more common with poetry or CNF, but fiction can do the same, too. If you think about the one viral fiction story in history so far that took a risk or was really speaking to a moment in a unique way. And finally, it sparkles with innovative form or language. It’s told in a unique format or style. So with pieces, with contests sparkle that have that contest sparkle, those three little extra/ bits going on with them, I would encourage you to tie those up if it’s doing all those things. But I still have a condition and that it’s suitable for what you want for your writing right now. Maybe you’d rather publish more quickly. As you say, submitting to a contest will tie up your work for a long time. Or maybe you have a specific journal that you’d love to publish with. And it’s OK for you to decide you don’t want to do contests. You can still submit those Contest Sparkle pieces as regular submissions. Just you can’t really do it the other way around. So regular submission often if it doesn’t have contest sparkle is going to be harder to place in a contest. And plus contests are expensive. And maybe you’ve been using your writing budget already and you spent it all on pens this month.
So you don’t need to submit to contests, especially if that doesn’t tie in with your/ specific goals. Right now. On the flip side, you might decide that a contest win is exactly what you’d like to help you reach the next step in your writing career. And if you do, one thing, you just need to accept and I’m sorry, Laura, because I know you’re worried about that tying up the piece and how long it takes, but you’ll need to accept that it is/ a really long game and maybe have some less sparkling submissions on the side that you will submit so that you get some encouragement for your writing as you’re waiting for that contest piece.
The next question is an anonymous submission. You’ll see why for obvious reasons in a moment. This anonymous question is: I have a bit of a naughty question. What are your thoughts on places that do not allow simultaneous submissions, but then note in their submission form that they usually take six months to respond? There are three places I want to submit the same story to, but with one of them, I have the above problem. Should I be sneaky, naughty and submit to all three? But then what if one of the places accepts the piece before the six month place? What would I say when withdrawing it? I’m thinking about only submitting to the two that allow simultaneous submissions because I’m a little nervy about being caught out. I don’t mind waiting six months or more, but not if I can’t be doing anything else with the piece.
OK, anonymous. Here’s my answer. So a long/ time ago, nobody did simultaneous submissions and my mentors at the time all said ignore this, especially when journals take a long time to respond.
So I pass this along and offer apologies to the lit mag editors who are listening, who don’t accept simultaneous submissions. I will correct myself here, I’m sorry/ not sorry about that, because the only time I think this is acceptable is if you’re submitting to a place and there are some that has a rapid-fire response rate like up to a month, there are some that will do it in a day or three days even. They’re phenomenal. But there needs to be a special reason why they don’t accept simultaneous submissions and they can’t hold up your work for so long if they do. So, my bias is really showing here. And with the example I gave about the publication that got shirty with me after a year, you can see where I stand on that. And my reading group at the time too were all like, you waited a year, it’s unacceptable for you to then expect us as writers just to sit back and wait and not be continuing to work on our writing and further our career. And like you said, just doing nothing with the piece in the meantime.
So back in the day of no simultaneous submissions, I did have to withdraw work. And my usual line was to claim I was disorganised and I forgot. But I don’t know if I do that today because I do get quite annoyed if a publication wants to hold on to your piece for months on end. And I don’t want to play dumb to appease a sorry/not sorry dumb policy. As an editor, I can say when I see a cover letter that lets me know that it is a simultaneous submission, and I love the piece, I will accept it as quickly as possible. It lights a little fire under us as editors and I know I’ve been burned before, when I waited too long to accept a piece I felt would be the cornerstone of an issue. That withdrawn notification that appeared on a piece like that is crushing. And I think that’s a good thing for writers to have a little bit of power in a system that is so stacked against them numbers wise. And I’m not saying that to blame editors. It just, it is what it is. We get a lot of submissions. There are few places where you can place and it’s a big competition. But here at least there’s this one power that writers can have. It’s like, oh, well, I’ve submitted this to other places, so you better decide soon if you like it. So, I hope that helps, anonymous.
And the final question that I have time for today in this Q&A episode, and I’ll add that I am very grateful to everyone who did send in their questions. And I look forward to having a future Q&A episode. So if you have questions in the meantime, feel free to continue sending them to podcast@RachelThompson this.co. This question comes from Susan, who asks, Does it matter how close to the submission date you submit? Would you have a better chance if you submit early to a lit mag versus on the last day? Now, I love this question mainly because I have a theory about this. It is not a fact. I don’t have data to support this. So, note, this is purely anecdotal evidence. I think this would be a curious and not too hard thing to study, in fact, any social scientist out there who are interested. But, I believe, based on this anecdotal evidence, that you can increase your chances when you submit early versus submitting on the final days, later in the process. And here are the many factors in play. You have all these first readers, they’re reading on their own schedule. They maybe have a deadline for when they have to forward stuff to the editor, not every journal works this way, but broad strokes. There’s the first readers and then there are the editors. And then when the work is forwarded, at least for me, when I’m editing within our submission tool, the default sort is the date the work was submitted. And so this is the order I tend to read in. Although knowing this bias, now I am trying to shake it up a bit, but I will read them in the order they were submitted. And as I’m doing the first read through, I’m not making firm selections, but I am making mental selections, and going, oh, maybe I’ll be putting this one in and OK, it’s this many pages long, and I also start kind of calculating how many pages have I mentally filled now? And I haven’t said yes to any of these writers yet, but I’m thinking/ about saying yes. And then what happens is a piece that was early on in my reading. So one that was submitted earlier in the process and let’s say it’s in a specific form or it covers a specific theme, it becomes the standard in my mind. So I might think, oh, I have, for example, these five pieces of fiction that I like. And then later submissions now have to beat out that mental standard that I have for those earlier submissions. And I’ve heard enough from other editors to think that this is a possibility. When I floated this around, again, no data to support this. And people are using different systems and tools and maybe they randomize their submissions or they read in a different way. But do consider, if you have the opportunity to submit earlier than try submitting earlier. Remember, this is purely anecdotal and I think the theory falls apart for journals that roll over submissions, so they’ll publish everything they like. So even if they like a piece later on, they’ll say, OK, I’m going to hold this. I’ve already mentally filled that issue, but I’m going to hold this piece for the next time. All that said, though, I also think it’s just better to submit than not submit. So don’t get hung up on submitting earlier because of my theory here. I’m, myself, definitely more of a last-minute, 11th hour deadline person. Most folks who know me know that I’ll meet deadlines, but I will always just/ meet the deadlines. It is how I prioritize things. So if that’s you, too, definitely submit whether or not it’s early, Susan, and good luck to you and to all the letter writers. Thank you for your questions. I hope that you have learned something about submitting to lit mags. This has been helpful to you and I hope that you will continue to submit to write, to publish, and shine.
Thank you to everyone who sent in their questions for this special fiftieth episode, if listening to these questions and answers reminded you of a question you have about lit mags, go ahead and ask me. I expect another Q&A episode is on the horizon. And I also often answer questions in my Writerly Love letters so you can feel free to send your Q’s to podcast@RachelThompson.co. And subscribe to my letters at RachelThompson.com/letters. Thank you so much for continuing to listen to this podcast. You are the reason we made it to 50 episodes and here’s to the next 50 full of what you need to Write, Publish, and Shine. I will be back with a fresh Lit Mag Love interview in two weeks time.
The Lit Mag Love course starts soon. And this is the last time I plan to offer the course in 2021. So get yourself registered now, if you want to get a big yes for your writing from a Lit Mag Love, you can learn more and sign up at RachelThompson.co/LitMagLove.