You’ve polished your poetry, short story, or personal essay, carefully researched to find the best literary journals, and sent out your submissions. Now you’ll wait weeks or even months to hear whether your submission is accepted or rejected. Rather than sit there twiddling your thumbs, the submission strategists at Writer’s Relief advise you to move on to your next writing project. But as days pass, you’re probably wondering: What happens to your submission once it’s sent to a literary journal?
Behind The Scenes: What Really Happens To Your Submission At A Literary Journal
Some of the research and submission experts at Writer’s Relief have also served on the staff of various literary magazines—so we know the manner in which each journal is staffed, and the resources available vary greatly. A few literary journals have large budgets and are able to pay their workers, but most cannot afford to pay their staff or contributors and rely heavily on volunteers. Some journals have a large editorial staff, while others are run by just a handful of dedicated people. There are literary magazines run by universities where the staff changes yearly, and other journals where the same editorial crew is in place for years. While it’s impossible to say what happens behind the scenes at each and every literary journal, there are some basics that are common to all journals.
At every journal, once your submission is received, it’s read. Many journals have more than one reader look at each piece, and there could be multiple reading rounds.
Of course, with the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of submissions arriving during a reading period, it can take a while for everything to be read. This is just one of the reasons why it might be months before you receive a reply!
Usually, more than one “no” is required for your writing to be rejected. For instance: If the first reader rejects your work, it is often passed on to at least one more reader—which is great news for anyone who’s making submissions. If the readers/editors are split on whether or not to accept a piece, there will be a meeting where the merits of the work are discussed and voted on. It’s not unheard of for one reader at a journal to say “no” to a piece while other readers say “yes” and the work is accepted!
A Hard Truth About The Selection Process
You’ve probably received automated rejections stating the journal often has to turn down really good pieces because they just don’t have the space—and it’s the truth.
Journals allot a specific amount of space and pages to each issue. This is why our submission strategists recommend you do the research needed to determine where you should—and where you shouldn’t—submit your writing. If your work doesn’t suit the style or themes of a specific literary journal, you’ve wasted your time and theirs. To improve your chances of getting an acceptance, you should also submit to multiple journals at once—and across multiple tiers too!
Getting a rejection letter is a fact of the writing life. And it isn’t necessarily a reflection on the quality of your writing. Aside from space limitations, your work might be rejected because a similar piece was already accepted. Or the readers simply couldn’t come to a consensus.
Some journals receive over ten thousand submissions during a reading period! If they are going to publish even one hundred pieces, that’s an acceptance rate of one percent. Getting your work accepted is a numbers game: We advise our clients to submit a piece at least a hundred times before giving up.
So don’t let rejection get you down! Here are ways to beat the rejection letter blues.
What Happens Next At The Journal?
Of course, the journal staff has a lot more to do than just read submissions! Once they know which pieces are being accepted, the staff has to contact the writers and confirm the work is still available. The submission will also be proofread and any possible edits will be reviewed with the writer for approval.
It is considered good etiquette to withdraw your work from other journals as soon as you receive and confirm an acceptance. Once you make the withdrawals, additional editors won’t make the mistake of accepting your submission—only to find out it’s not available.
Next, the journal staff will determine where each accepted poem, essay, or short story will appear in the magazine. The formatting and layout will be created and any artwork will be considered and placed in position. The cover design for that issue will also be selected, and much more.
A lot of time, thought, and effort goes into constructing each issue of a literary journal, whether it’s in print or online. So, when your work is published, don’t just read your own submission! Take the time to look through and read the writing that appears alongside yours—and if you really like something, consider reaching out to the writer if possible. Your compliment will be very appreciated, and you may even make a new friend or literary contact.
If you want to boost your odds of getting an acceptance, the experts at Writer’s Relief are ready to lend a hand. As writers and researchers with years of experience, we’re able to effectively target the very best markets for you and your writing—and our happy clients love to talk about the great results they get working with Writer’s Relief! Send your work to our Review Board today to learn more.
Question: Which part of what happens to your submissions were you most unfamiliar with?