This happens so often: You’ve written, revised, and carefully proofread your latest short story, essay, poem, or book manuscript. Your critique partners have given their approval. Now you’re ready to start submitting your work to literary agents or journals! And then you realize: There are hundreds (if not thousands!) of possible markets to sift through, and the time-consuming research will take many tedious hours. But you’ve waited so long and are anxious to get your work into the hands of readers—ASAP! Careful: At Writer’s Relief, we know you’re dangerously close to making the one mistake that will ruin your chances of publication.
No matter how great your short story, essay, poem, or book—if you don’t do the research and pinpoint the right markets, your work probably won’t be published. If you don’t properly research each and every potential literary agent or journal, you’ll end up making submissions to markets that would never be interested in your work. And it’s important to not only determine which markets you should target—but also which markets you should NOT send submissions to.
How Ignoring Research Will Ruin Your Chances of Publication
The literary agent or literary journal is closed for reading. Most journals and many agents only accept submissions during specific (and often limited) time periods. If you submit your writing to an outlet that’s currently not reading, odds are it will be deleted without consideration. Without diligent research, you might also submit to a journal that’s closed permanently. In either case, you’ve squandered your submission: It’s not getting published.
The genre is wrong. Each literary journal has its own unique brand to uphold, and not every piece of writing is going to fit those standards. Similarly, literary agents tend to specialize in a handful of genres and age ranges. Submitting a genre that the agent or journal isn’t interested in is likely to get you an automatic rejection (or no response at all). Not only have you effectively tossed your submission into the virtual trash, but you’ve wasted the reader’s time.
The materials are incorrect. Literary journals have specific requirements for the number of poems or short prose pieces you can submit at a time, as well as word count limits. Literary agents rarely want to see your whole manuscript up front. Agent guidelines may call for just a query letter, or a query letter and a synopsis only, or a query letter, synopsis, and sample pages. It’s important to research and read the submission guidelines for every market where you’re submitting your work. Submissions that don’t adhere to the guideline requests are usually an automatic rejection.
The submission isn’t properly formatted. Agents and journals often require a certain font and specific line spacing. While these requests may seem insignificant, remember that agents and editors spend a lot of their time reading. If you can’t be bothered learning what the agent or editor prefers, you’re not going to make a very good impression on an overworked reader. Since you don’t want to give readers any reasons to ignore your submission, you should format according to their guidelines. But you won’t know what those formatting guidelines are if you don’t do your research.
The submission might go to a questionable market. Not all literary agents and journals are created equal. You’ll want to make sure they’re legitimate, well respected in the publishing industry, and have a good track record. Check into how many issues a journal has published, and make sure you like the look and quality of their publications (whether online or in print). Look into a literary agent’s sales record—how many books have they sold in the last few years, and how many of those are in your genre specifically? If an agent doesn’t have many sales racked up yet, check to see if they’re relatively new—if they’re enthusiastic and have a good, experienced mentor, that’s a worthwhile submission!
But if you just send out your submissions willy-nilly, you may end up being accepted by a literary agent or journal that’s more predatory than prestigious. If you don’t carefully research markets, you might inadvertently send your work to an agent who asks you for money up front, or a literary market that’s only interested in selling shoddy anthologies.
The contact info has errors. Using the wrong name or greeting is an especially embarrassing mistake. While addressing an agent or editor by the wrong name or spelling their name incorrectly shouldn’t disqualify your submission from consideration, it will definitely make a poor impression and start you off on the wrong foot. There’s no reason to hand the reader a reason to think poorly of you! And an equally dreadful faux pas: Submitting to someone who’s no longer with that particular agency or journal. If only there was a way to avoid this mishap! Oh wait, there is: Do your research!
Research Resources You Can Use
Grab a cup of coffee, put on your comfy pants, turn off any distractions (cell phones, TV, YouTube videos, etc.), and settle in. Research is a time-consuming, detail-oriented task, and it’s important you do it right if you want to have the best odds of getting published.
Most literary journals and literary agencies have their own websites. Here, you can read about genres and word counts, guidelines for submission, and the particular editors’ or agents’ names. Sometimes, individual agents at a larger literary agency will have personal blogs you can check for more information. You can also follow journals or literary agents on social media.
And when you’re finished researching for this submission, you can take a break…until you need to start over for your next project.
Or, you can make it easy on yourself. Do what countless savvy, published writers have done for over twenty-eight years: delegate the research and busywork to Writer’s Relief. They’ll pinpoint not one, not three or four, but twenty-five markets that are best suited for your work! The research experts at Writer’s Relief will take care of targeting the best markets for your work to boost your odds of getting an acceptance, while you focus on what you do best: write!
Here’s a little something else our research has shown us: Over 90 percent of our poetry and short story clients have received acceptances. Learn more about our services and submit your writing samples to our Review Board today!
Question: What’s an “oops” you’ve made on a writing submission?
Something I did recently was submit a paid article on a notable writing blog that I got paid for and was scheduled to publish in the next three to four months. Well, the publish date came around, and the article didn’t go up. I’m assuming because I gave the publication a web link that had gone away in the meantime. Now, I don’t make silly mistakes like that. Great advice here!
Thanks for commenting! That’s great advice!
Very good, but I write non-fiction books and an agent sought me out based on the subject, content, and publisher’s interest in a book that I had already published.