The Publishing Life: Journal Submission Journal 3/3/20 with Cover Letter Dos and Don'ts

Journal Submission Journal 3/3/20

I did quite a bit of reading this week. I refreshed my memory of a few journals I'd researched in the past, browsed my Submittable account and went through all the standard guides, but I was watching my budget, so I didn't indulge in as many submissions as I might have otherwise done. Below I'll link a bunch of useful lists/guides, feature a bunch of journals that are open for submissions right now, and highlight a few contests also. In addition to the standard fare I'm including a few notes about cover letters. Long story short: be concise.

Photo by Debby Hudson

Cover Letter Dos and Don'ts

I have tried all sorts of cover letters, read dozens of 'tutorials' and copied their examples in my own voice. I've gone extremely minimalistic, I've even buried insane secret messages in otherwise regular letters—and had a few bored editors ask about my life-sized popsicle stick castle or suggest that using safety scissors to trim the lawn might not be the most efficient way to address the mutant mole issue, but those nonsensical messages to readers usually went unnoticed. My experiences as an editor and submitter with over 150 journal publications (and still going hard at it) have led me to the conclusion that cover letters don't matter much, but they can be a way to make an editor feel a little better. Editors don't often get feedback, so just knowing someone living and breathing actually read something you'd spent a bunch of time taking from submission to publication... it's nice. So taking that extra moment is kind of like holding the door for an approaching stranger, saying "have a good day" to a cashier or helping an old man up a set of stairs. It's easy and dadgummit, take the few moments to do it right.  

Don't: Stress it. Cover letters in some settings are extremely important, like in job application for example. A cover letter for a writing submission is a lot lower stakes. Many journals won't even look at the cover letter until they've read the pieces, some don't require them at all, but most prefer some sort of organizing note for quicker searching. If you have a Pulitzer or a best selling book or held some prestigious fellowship that could tip you over the edge, but for the most part, your writing will be judged on your writing, not your credentials. At least that's my experience from working at 4 journals.

Do: Address the correct genre editor. This is a small touch and won't make or break your submission, but when the editors glance at the cover letter they get the little added feeling that you aren't mindlessly mailbombing every journal possible. I don't always do this, but I'm going to try to be better. To find the editor to address check the journal's masthead or "About us" section for the proper genre editor.

Don't: Lie. Don't say you know an editor you don't or that you've been published somewhere you haven't been, that you have a credential you don't have or whatever. Cover letters don't matter a whole lot to most journals, no need to make an ass of yourself.

Do: Include the titles of all of the pieces you're submitting. For prose include the word count, and for formal poems indicate the form with the title for good measure.

Don't: Summarize your story. The story or poems should speak for themselves. If there's a specific reason you are submitting this particular piece to this particular journal yes, mention that, briefly. But don't bore the editor with what you think is important about the story.

Do: Include a short biography. List some of your best (or most apt for that journal) publications and any awards you've won. Feel free to mention your MFA if you have one or are working on one. If you want to list your profession or your hometown/city of residence, go for it. Say something quirky about yourself? Sure, but keep it short and it should be either interesting or funny and in good taste. If you want to do that, try to check out other bios that the journal includes to see if it's fitting. If you're sending to a quirky journal feel free to funktify up your cover letter too. Quirk appreciates quirk usually... just don't over quirk it.

Don't: Include every single publication you have—top out at like 5 or 6. Fewer is fine. You don't need to have been published elsewhere to be considered. While on one hand having those credits shows that you're serious and have put in the work not only in your writing but in the course of publishing, on the other hand editors love finding new talent. Also don't bother listing 'runner up' or 'finalist' results, only if you won the contest. The only exceptions would be if you don't have many publications but you have been nominated for a year end anthology like Pushcart Prize, Best American ____ or O. Henry. However, remember that as John Fox reminds us, Pushcart gets over 10,000 pieces nominated every year, so there are a whooooooole lot of Pushcart Prize nominees out there. My household has 4 nominations and 0 wins (technically 1 is still pending)

Do: Make it something like this, but with your own personal flair. Think of it as your creative writing magazine submission cover letter template:

Dear Poetica Lyricist (or poetry editor)

I thoroughly enjoyed the most recent issue of Viper Hiccups! The wonderful assonance in the penultimate line of Everett Mann's "Paul Hogan Makes a Scene at the Louvre with his Much Younger Girlfriend" was music to my ears. I first saw your magazine last year ago when Ronnie Silliermann linked your blog article about the preponderance of spondees in hip hop lyrics. I am submitting four poems today which are titled

"Metaluna is for Lovers" (a sonnet)

"The Gatorade Ghazal" (a ghazal)
"Bare Feet for Quentin"
"Torture Devices of the Smurfs and Other Museum Exhibits Doomed to be Rejected by the Board of Trustees"

As you requested a third person bio in your guidelines: Gary Gerry is a political border expert from Washington DC. He received his MFA in poetry from the New School where he served on the editorial board of LIT. His work has appeared in Lotus-Eater, The James Franco Review and Cease, Cows among others.

or for fiction it would look something like this:

Dear Vic Shun (or fiction editor)

I loved the most recent issue of The Super Awesome Lit Mag! I was really taken in by the dialog between the butcher and the dog with Elvis's reincarnated soul from Henry Ree's story "Why Still Reading This Nonsense So Closely?". 

I am submitting a piece of short fiction for your consideration entitled "Fortnights and Blanket Forts" which is 3,444 words long.

As you requested a third person bio in your guidelines: Kori Richard Corey is a Glassblower living in a tiny house outside of Portland, Oregon. He loves Ed Wood movies and is a passionate collector of OK Soda™ memorabilia. This would be his first publication.


Entropy Mag's list of where to submit is a great resource and while this is February's list, there' s a good amount of places that have rolling deadlines or aren't until sometime in March.
Zebulon's Flash Fiction Submission Guide. Yeah, I'll admit I referenced this, I put a lot of work into it, and though it's almost 5 years old and needs an update, there are a lot of smaller and lesser known journals I reminded myself with using this guide.
Duotrope. Always. A great search and browse function.
Submittable Discover Tab. Good for deadlines. There are a few March 15th deadlines and definitely some end of the month/April 1st ones to keep your eye on.
Poets & Writers Contest Calendar. If you've got a little extra scratch and want to enter some contests this is one of the best places to go. I used this a lot in January but overextended my submission budget a bit so I'm back to pacing out those $3 submissions.
New Pages Calls for submissions. New Pages is a tremendous resource, they have lots of supplemental information about hundreds of journals including lit mag reviews, which you don't see too many places.


Eunoia Review: This Singapore-based online journal aims at "sharing the fruits of ‘beautiful thinking’" which has the distinction of the title "Fastest Responding Market" at Duotrope—and they live up to that title. I submitted to them recently and got a response in just over 13 hours. Instead of publishing issues periodically they have taken a more Poetry Daily, Everyday Fiction route and feature 2 new pieces on their website every day. Submissions are made via email and are free.

Jet Fuel Review: This is the online literary review out of Lewis University in Illinois. Every 2 months they feature new artists, writers and other literary magazines on their website, but the best way to get a feel for what they publish in their journal check out their back issues. Submit via their submittable page for free. I especially enjoyed the imagery and sound of this bit from John James' "Glossolalia" in the newest (Fall 2019) issue:

          Ravaged cabbages,
the shell

                    of a salted snail
          tossed among dandelion heads

WaxwingThis independent literary magazine is one to check out. They embrace experimentation and the avant garde without being indecipherable. Definitely read a number of pieces before deciding if you'd like to send work here as they're very eclectic. They have everything from haibun to surreal dream-like narratives, translations and even more. They accept free submissions through their submittable page, Poetry closes March 31st 2020, Prose (fiction and non fiction) is open until April 30th.

Seneca ReviewPublishing continually since 1970, this print journal out of Hobart and William Smith Colleges has published the who's who of contemporary writing. Everyone you can think of, really. A very abbreviated list includes: Anne Carson, Fanny Howe, David Shields, Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove, Jorie Graham, Yusef Komunyakaa, Bin Ramke, Charles Simic, W.S. Merwin, They take online submissions via their submittable page which costs $3 to submit. Their submission windows are from September 1st through October 15th and from February 1st through March 15th. Their work is frequently featured in the year-end 'best of' anthologies.

Tulane ReviewThis is Tulane University's print and online literary arts magazine. They publish a nice eclectic mix you can get a feel for by reading through their 2018 issue. I liked the wide variety of the magazine, there will be very straightforward pieces then something with a lovely surreality to it like in There are Boys Like Branches Burning by Lena Ziegler:

leaves like corpses
brown and shriveled ugly/in the space                                                                                                                                                       
between rebirth I notice you
in the shape of my calves

They are open to poetry, prose and art submissions until March 20th, 2020 via their submittable page for free.

Conduit: This cool and quirky Minnesota print journal has been publishing for almost 30 years continuously now. For the more uniquely voiced journals it's often best to let them describe their vision. They describe themselves as:

at once direct, playful, inventive, irreverent, and darkly beautiful. Despite common sense and the laws of economics, Conduit has been thwarting good taste, progress, and consensus for over twenty years. Conduit publishes distinctive voices of literary merit—experimental to accessible, established to emerging—in snazzy volumes, featuring work that demonstrates originality, intelligence, courage, and humanity. Conduit champions a fresh mix of writers. If that isn't enough, Conduit reaches beyond the literary by interviewing astronomers, ethno-botanists, artists, graphic artists, and historians, et cetera, believing a vigorous imagination is one that is cross-pollinated by diverse areas of human inquiry.
They accept poetry submissions through their submittable page for a $3 fee.

Split Lip Magazine: This quirky online journal recently moved homes to a slightly different name. They describe themselves as:

We’re a literary journal that’s totally bonkers-in-love with voice-driven writing, pop culture, and the kind of honesty that gets you right in the kidneys. We love stories and poetry and art because they’re our insides turned out for everyone to see: the darkness and the confetti in equal measure.

They are open for $3 'Tip Jar' submissions year round, but they also take free submissions via their submittable page in January, March, May, September, and November.

Apeiron Review: This Philadelphia-based literary journal only reads 2 months out of the year: March (hey, that's us!) and September. They are eclectic but lean toward the accessible side of things. I like what they say they want so I'll quote that here: 
We want something real, something beautiful, something ugly, and something that sings to the far reaches of our being. Make us laugh or make us cry, but we want something visceral. Free verse poems are generally favored over those that rhyme. Experimentation is encouraged. There are no limits on form, but please keep short stories and nonfiction to 3k or less. We do accept flash fiction with 1k word counts or less.
They also have a soft spot in my heart that they don't know about because they nominated one of my wife's poems for a Pushcart Prize, though I'd never put that in my cover letters (to bring it back to the top). To send your submission in this month for free go to their submittable page.

Hot Metal Bridge: This online lit mag from University of Pittsburgh's MFA program is another interesting one to check out. I found them a few years back and they keep putting out great issues. I especially liked this bit from "After Graffiti, Northside Carbondale" by Bryce Berkowitz:
Fingers paint-stained harbor blue.
As I step from the train yard, a horn blasts in the North.
I’m afraid of being nobody. I want the clouds to know my name.

I've been looking especially closely at submission guidelines since I've been working on my own and I appreciate their genre notes. For Poetry they say "We're eager to read your bravest and strangest poems. We like all kinds." For Fiction: "We want to read fiction that turns out heads to show us a new perspective. Be it through formal invention, depth of insight, or strength of narrative, the fiction that grips us does so by revealing a little sliver of some idiosyncratic, particular human life. But we don’t want to get too specific here: we want your best story—your ire, your lore, your comic relief—whatever form it may take." And finally for Nonfiction they write: "Send us something real. We're looking for nonfiction pieces of the literary sort—anything from lyric pieces to cultural criticism, memoir to journalism. We want work that makes us think and feel, work that perhaps gets a little weird. Teach us something. Challenge conventions. Introduce us to something new." Submit for free at their submittable page.

Pithead Chapel: This online journal is renowned for their flash fiction, but they publish great prose poetry and nonfiction as well. They're a little on the quirky side so be sure to read through some issues before you submit. Their current issue is wholly comprised of the top stories submitted for the 2019 Larry Brown Short Story Contest. They also respond very quickly, being in the top 20 of Duotrope's fastest responding markets. They are open year round for free submissions at their submittable page.

Apple Valley Review: This online journal has been publishing twice a year since 2005 by editor Leah Browning. They don't usually go too experimental but do publish solid work. I was especially taken by this section of "Street Scene" by Gary Duehr from their newest issue.
And have we seen this cast before?
A victim, a nun or cop, the ballet corps
Of passersby
Who pivot on the spot to wonder why?
They accept submissions by email year round for free.
Bellingham Review hosts three annual prizes with March 15th deadlines—entering the contest will get you a copy of Bellingham Review #80 (the winners will be published in #82). For poetry they have the 49th Parallel Award for Poetry. For fiction they have the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction, and for non fiction they have the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction. Each prize has a $20 entry fee and the grand prize for each genre is $1000 and publication. If you'd like to make 'additional' entries they may be made at a discounted rate of $10.

Southeast Review hosts four annual contests with March 15th deadlines: The Southeast Review Art Award, The World's Best Short-Short Story Contest (for fiction under 250 words), The Ned Stuckey-French Nonfiction Contest, and The Gearhart Poetry Contest. All of the contests cost $16 to enter and the winner in each category receives $500

Fiction Southeast is an online journal that hosts the Hemingway Flash Fiction Award for fiction under 1500 words. The deadline is March 31st, entry fee is $10 and the first prize is $200.

Sonora Review is an online journal from the University of Arizona's MFA program that is hosting both a fiction contest, and a poetry contest on the theme of "Wonder" with a March 27th deadline. Entry to either contest is $15 and the first prize for each contest is $1000. Normally I don't mention judges, but the poetry judge for this contest is the one and only Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

Fourth Genre is Michigan State University's renowned nonfiction journal. They are hosting the Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay contest (in nonfiction, of course) with a March 15th deadline, $20 entry fee and $1000 first prize.

Colorado Review the University of Colorado's world famous journal annually hosts the Nelligan Prize for long short fiction with a $17 entry fee (for $27 you get a year's subscription as well as entry into the contest, which I highly recommend), $2000 first prize and March 14th deadline. Stories should be between 10 and 50 pages (2500-12500 words).


I'd love to hear other journals you fine folks have found recently, or are your favorites too! And if this post or my blog in general has been helpful, I'd really appreciate any donations you might be able to spare.