Getting Published as a Teen Part Two
By Ishita Shah, Lara Katz, Daniel Boyko, and Zoha Arif
Last month, we covered the key difference between writers and authors, what research into literary magazines looks like, the various tiers of literary magazines, and literary magazine lingo. Now, let’s get to the moment you’ve all been so eagerly waiting for…
Step Two: Submitting Your Piece
After you’ve compiled a list of the literary magazines that you’re interested in submitting to, it’s time to individually research the specific submission requirements of each publication. Most high school publications require you to submit a third-person bio along with your submission. Some (though this is very rare in the high school literary magazine tier) require you to submit a cover letter along with your work. A cover letter sounds like a daunting, overly professional thing to ask of a teenager, but many magazines have specific guidelines on what they want to read in your cover letter (i.e. some want to hear about your involvement in the literary community and your publication history; others want to hear about the piece you're submitting and the writing process behind it). It’s a good idea, therefore, to write a third-person bio and cover letter that you can easily copy and paste into your submission. Some publications also hold restrictions on “simultaneous submissions.” A simultaneous submission occurs when you submit the same piece to several publications at one time. Some magazines do not allow simultaneous submissions while others do with limits.
It’s also important to look into the specific formatting requirements of your submission document. Some literary magazines have submission managers that only accept .docx or .txt files, and others have specific guidelines on how to format your prose and poetry (i.e. they require you to use Times New Roman size 12 font and have your initials in the top right corner of the page). As an example, the following are the Apprentice Writer’s formatting guidelines for poetry submissions:
Each Word document should include only 1 submission.
Poetry should be single spaced and in 12pt Times New Roman font. (Please be aware we may not be able to accommodate special formatting for poetry work.)
There are no restrictions on subject.
Each document should include your first and last name, and email address at the top left of the word document.
Files (documents) should be titled as follows:
Last Name, First Initial (Genre) Submission Title
ex.: Doe, J (Spoken Word) A Yeti’s Tale
Do NOT include symbols such as #, $, <, *, \, : and @ in your title.
Polyphony Lit has similar formatting guidelines. Check them out here.
It’s important to take the extra five minutes and follow these formatting guidelines strictly, as many magazines will not consider your work if it does not adhere to these guidelines.
There are also a select few high school literary magazines that have submission fees. Publications may implement these for a few reasons:
Paying contributors. Most literary magazines don't pay contributors—not because they don't want to, per se, but because they can't afford to. Submission fees can remedy this issue.
Paying for platforms. Submission platforms such as Submittable and Submission Manager can be extremely expensive, as well as website management.
Paying editors. Although many publications (such as Polyphony) are run by volunteer efforts, others prefer to compensate their editors.
Turning a profit. Most literary magazines either do not turn a profit or are non-profit organizations, so this is very rare.
Keeping issues affordable. Publications may charge submitters in order to avoid charging readers for reading their published issues (or to charge a smaller amount).
While the morality of charging writers for their work to simply be considered is largely up for debate, some publications may feel they have no other financial option. Other publications also offer financial assistance to those who need it, or make the fees an optional donation. Regardless, for every publication that charges a fee, there are others that do not. You, as the submitter, have many options to consider.
After you’ve ensured that you meet all the submission requirements and guidelines for each literary magazine, it’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet and keep track of which pieces were submitted where and their verdict. In the event that you get accepted, you will most likely be asked to withdraw that piece from consideration from any others you may have submitted it to, which is where this spreadsheet comes in handy.
The three main platforms that literary magazines use to receive submissions and return responses on those submissions are Submission Manager, Submittable, and email. If you are unfamiliar with the logistics of Submission Manager, you can access a demo and tutorial here, and if you are unfamiliar with Submittable, you can access a tutorial video here. I recommend turning on email notifications for your Submission Manager and Submittable accounts so that you are notified whenever the status of your submission(s) changes. For Submittable, there is an indicator that will read “In-Progress,” “Received,” “Declined,” “Completed,” “Accepted,” or “Withdrawn” next to your submission.
“In-Progress” indicates that an editor has taken some action on your piece.
“Received” indicates that no action has been taken yet.
“Completed” means that your submission has gone through the editorial pipeline and is no longer being considered.
“Accepted” indicates that your piece has been accepted.
“Declined” equates to rejection.
If you ever want to withdraw a piece from consideration, you can click on your submission and choose to withdraw it, in which case the status of your submission will change to “Withdrawn.”
Step Three: Playing the Waiting Game
Even after carefully selecting the perfect literary magazine and submitting your piece somewhere, you can often find yourself in the Waiting Game. Before you receive a response, whether it be good or bad news, some time will pass. For some magazines, that means up to a month (especially at Blue Marble Review); other magazines can take many, many months, especially if they choose to not respond to submissions until the window for them closes. For instance, if you submit a poem in September and the literary magazine accepts submissions until March, then there’s a real chance that you won’t be informed of your piece’s status until March. That’s a six month period. Entire novels have been written in shorter time, à la The Old Man and the Sea.
So, what do you do during this time? Do you frantically reload your Submission Manager every day to make sure you didn’t miss anything? As much as you might like to double-check and triple-check your submission’s status at every available chance, the truth is that you may actually forget about submitting your piece. Not in a wait-did-I-or-did-I-not-submit-this-piece way, but just that the submission may move to the back of your mind; what’s done is done, and ultimately you cannot really change the status of your piece at one particular literary magazine.
But you can do some things. First, you can try to find out if simultaneously submitting is a good choice for you. If it’s something you’re interested in, especially because it might better your chances of getting published, and it’s something that the literary magazine you submitted to allows, then perhaps seeing other literary magazines with similar guidelines makes sense.
Second, and this is perhaps my personal favorite option, you can continue writing. Whether that means writing in a similar style or trying something completely different, you’ve written one piece, so why not go for another? The Waiting Game might sound slightly bleak and dull, but it doesn’t need to be. You can use this as an opportunity to work on other pieces, explore other thoughts, and improve your craft by simply continuing to write.
Regardless of whether you get accepted or not, “practice makes better” in the realm of writing. Yes, you read that right. Practice probably will not make your writing perfect because, quite frankly, there is no such thing as “perfect” or flawless writing; just achievements that come pretty close to it. But practice will improve your writing, your familiarity with diction, constructing characters, elucidating thoughts, and allow you to become more adjusted to your own voice and style. That sounds pretty good to me.
Regardless of what you do, hang in there. Sooner or later, you’ll find out the fate of your piece…
Step Four: Receiving a Response
There are three potential outcomes when you submit to a literary magazine. One is rejection, one is acceptance, and one is nothing. That's right, nothing. Sometimes literary magazines never send you a response. Crazy, right? All the more reason to keep submitting, submitting, submitting, and not to be afraid of simultaneous submissions.
Let's talk about rejection first. To be blunt, it can hurt, but it doesn't need to. There are a number of reasons you can be rejected, and none of them are personal. None of them mean you're a bad writer, either.
Very often, magazines have issues with space. They might have a maximum of, for example, seventy poems per volume. However, their editors may determine that ninety-four poems are worthy of publication. What happens to twenty-four of those poems, then? They're rejected. Who knows how it's decided; every magazine does it differently. Maybe your poem had the wrong number of lines to fit on the page. Maybe the last issue contained a poem that was also about a grandmother kidnapping a tortoise and they just couldn't put another one in. Maybe one editor decided that on Tuesday, they'd reject every poem that contained rhymes, just because. (To be clear, this would never occur at Polyphony. We would not let that slide.) Maybe you were the seventy-first person to submit a great piece of writing. It's impossible to know, and it probably had nothing to do with you or the quality of your work.
As shown above, it’s important to consider the subjectivity of rejection. Additionally, while rejection could be random, it’s possible that the publication just isn’t right for a piece. Your work may be outstanding in every way, but may not connect with the publishers and the substance of one platform like it does with those of another. Publishers can be unpredictable, and it can be difficult to assess whether or not a publication is right for you. Remember to avoid taking rejection to heart – it may have very little to do with your writing ability – and to maintain spirit; with persistence and a little bit of luck, you’ll steer yourself down the right path.
Another reason you could be rejected is that your work isn't very good. Yes, I said it. But does this mean you're a bad writer? I still say no. Let's compare writing to sprinting, for example. Let's say you run the 100 meter dash. You probably run the same dash hundreds of times (if not thousands) to prepare for that one single day when you sprint those measly 100 meters. A lot of those 100 meters you practiced running probably aren’t your fastest times. However, you'd never be able to win a single race unless you had run all those dashes. The same thing applies to writing. Not everything you produce will be good. You've got to practice, exercise your writing muscles. Sometimes, you won't know which pieces are your practices and which are the main race. It can be hard to judge your own work, and similar to how you struggle in discerning the best of your writing, publications struggle even more. Think about all of the bad published writing you've read in the world. It's probably a lot. Now, think about all of your favorite books. Lots of them were rejected. The percentage of published work out there that's never been rejected is very, very low.
One of the most popular mystery writers of all time, Agatha Christie, was unable to publish her first two novels. Over the course of her life, she published seventy-two novels. The first two most likely weren't her best. It's just how it goes. She kept writing. Another author who you may have heard of before, Louisa May Alcott—whose most famous book, Little Women, continues to be popular today and has even been made into a major motion picture—was also rejected. She was told, "Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write." Well, it looks like a little woman proved that man (James Thomas Fields) wrong. Who knows? Maybe you'll be the next great writer to be passed over by some condescending publisher. After all, your writing can be rejected an infinite number of times, and nothing's going to happen to you. One acceptance is all it takes.
So what happens when you do get accepted? Well, congratulations! Okay, now what?
There are a few things that are always smart to do after you've been accepted. The first is to confirm with the publication that you want to be published. Some publications don't require this action, but others do—and you won't be published if you don't carry out said action. It's imperative that you confirm that you've done everything you needed to do. Additionally, some publications (like Polyphony Lit) may ask for edits of your submission. In fact, your acceptance may be contingent on your ability to satisfactorily complete those edits. I would advise you to follow through with those edits as purposefully and carefully as possible. You want to be proud of the final product; remember, whatever you send as your final draft will be the version everyone reads!
The second thing you should do is notify any and all other publications to which you may have submitted the same piece. This notification may be as simple as a withdrawal or as formal as an email—just review the relevant policies and follow the rules as precisely as you can.
The third thing to do is celebrate! Congratulations again.
What is your experience submitting creative writing? How has being published affected you? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section!
Lara Katz is the Editor-in-Chief of Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.
Zoha Arif is a Second Reader at Polyphony Lit and the Managing Editor for Voices.
Daniel Boyko is an Executive Managing Editor at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.
Ishita Shah is a First Reader at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.