Submitting Your Work to Journals

Literary journals offer a wide market for your work and a good way to get your feet wet in the world of publication. There are no sure-fire tips to guarantee you get published, but there are two ways to increase your chances: 1. Do your research and 2. Follow submission guidelines.


Your first step is to get a list of prospects. Google is your friend, especially if you are a genre writer. (“Genre” typically refers to Harlequin-type romance, horror, science fiction/fantasy, whodunnit and western. Everything else is “literary.”) Other places to look: the list of markets on this website, your local library or a bookstore.

Next, get a sense of whether the journal publishes the type of writing you do. Journals build an audiences by delivering a consistent product issue after issue.  Some of them are very eclectic in what they publish – they may even dabble in “genre” writing.  Some of them may be more limited – only poetry, or no poetry at all.  You’ll save yourself a certain amount of time and effort – and rejection slips – by finding out beforehand what kind of work each journal publishes, and focusing on those that seem to include writers like you.

Read the submission guidelines for the types of work, genres and themes that journals are interested in. Then track down a few copies and find out what they mean by “experimental.”

Once you’ve decided where you want to submit, find out:

  • Do they accept unsolicited submissions?
  • Do they accept submissions in hard copy or by email?
  • When do they accept submissions?
  • How long will it take for the journal to respond to your submission?
  • Do they have a house style?
  • What are the formatting guidelines for submissions?

Now you’re ready for step two: preparing your manuscript.

Submission guidelines

Your submission will have four parts: envelope, cover letter, manuscript and SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope).

The Envelope

The envelope will make sure your manuscript wends its way safely to the right person in the right building and doesn’t end up in postal limbo. It must include:

  • The address of the journal
  • Your return address
  • Sufficient postage – take your parcel to a postal outlet to be weighted if you want to be sure
  • Additional information such as editor, theme or contest – check submission guidelines for details

The Cover Letter

The cover letter provides a brief introduction to you and your work. It should include:

  • Your name
  • Your contact information – mailing address, phone number and email address
  • The title of your work
  • Previous publications
  • Other information requested in the submission guidelines, such as a biographical note or word count

The Manuscript

Submission guidelines may offer directions for the following elements of your manuscript:

  • Information such as your name, the title, page numbers and word count, and its placement (first page, last page, header, footer).
  • Paper size (usually 8.5 x 11), margins (usually 1 inch), and spacing (usually single for poetry, double for prose).
  • Language, punctuation and style.

If you don’t feel confident in formatting your work in a word processor, get help from a tech-savvy friend or take a course. Typed manuscripts are a must, so make friends with your computer. Always print single-sided on white paper.

Make sure your manuscript is free of spelling and grammar errors (unless they’re intentional). I once read that “spelling errors are like fishhooks in the reader’s eye.” Make sure your work is barb-free.

Again, if you’re not confident in your spelling or comma use, find a good editor or pick up some simple style guides, like Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, The Canadian Press Stylebook or Eats Shoots and Leaves.


An SASE is a self-addressed, stamped envelope – pretty straightforward. Generally, you will be asked to provide an SASE to make it easier for them to send your acceptance letter (or rejection slip).

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Hilary Friesen

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