Where should I submit creative work?

You wrote a thing! Now what? Well, you can always graffiti it in an abandoned warehouse, or chant it around a bonfire under the light of a full moon, but perhaps you want a bit more exposure. Maybe even money. I’ve got a couple things to say about this, but take this post with a whole shaker of salt. Think of this as more as advice from a friend who’s been around the block rather than tried-and-true professional tips. I’m going to walk you through my experience with different submissions platforms.

Submittable

You probably already know about this one especially if you’re a part of WWU’s Bellingham ReviewSubmittable is a super popular platform for submitting work because it acts as a common ground between you and the publishers. It’s free unless you submit somewhere asking for money. WWU’s Jeopardy Magazine also uses it along with most other University literary magazines which makes it ideal for literary work.

After making account, the homepage looks like this:

Submittable's home page displaying the name "Caity Scott" and a list of submitted pieces, where they were submitted, their status, and the submission date

Every submission has a status attached to is. Just because it’s “In-Progress” doesn’t mean they’re actually looking at it. “In-Progress” shows up when someone opens the file, and some lit mags open files the day they’re submitted just to assign drafts to specific reader’s slush piles where they’ll sit for two months. Basically, don’t get freaked out and expect an answer right away when you see this status pop-up.

At the top, you’ll see “Discover,” “Saved,” and “Following.” I’ll get to “Discover” in a bit, but the other two are for you to track prompts, contests, and follow specific publishers and magazines. On occasion, I’ll scour through different magazines, vet them, then save a bunch I’m interested in. Periodically, I’ll go back this list and see if I have any work that would be appropriate for whatever piece I’m looking to submit. This way, I’m vetting one day and submitting another verses getting distracted while vetting, forgetting to save the calling, then forgetting which lit mags I’ve vetted by the time I’m ready to submit.

close up of a call for submissions from "Sad Girls Club." The call is titled "All Submissions &250 Prize Contests" and the deadline is right below. Tags are featured below that as well as descriptions of what the publication is after
Example of a call once clicked on

The “Discover” button is how you access calls for submissions. By default, it’s sorted by deadline. A few lit mags will list deadlines every single day just to show up towards the top of the search results. Otherwise, the search bar does have specific categories for you to search within, like “flash,” “horror,” or “essay.” You can also find tags for “feminism”, “afrofuturism” and “magical realism” as well as “video” and “hybrid” which makes Submittable super helpful if you’re into more thematic/experimental work. Calls will pop up as preview when clicked on, so you can backout without losing your place in the list. If you find something you like, make sure to save it or even follow the publication/lit mag if you’re really interested in future opportunities. When viewing the call, you’ll find the “Follow” button as a little banner on the top left corner and the “Save” button on the far right.

On the magazine side, Submittable allows a certain number of submissions for each payment plan, then it charges money per each submissions. For example, a magazine’s payment plan may allow 100 submissions, then charge a couple dollars for each one after that. This is helpful to know for those of us sending work for a few reasons:

  • It’s better to submit early.
    Some literary magazines will close submissions early once they hit that threshold to avoid paying out large amounts of money. Also, you want your work seen when editors are fresh: not when they’re trying to drag themselves through the slush pile.
  • Literary magazines may charge 2-5$ per submission.
    That’s because they’re passing the cost onto the submitter. That’s part of the reason why so many magazines that accept submissions through Submittable charge while those that accept submissions through email tend not to. My recommendation: don’t spend more than $3 on a submission. In fact, don’t spend money on a submission at all unless you’re sold on that publication in particular.
  • Only withdraw a piece if you absolutely have to.
    Your piece counts against this quota, so if you withdraw a piece and re-submit it, your piece counts twice. Most readers aren’t going to care if you have a few typos or misspellings (that’s why editors exist.) If you included the wrong title, attachment, or address, you can also send the magazine a message through Submittable and let the publisher know.
  • Search functions are limited.
    Though Submittable does feature a variety of tags for finding specific niches, it doesn’t track which opportunities pay, allow reprints, or simultaneous submissions. You’ll have to find that information on your own.
  • Submittable is limited.
    There are many phenomenal literary magazines that cannot afford to use this platform. Universities magazines benefit from school money and sponsorships which is why so many mags use it, but there are tons of Indie presses that just can’t swing it. Additionally, big players like The New Yorker opt for email submissions due to the sheer volume of pieces sent in.

Despite its limitations, Submittable is still a pretty solid platform for submitting your work and keeping track of it.

Submission Grinder

Also known as The Grinder. This website is both a database as well as a platform to discover new literary magazines. Unlike Submittable, Submissions Grinder isn’t a platform to host submissions. It just lists out data and markets (think publishers or lit mags) and relies on users inputting submissions themselves. You can use it to find new markets suitable for your pieces, track your submissions, and learn more about acceptance rates and waiting ranges for specific markets. Submissions Grinder is a great place to find tons of little niche publishers that otherwise can’t afford Submittable’s cost. Many of these markets will accept work through email and a good number also pay.

It’s completely free and you don’t have to make an account to access information, but I’d still recommend that you do anyways. The homepage looks like this:

Homepage for The Grinder. Towards the top is a box stating "Welcome to The Submissions Grinder" along with a description of the site. Below that is a table listing recent data inputs such as rejections and acceptances.

Submissions Grinder works by users selecting markets, logging which pieces they submitted when, and later inputting the results. Users can also recommend new markets or suggest changes to existing markets. Here’s what a page looks like for The Dark, which is just one particular market:

Webpage with blocks of text about a market's description, genre, pay rate, and submission type

Right under the title is the option to follow and favorite the market. The information depth and accuracy varies depending on how much the market describes itself. The people running the site pull information from each market’s website and they rely on users to alert them if something is off. Always check the market’s website page for the most up-to-date info. You can find website links at the bottom right under the “Descriptions” box. Also under the “Descriptions” box is the option to log submissions.

Data table with information about acceptance rates and wait time as well as a bar graph with many little red lines and only a couple green lines

Below the descriptions and market info is the data. The table notes the average acceptance rate and time to deliver results. The graph displays the number of submissions per day against the date. Red lines represent rejections, green are acceptances while purple represents pending results. Notice that most of the submissions going through this market are rejected. That’s true of most markets. Keep this in mind when you’re new to the submission process.

Submissions Grinder is also a great resource for finding markets specific to your pieces. Using the search option, you can enter in specific information about a piece, say “Humor,” word length, and specify that you only want markets that accept reprinted pieces. It will produce a list of all relevant markets which you can sort by name, pay rate or average response time. If you’ve inputted information about specific pieces into your account, you can also search through that route as well and save time.

Submission Grinder's search table displaying different search functions to narrow down relevant market results

Couple things to keep in mind:

  • More genre-focused than literary focused
    A good amount of the listed markets are genre oriented. Think fantasy, horror, sci-fi, detective, etc. There’s even a genre search option for Westerns. The genre search options for literary-oriented work is just “literary:” not “essay,” “hybrid,” or “experimental.” Many spec fic markets also accept magical realism and can definitely be considered top notch quality in terms of literature. It’s just not the main focus for Submission’s Grinder and the bulk of its users, so the platform isn’t structured for those types of publications in mind.
  • Not geared towards Non-Fiction
    Both Poetry and Fiction show up under “Advanced Search” options. If a market does both, then there are two separate listings for it. This doesn’t apply to Nonfiction for some reason either for “Advanced Search” or genre. Pieces can be categorized as Nonfiction when inputted into your account, but that doesn’t seem to be taken into consideration during searches. That being said, there are many markets that do all three, especially literary-focused mags. If it takes poetry, it most likely does Nonfiction, so it might be worthwhile to search through “Advanced Poetry” markets using the “literary” genre option, then checking the website to make sure. It’s likely that however long it takes for a market to get through their fiction is about as long as it takes to get through their Nonfiction.
  • Not always correct
    Because it’s a secondary platform that requires data inputting rather than a submissions platform (like Submittable), it can be out of date or slightly inaccurate. From my experience, the deadlines, websites and basic descriptions have always been great, but sometimes I’ll see a market listed as not allowing simultaneous submissions when it actually does. Just check the market website to make sure before submitting. The user submissions data can also be “off” just because of under-reporting. New markets in particular tend to look sparse, but in reality they may be getting tons of submissions. This is more true the further you get into literary and/or niche work.

Submissions Grinder is a fabulous database for tracking information, locating new publications, and finding places that will pay you money for your work. Even if you work leans more towards Nonfiction, you’ll still find it’s data metrics useful.

Tricks to finding publications

Here are a bit more pieces of advice to keep in mind when finding submissions

  • Ask you professors and peers
    You’re actually in an English graduate program surrounded by people who write all the time and EVEN GET PAID FOR IT. Your professors are familiar with your work and they’ve been around the block a few times. They’re great resources to ask about appropriate publications. Your peers are also great because they also read your work and they’re in the thick of it with you. I spend a lot of time just combing through lit mags and I constantly see publications that don’t work for me, but definitely make think of work from my classmates. Consider doing that as you get familiar with your cohorts. It’s both a great way to look out for each other as well as a convenient excuse to reach out and start a conversation if you want to make friends, but rolled bad for charisma and have no idea where to start.
  • Make note of listed publications in author bios.
    There’s a name for this like cherry-picking or something? It doesn’t matter, but it’s going to bother me. Basically, if you love a certain magazine, peak through their author bios and see where else they’ve publishes pieces. This is also true if you’re a reader at Bellingham Review and scouring through cover letters. If the piece is your style, you’ll likely have better odds targeting those magazines than just randomly firing away.
  • Google specific themes if you’re hitting a wall finding publications.
    Chances are, tons of other, better-researched people have already done the hard work of compiling a list about that very theme. I had a piece that wasn’t quite horror or spec fic enough, but I knew would be great for a feminist publication. After Googling it, I found multiple lists that had exactly what I needed and more.

Keeping Track

Every writer develops some sort of system for remembering which piece they sent where. This could be a bunch of sticky notes, a list in a journal, or maybe just a mental note, but as you progress and develop more pieces, you’ll definitely want to keep track of what’s going where. This is especially true if a simultaneously submitted piece is accepted because you’ll then need to alert everywhere else you sent it. Design your system anticipating long term functionality.

Here are a couple ideas:

Tracking Through Submittable/Submissions Grinder

This isn’t a bad system, but it can get complicated once you’ve submitted a large body of work. If you only use Submittable for submissions, than the platform works pretty great for tracking submissions. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to add notes to it. If you submit a piece somewhere that doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions, you need some way to remind yourself not to submit it anywhere else until you’ve gotten a response. You can also only track Submittable submissions this way.

Submissions Grinder allows you to make note of every submission regardless of what platform it’s on. Not every market is inputted into the system though. While you can suggest new markets, it takes time to verify the information which means you might forget to go back and upload your submission once the market has been inputted. Keeping track of simultaneous submissions can also be a bit complicated through this system, but you do get notification if your piece is taking longer than usual to be evaluated which can help you decide when to reach out to the publication and check-in.

These systems work best with an accompanied doc or sheet for you to notes additional information.

Email

Create a separate folder in your email for filing away everything having to do with submissions. Submittable sends out emails for every submission, and the lit mags that don’t use Submittable usually use email or systems that email tickets.

The email-only system is a little iffy because publications have different guidelines for email formatting, which means that the piece’s title might not show up in search results. Additionally, not all email-based publishers send you an email ticket, which means that you don’t have an email response to file away. You’d have to search through both your sent and received folders to figure out where you sent your piece. At the same time, publishers tend to correspond through email so if there’s an issue with your piece, or if they want you to do some edits and send it back, then a well-organized inbox can help you quickly locate that email. This type of system is also one to do alongside others.

Sketchy Google Doc

This method is surprisingly popular and I think it’s just because of convenience. A lot of new writers just pull up a doc and make a list, which is fine if you send out one or two publications a year, but once you start to get into a solid pattern it can be much harder to keep track. That being said, I do know professional writers that use this system, but I feel second-hand anxiety on their behalf.

Spreadsheet

Spreadsheets are probably the most popular method for tracking submissions and it’s because they’re a great ways to organize large sets of data.

Here’s a copy of mine:

Spreadsheet showing a column of publications, one with story titles, then one each with the status, word count, and dates.

I list publication, piece, status, wordcount (because most publications have specified limits), date submitted, and if the publication doesn’t allow simultaneous submissions. Because most do with my current batch, the column is blank. I color-code the status bar because I think colors are neat (do you need another reason? You can find YouTube tutorials for how to do this.) I also added a column with personalized rejections because that indicates the publisher is interested and would like to see more from you. It’s also encouraging to read them from time-to-time.

If I send multiple pieces to the same publisher (think bundled flash submissions), then I create a line for each piece and list the publisher in each. Putting all the titles on the same line would complicate search functions (if I search for “A,” it won’t include “A, B, and C” because it’s not word-for-word). With each piece getting its own line, I can better search and see what I’ve sent where.

I’ve also created other spreadsheet lists to remind myself where to submit pieces if a publication isn’t open quite yet, or if I want to start a queue line of lit mags that don’t allow simultaneous submissions. Kate Lewis also wrote an article about her spreadsheet setup. Writing Cooperative has post about this as well.


So that’s just about covers your rough-and-tumble introduction to looking for publications. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that you’re going to get a lot more rejections than acceptances, and that’s okay. I know a guy with over 100 submissions and three acceptances. One gal I know sent a story out forty times before it was accepted because she believed in it. You can’t control getting published, but you can control how much you put yourself out there, protecting your writing time, and how you handle criticism.

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to write a cover letter, or what the etiquette is for submissions, head over to “Do’s and Don’ts of Submissions.”

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