Three Points on Submitting Stories

1. Cover Letters and Author Biographies

For me, a cover letter isn’t going to make or break a story. Though if you address it to a different publication or a person who isn’t associated with Vol.1 Brooklyn, that might catch my eye in the wrong way. If you mention that you like a certain story that we’ve published, or the work of a writer whose work has shown up on Sunday Stories, that’s great as far as indicating that you’re familiar with the work that we publish. Still, the story itself is what has to get my attention. Everything else–the cover letter, the font you use, the spacing, the margins–is secondary.

A number of publications (Vol.1 Brooklyn included) will ask for a short biography. This can be a sentence or two long. In my opinion, it doesn’t need to be much longer. If you’re listing publication credits, I would not recommend listing everything you’ve ever written. Some recent highlights are absolutely fine. If I see a list of a few dozen journals, it’s going to be next to impossible for me to parse through them. I’d keep it to something small: say, between four to eight.

One thing that a publication list can do: if you’ve had something published in a journal with an aesthetic I like, that might help get my attention. Again, that’s not going to overcome a submission that doesn’t click for me. At the same time, it won’t hurt your submission, but it’s not necessarily going to provide a boost for it, either.

2. Submission Systems and Time

At Vol.1 Brooklyn, we use a system called Submittable to manage fiction and nonfiction submissions. A fair amount of other publications use it as well–it makes it easy to keep track of what we have at any given time. It also makes it fairly easy for writers to withdraw a piece if it’s accepted elsewhere. If you’re submitting a lot of fiction, it also helps you keep track of where you’ve submitted work.

We’ve used this since we opened Sunday Stories up for submissions–having something centralized has been a big help for us. Trying to keep track of everything in one’s inbox can be problematic, and having all stories (and essays) in one place is also a big help as far as reviewing it, especially if more than one editor needs to take a look at something.

Some other publications accept submissions via email; others use systems similar to Submittable; a few prefer hard copies of stories to be mailed in to them. It varies from publication to publication.

Something I’ve found with Vol.1 Brooklyn’s Sunday Stories: the longer we’ve been doing it, the more submissions we get (and thus, the longer our response times end up being.) That can also raise the overall level of quality of submissions. If you’re looking for journals to submit to and the main factor is hearing back quickly, keep in mind that a newer journal might be able to review your work faster–though its name might not be as prestigious.

3. Who’s Reading and What They See

In my experience, most smaller journals will have one or two editors reviewing work. Larger magazines will have a group of readers, who will generally go through submissions and filter them before they reach the editors. Most publications, print and online, have some sort of staff listing or masthead, and you can get some sense from this about how your story will be read.

A few publications won’t take simultaneous submissions–they want to be the only place that’s reviewing your story at a given time. Over the last decade or so, I’ve seen fewer and fewer places take this position, but a few remain. I know some writers who basically ignore this. Personally, I’ve never been in the position of having had a story accepted by a place that discouraged simultaneous submissions as well as another journal.

One quick note: be careful of typos. We all make them, and so some editors may see one or two and not mind. Others may be completely alienated by them. If an editor’s reading with a particularly critical eye, too many will probably alienate them: the amount of typos will start to matter more than the merits of the story.

In last week’s lecture, I wrote about the importance of hearing how your work sounds out loud. Another reason that this is important is that it’s a great way for you to catch typos or words you thought you’d edited out in a previous draft, but which remain, ghost-like, in the middle of a sentence. This has happened to me plenty of times. Much like a band testing out a new song in front of an audience, hearing the language read can help you find errors that you’d missed when simply looking over the page.

A note: this version of this course was last taught in 2017; some links may no longer work properly.