Overcoming Blocks to Submitting Your Work

In my last post I looked at some of the reasons writers don’t submit. Now let’s discuss some ways around (over, under, through) common road blocks writers face on the way to hitting send. Warning: there’s homework.


How? By clarifying your aesthetic, personal, and professional values and goals.

Why? Because being clear about said values and goals helps minimize the distractions presented by all the toothy demons we writers must face.


*With a thank you to James Scott for this handy template.

Take twenty minutes to consider your own writing and answer the following questions, noting that each reflects a continuum.

  • Where does your (fiction, nonfiction, poetry) fall on a continuum of realism to surrealism?
  • Classic or experimental structure?
  • Is it serious or humorous, plain-spoken or style heavy?
  • What kinds of conflicts do your (stories, essays, poems) address: everyday conflicts (family problems), darker conflicts (murder/violence), stranger conflicts—or are you a fan of the “story of ideas”?
  • Is your emphasis on character, or setting, language, or plot? Etc.
  • What values do you hold most dear as a writer?

Here are a couple of things I discovered when I did this exercise. I enjoy both plot-oriented and experimental writing, but plot-heavy stories with ham-fisted sentences don’t interest me, and the same goes for experimental writing that aims for the intellect rather than the heart. Also, while I am not a designer, how a publication looks (whether print or online) matters to me.

In terms of personal values, while I am interested in literature that addresses moral questions—I am totally averse to moralizing. This means that overtly political literary journals, “themed” issues that address various political, environmental, or social ills, don’t appeal—even if I share the politics or the views espoused.

But most important, I found I had a clear way to assess whether or not a literary journal would be a good fit for my writing. You may be a writer who is unconcerned with appearances, in terms of design. You may be a political firebrand, and your creative work might express that fact. Awesome! There are literally hundreds of literary journals out there. Find the ones that reflect not just your desire to see your name in print, but that relate to your personal and aesthetic vision.


Take ten minutes to rank the items in the list below in terms of importance to your professional goals. What matters most to you in a literary journal?

  • print
  • online
  • both print and online content
  • circulation
  • reputation
  • visibility
  • audience
  • subject matter/niche/theme
  • current contributors
  • opportunities to collaborate
  • cross-disciplinary focus
  • new media savvy

Once you’ve ranked your priorities, you’ve got an excellent way to rank literary journals when you begin the process of researching and reading them. In the meantime, let’s do a little housekeeping.


This part is easy!

No journal worth its salt gives publishing preference to subscribers. Note, however, that some journals allow subscribers to submit outside the “regular” submissions period. This seems like a fair courtesy to extend to writers who support a publication by subscribing to it.

Don’t submit work to publications that charge more than a nominal fee ($3–$4) for submissions unless you are entering a contest. Charging more than the cost of processing and reading submissions (say, $20!) is unethical, no matter what the rationale.

You! You are special and unique, there is no one like you, but guess what? I’ll bet there are people out there who share your concerns, your personal and aesthetic values, and your love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. More on this in my next post.

Holding out for a book means you are missing an opportunity to participate in the larger literary conversation right now. It is a terrible idea. Publishers want to know they are taking a gamble on a writer who is willing and able to do some legwork on their own behalf.

Nobody reads short stories, poems, essays. Nobody reads literary magazines. Not true! You do! Otherwise, why do you expect people to read or publish your work?


As for the editorial process, author Lynne Barrett summarized it so thoroughly for The Review Review’s web site (an invaluable resource for writers) that I can’t think of anything to add. She does make a few points I’d like to reiterate here:

  • The editor’s job is the stewardship of the journal. Your job is to send the editor work that meets the journal’s aesthetic standards. This includes formatting your work per their specifications, which you will no doubt find on the journal’s web site.
  • Keep good records. (More on this in my next post).
  • Don’t brood over rejections. Move on.
  • When your work is accepted, write a thank you note, READ the entire issue, and if you like work by other contributors, let them know.
  • A direct quote from Barrett: “You can’t expect to be a professional if you don’t do your own homework.”


Take ten minutes to read Barrett’s article, “What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.” Yes, the whole thing.


Before we move on to the nitty gritty, organizational stuff, I want to suggest one more way to create explicit and clear connections between your private, creative realm and the public arena, and that requires shifting the emphasis from self to others. To put it another way, gatekeepers are people, too.

But how do you develop a relationship with the anonymous person or people on the receiving end of your anonymous submission?

Simple. See my next post.

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