As a relatively new writer, I often find myself wondering about the process of submitting work to literary magazines and journals. How do you decide which journals to send to? When do you give up on a piece? Are there secret strategies other writers have, and would they be willing to tell us what they are?
In this series, I ask writers who are out there in the slushpile trenches about some of their strategies for submitting their work. First up is Matthew Kabik.
How do you know when a piece is ready to send out?
There’s a difference between ready to send out and going to be sent out. A lot of times I get a piece to a point where I think it’s pretty good (after a few revisions and workshopping) and then I start sending it. If all I get back are rejections, then I know it’s not ready yet, probably. I know that’s probably a horrible way to do it, but it’s hard for me to determine when a story is “done,” because they are never really done, are they?
I guess I know a piece is ready to send out when there is nothing left to cut off of it in editing. That’s the short answer.
What’s your process for picking which literary magazines to submit to? Do you make a list? What resources do you use to choose where to submit (websites, fellow writers)?
I make little lists throughout the day of places that I want to submit to, based off of what other writers are submitting to, what I see on Twitter as calls for submissions, and just general desire. Recently I’ve printed out a document that shows where the Best American Short Stories series has pulled stories from, and I’m aiming for those places now, too.
Generally, I’ll pick a place pretty indiscriminately (a writer I like published there or I just like the name) and then I go through their website. If it seems like they have the same ideas about what makes writing good, I’ll submit.
Do you have favorite magazines that you go back to over and over again, even though you’ve been rejected, and what makes them your favorites?
Yes. I have a few. I realize it’s a bad idea to just keep throwing stories to a place over and over if it’s obvious they don’t dig what you write, but there’s always that chance. They are my favorites because they are what I was into when I first started writing—all that impossible dream stuff. Honestly if I got into the number one place that has never accepted me, I think I’d go into fits for a few days.
Are there certain types of magazines you avoid and why?
I avoid magazines that don’t pay to have the .wordpress or .blogger removed from their websites. I get that not everyone has money, but it’s such a tiny expense and just shows me that they don’t much care even in the smallest way to demonstrate some dedication to their work. I also don’t like going for overly irreverent places simply because it feels like an act, and I don’t know that I want to be tied to them.
How do you feel about contests?
They are a great way to waste money.
How do you feel about non-contest submitting fees?
I do limit the amount that I’ll submit to a place that has a “reading fee,” but I also don’t hate anyone for charging a few bucks. It costs money to keep a site up, and the folks who read the work/edit/put it together are spending lots of time doing so. It’s silly to just refuse to pay a few dollars towards something we all want to see.
Do you re-submit to magazines that have already published your work? Why or why not?
I have once, and I got that piece accepted, too. I don’t think it’s horrible if you do it every couple of years, but to do it more often than that seems like you’re just not able to get work in other places (which is goofy, I know, but that’s how I see it). There is a certain level of achievement that comes with getting into a new place, and a certain lack of it when getting into the same place over and over.
Will you edit a piece while you’re sending it out?
Do you mean give it a read through, edit it a bit, and then send it? Yes, I do that almost every time I submit. If you mean will I send out a work and still make edits while that one is being considered, the answer is sometimes. If the pub accepts it, great, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it sharper for a collection down the line. If the pub doesn’t accept it, you haven’t wasted any time in making it stronger.
Would you say you have an overall, long-term strategy to how you submit, or is it more just fly-by-night, make it up as you go along?
I do something called the hydra, which is a term I made up in a blog post a little while back. Whenever I get a rejection, I try to send out two stories to replace it. Doesn’t always happen, but it’s a great way to keep submissions up and to stop yourself from forgetting to submit.
Most of the time, however, I just submit whenever I come across a place I like. The larger publications are ones that I get ready for, but the majority of pubs I just decide one day to submit to, which seems to work out.
What’s the most number of times you’ve had a piece rejected before it was eventually accepted?
“After the Mountain,” so recently published by Little Fiction, was rejected 11 times before it got picked up.
How do you know when a piece should just be put to rest?
When I read it months later and I don’t see anything good in it. I still keep it, of course, but my story folder is full of pieces that I know won’t see the light of day. They are worthwhile to have around and mine from, but not much else.
I’ve never pulled a story from the submission game if I thought it had merit. I’ll keep pushing that story until it does get accepted. But there are some that I finish and no amount of revision will fix. That’s the breaks.
Matthew Kabik is the author of short stories and flash pieces which fall into the category of PA Gothic (yes, I made up that term. I don’t care). He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University. In 2013, he was nominated for The Pushcart Prize by Structo Magazine for his story “A View of the Moon from the Moon,” and then again that same year by Pea River Journal for “In the Orchard, in the Field.” He’s still young enough as a writer for that to be super, super exciting. Follow him on Twitter @mlkabik or visit his author site at www.matchstickcircus.com
Robyn Ryle spends much more time than is probably healthy checking Submittable. She has short stories in Bartleby Snopes, Cease, Cows and Pea River Journal among others. You can find her on Twitter, @RobynRyle.