Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Some tips on how to submit work to literary journals

At the moment there are several literary journals being published in South Africa, In print form alone, we have Botsotso, Chimurenga, Carapace, Kotaz, New Coin, New Contrast, Ons Klyntji and Timbila.

Most of these journals are produced by independent publishers and not by commercial operations with their own offices complete with administrative staff and in-house editors and designers. These journals are mainly produced from home on a part-time basis by people who have commitments to fulltime jobs, families, studies, and other bread-and-butter concerns.

Very often it is one person – the editor – who collects submitted material from a post box, goes through submissions, answers correspondence, makes the selection of material and oversees the production of the journal, if not also undertaking the layout and design. The editor also liases with printers, undertakes the promotion of the journal, and in some cases distributes to bookshops as well.

If you wish to submit material to local literary journals, it would be worthwhile to keep the above in mind. To assist the editor in being able to manage the amount of submissions, it would also be worthwhile to consider the following:

1. Before you send material to a literary journal, obtain a copy of it so you can get an idea of the sort and genre of material that it publishes. It would be a waste of time (and money) sending fiction to a journal that only publishes poetry, for instance. There is also little point in sending sexually explicit poems to a conservative or religious publication, or sending traditional-form poems to a journal that only publishes experimental works.

2.If you cannot find a copy of the journal in a bookshop, contact the publisher and ask to purchase a copy. Avoid asking for a freebee; you may be lucky and receive a free copy.

3. Find out the submission guidelines for the journal. If you are asked to send no more than eight poems, then do not send more than eight poems. If you send a 100-page manuscript it would not be treated with enthusiasm.

4. Do not submit previously published work. This is a bit of debated topic as some writers (and editors) feel that internet and print publishing should be treated separately, and so submitting work already published on the internet to a print journal is acceptable. Other editors are completely against this practice, feeling that it downplays the role of internet publishing. If you want to submit work that has already been published on a website, it would be best to first check the submission policy of the print journal. If you can’t get clarity on this, when you submit work to the print journal indicate what submissions have been previously published on the internet.

5. Do not make duplicated submissions by sending the same material to more than one journal.

6. Find out the preferred means of submitting material to the journal. Most journals will gladly accept electronically submitted material because manuscripts do not have to be retyped from a hard copy. However, if you are going to submit electronically, also make sure whether it is acceptable to send by email attachment or whether the editor would prefer the text to be cut and pasted into the body of the email. Most of us, whether editors or not, are naturally wary of opening attachments from unknown sources.

7. Also make sure that you send the material in a commonly used text-based program such as MS Word. Do not send them to the editor on programs such as PowerPoint. Make sure that you use a standard font that is easily readable.

8. Avoid ‘illustrating’ your submission with computer graphics unless it is essential to the text.

9. Whether you submit work electronically or by normal post, make sure that you include a short covering letter that includes your name and contact details. A postal address and (preferably) an email address should suffice. I doubt whether any editor is likely to call you on your cellphone to discuss your work, so there is little point in including a cellphone number.
If you send material by normal post, you should include an SASE. Many independent publishers cannot afford to incur the cost of returning manuscripts and if you do not send a SASE it is unlikely that your manuscript will be returned. Even if works is submitted electronically, some journals will only reply to writers whose work has been accepted.

10. If you do not hear from a journal to which you have submitted material, do not contact the editor to establish if your work has been accepted and, if so, when it will be published. As I said, independent publishers have many other responsibilities and it may take a while before you hear from them. I know this can be frustrating (I have gone through it myself) but it is fair to say that if you have not heard from a journal after six months, it is unlikely that your work has been accepted.

11. If you receive a reply stating that your work has been rejected, do not enter into correspondence with the editor unless invited to. Most importantly, do not complain about it. Accept the editor’s decision. Do not take the rejection personally; it is only the editor’s opinion. If you are provided with feedback on why it was rejected, and receive suggestions on how to improve your work, consider the feedback. You do not have to agree with it, but at least consider it.

12. If your work is accepted by a journal for one issue, do not assume that all further submissions by yourself will be immediately accepted.

As a writer myself, I am aware of the frustrations that writers experience when submitting work to journals, but by adhering to the above guidelines, writers can help the production of a journal to run more quickly and more smoothly. When an independent publisher is faced with producing a journal that involves extremely time-consuming administration, there is a possibility that they may choose to discontinue publishing the journal, resulting in fewer publishing opportunities for writers.

(Originally published as Dye Hard Press Newsletter 9)

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