Submitting Your Work For Publication
by Charlie Hughes

So, you've been a closet writer for a while, and now you've gotten the bug to have some of your poetry or fiction published.

In the US there are hundreds of "little" literary magazines from which you may choose to submit your work for publication. These magazines are the route by which most successful writers begin and advance their literary careers. Though each magazine is unique, here are some general guidelines for preparing your work for submission:

It is important to be familiar (a reader or subscriber if possible) with the magazine to which you consider submitting your work. This will enable you to choose a magazine with writing of a style and genre similar to your own.

All submissions should be typewritten.

Fiction should be double-spaced with margins of about one inch. On the first page the author's name and address should appear on the top left, approximate number of words on the top right. The title should be centered about 1/3 the distance down the page followed by the story double-spaced. The title and page number should appear on the top right of each succeeding page. Length varies with the magazine, but is usually about 5000 words for a short story.

Poetry should be submitted no more than one poem to a page. The poet's name and address should appear on the top left of the page, number of lines on the top right.  The title and poem should be comfortably centered on the page and may or may not be double-spaced, depending upon the poet's preference and the magazine's requirements. Should extra pages be needed for longer poems, the title and page number should appear at the top right of each page. Some magazines may limit the number of lines per poem.  Magazines generally prefer no more than 3-5 poems in one submission. Most editors like to see more than one poem with each submission so that they may better judge the writer's ability.

With your submission, a short letter including a brief biographical statement is customary, and possibly required by the magazine's editor. Some writers submit no letter with their work, believing editors receive too much paper anyway. Over- worked editors may see some merit in this. If a writer's work is accepted then the biographical information may be requested by the editor. Don't use your introductory letter to tell an editor how good your work is-- they will know.

Address the envelope and letter to the appropriate editor (poetry, fiction, etc.), using their name if possible (look it up). Place your letter on top of the submission and fold it together to fit the envelope. DO NOT fold each poem separately. And for God's sake, no fancy fonts-- this shouts "amateur." Use the smallest envelope which will comfortably accommodate your submission. Always include an SASE for the editor's reply, and return of your work if you'd like it back. Don't expect a reply if you don't include the SASE. When placing a business sized SASE inside one of the same size, fold it in thirds.

Some magazines (especially those from colleges) accept submissions only during specific months.

If for some reason you wish to communicate with an editor do so by letter, including an SASE, or by e-mail. Use the phone only in emergencies or by invitation.

  ~~ Special Note to Students ~~
Most college English departments (and many high schools) produce their own literary magazine. This is an excellent place to start getting your work before the public. If this avenue is not available to you, it can be fun to produce your own magazine, possibly with the help of some like-minded friends. All the equipment anyone needs is a typewriter, a xerox machine, and a stapler, or a computer and printer. Go for it.

Charlie Hughes is an analytical chemist, 
poet, writer of short stories, and 
owner of 
Wind Publications.

Before submitting check the specific magazine's submission requirements or "guidelines" in either the magazine or in one of the following or similar publications:

Poet's Market

Novel and Short Story Writer's Market

Len Fulton's Dustbooks reference books.


If you're interested in submitting to literary contests, make sure you deal with legitimate literary organizations, not with those organizations which exist solely to run their so-called Free Poetry contests.

Legitimate organizations will typically be involved in a variety of activities such as publishing a literary magazine that pays its contributors, or sponsoring poetry and fiction readings or workshops in libraries and schools. Legitimate literary organizations may ask you for a nominal entry fee, but they will not require or ask you to purchase a copy of the book or magazine in which your work appears; instead, they will PAY YOU for your work, even if it's only a token payment, such as copies of the publication.

A good place to begin your search for legitimate competitions is Poets & Writers Magazine's "classified ads" and "Grants & Awards" sections. Click here for the P&W web site.  

I urge you to have realistic expectations when entering literary contests. Novice writers and poets have as much chance of winning most legitimate literary contests as a beginner has chance of winning at Wimbledon or on the PGA tour. Beginners are competing with those who have years of practice and experience. Whether you are experienced or a novice, when you enter any contest, do it for fun. Consider your entry fee a donation to that organization. So make sure it's a worthy organization.

Your comments or suggestions
regarding this page are welcome.