Short Story Submissions Demystified

I know how overwhelming being a writer can be. There are so many things that you have to learn, on top of how difficult it is to write fiction in the first place. I have plans for an entire section of my website dedicated to help for beginner writers, so I thought that I’d get started with that subject today with a step by step on how to submit a short story.

  1. Write a short story.

This one is pretty obvious. I’m assuming that you’re coming to this blog post having already written one, so we’ll save this lengthy topic for another time.

2. Find literary journals you would like to be published in.

This is the step where many people get stuck. It’s just that there’s so many literary journals out there. How do you decide which ones to submit to? My first suggestion is to choose some to subscribe to. A lot of literary magazines have deals throughout the year. Pick one or two, subscribe, and actually read them when they come in the mail. If you can’t afford to subscribe right now, sometimes you can find older copies in used book stores, or you can see if they sell back issues on their website. There are also a few magazines that have content online for free. Just about every literary magazine is going to state in their guidelines that you should read them. Do this. You want to submit to magazines that actually publish stories like what you have written.

But how do you know which literary magazines to subscribe to and read? That’s where this list comes in: 2020 Literary Magazine Ranking — Fiction. Clifford Garstang puts this list together for Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction every year. He has a ranking system of literary magazines based on Pushcart nominations. He is a writer himself and started the list as a resource for writers to tier their submissions, as in submit to literary journals from the same tier simultaneously (because you don’t want to get accepted to a magazine that you consider “less good” if you’re still waiting to hear back from someone in the top tier). You can read all about his methodology on his website. I highly suggest using this list as your main source for literary journals. The rankings go all the way to 175 (and there are multiple rankings that are tied, so there are many more magazines).

3. Decide if you want to do simultaneous submissions.

If you plan to submit a short story to multiple publications, you will want to plan for this up front. This is going to be your most likely route to publication, but it’s going to be difficult to keep track of everywhere you’re submitting. I recommend creating a submissions tracking spreadsheet, and making sure to write down every single time you submit a story, to where you’ve submitted, and their response. I’ll attach the excel spreadsheet that I use at the end of this blog post, if you’d like to do it that way. You can fill it in with your own story titles and submissions.

If you decide to submit your stories to one magazine and wait for them to get back to you before submitting elsewhere, I think that’s a completely valid thing to do, especially if you’re not in a rush to get published and you’re new to submitting. Additionally, the submission fees can really add up, and if you’re not in a place to spend a lot of money, going at it one literary magazine at a time is still better than not submitting at all. Be sure to keep track, though, even if you submit to one place at a time.

If you are going to submit spontaneously, make sure that you include that in your cover letter. And keep in mind that when your story is accepted, you must withdraw your submission from all other literary magazines immediately. Simply go to your list, check to see where else you submitted, and use their guidelines to reach back out and let them know your story has been accepted at a different magazine.

4. READ THE GUIDELINES

This is the absolute most important step on this list. When you choose to submit to a literary magazine, read their submission guidelines before you do anything else. Then go back through and read them a second time. And when you have put together your submission package (cover letter + story), read them again to double check you’ve done everything correctly. Some publications read blind and don’t want your name on the top of the page. Others want the opposite. Some require you to include a short bio in your cover letter. Others don’t want a cover letter at all.

You will absolutely not be considered for publication if you don’t follow the submission guidelines exactly, no matter how good your story is. Take them seriously. Do what they say.

5. Cover letter & submit!

From here, you’re going to write your cover letter (if one is required) and follow the steps for submission for the publication you’ve chosen. This is going to be different for every single literary magazine, so I’m not going to go into specifics in this blog post. Look out for later blog posts about writing cover letters, self-editing, and more.


If you have any questions, please reach out to me. I’ve been writing short stories since high school and have an MFA in fiction. I also freelance edit short stories. One of my passions is helping other writers and I’d love to help you too. My e-mail is edit@maryenolte.com.

Thanks for stopping by.