As the editors of The Gravity of the Thing aim to publish writing that defamiliarizes, so do we aim to defamiliarize conventional editing and publishing models. One way we hope to accomplish this is by baring the device (just as defamiliarized writing often bares the device), or to reveal to our readers our editorial processes and the publishing practices of other literary journals. This was the original inspiration for our Baring the Device column, to provide a space for writing that peeks under the hood of the publishing machine, where our editors and contributors can show the writing community how the engine works.
This chapter of Baring the Device focuses on the basic submission process. When a writer seeks readership, there are a number of ways to approach publication thoughtfully and effectively. Here are just a few ways a piece of writing is published:
- Printed by a literary journal or book press (large, small, independent, micro, etc.)
- Published electronically by an online magazine or eBook press
- Self-published (print, eBooks, blogging, etc.)
- Read aloud for a reading series, radio broadcast, podcast, or audiobook
- Distributed by hand, shared verbally, or shared through social media or within a private community
Should a writer wish to have their work published by a literary press or journal, finding the right venue for their work is the next step. Since there are many thousands of presses and journals, every one of them sprung from different missions, histories, and communities, a writer can begin their research in a number of ways. For example, writers might start by investigating local presses, they might search out magazines by theme or focus, or they might look for journals edited by their favorite writers. Here are a few of our favorite literary databases and resources:
- Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), for a list of independent literary publishers
- Poets & Writers, for a comprehensive list of literary magazines, contests, small presses, agents, and more
- Pushcart Prize literary magazine “rankings” for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from Perpetual Folly, to get a general idea of which journals regularly appear on the national stage
- Heather Feather Review’s Where to Submit column (which began in ENTROPY Magazine) for a curated list of presses, anthology/chapbook publishers, and literary magazines currently open for submissions
- The Calls for Submissions page at Authors Publish Magazine, which releases a curated list of themed submissions windows each month.
- The Calls for Submissions Facebook group, to learn which literary journals are actively seeking submissions and to connect with other writers who curate additional submissions resources
- Literary Portland, curated by our friends at Old Pal Magazine, for publishers, reading series, and events local to Portland, Oregon
Once a writer has found a publishing venue or an open submission window that they identify with, it is time to gather the submission materials. Many literary journals charge a reading fee (that is, a fee to submit writing for consideration), though there are plenty of reputable magazines that do not charge reading fees. To get an idea of the broader discussion around reading fees and other ethical publishing practices, please visit our Baring the Device: Ethics in Publishing edition. Reading fees aside, here are the basic submission materials every submitter should have:
- A final manuscript of writing. It is unlikely a final manuscript will be the first, second, or even third draft of a specific piece of writing. Final manuscripts have often been revised dozens of times, as well as reviewed by close friends, in creative writing workshops, or in other community settings. Manuscripts are usually double-spaced, written in a 12-point font, with 1-inch margins and pages numbered (exceptions are made for poetry and experimental/multimedia works).
- A cover letter or query letter. The cover letter for submitting a shorter piece of writing (for example, a short story, an essay, or a few poems) is generally a literary bio 2-3 sentences in length, which includes previous publications or awards and/or writerly interests. A query letter is used when a writer submits a longer manuscript to an agent or publisher, and the letter is generally three paragraphs in length. To learn more about constructing strong query letters, please click here.
- Any additional materials requested by the press or journal. All presses and journals have their own submission guidelines and it is essential to adhere to their rules and preferences. For example, a press may require a 1-2 page synopsis of a longer work in addition to a query letter, or a journal may want all identifying information formatted in a certain way. Many publishers only consider unpublished manuscripts through an online submission manager like Submittable, so it is important to read the publisher’s guidelines carefully before submitting.
Acceptances & Rejections:
After careful thought, research, and revision, a writer will submit their work for consideration and wait for a response. Response time is different for each publisher, but writers can generally expect a 3-4 month wait. In an effort to add transparency to the selection process, below is a basic description of the lifespan of a piece of writing once it is submitted to The Gravity of the Thing:
- Since all of our editors are unpaid volunteers, we read The Gravity of the Thing submissions during our free time, which means we might read submissions on our lunch breaks, early in the morning, or late at night. Every submission to The Gravity of the Thing is read by an editor.
- If an editor finds a piece of writing that is experimenting with writing in ways we find interesting, the submission is placed in our “Maybe” folder.
- Towards the end of our reading period, our editors revisit submissions in the “Maybe” folder, discuss what elements of defamiliarization are at work in each piece (click here for a brief list), and decide what pieces best fit The Gravity of the Thing’s goals for the upcoming issue and the journal as a whole.
- If the piece is a well-written example of defamiliarized writing and it fits our current aims, the submission is moved to the “Accept” folder. The writer will usually receive our acceptance letter 2-3 months after submitting. To check out the work we regularly accept for publication, please visit our Features column.
- Every submission that did not move into or out of the “Maybe” folder will receive a letter declining the submission, usually 2-3 months after the submission arrived in our inbox.
It is important to note that many more rejection letters are sent and received than acceptance letters, and this is true for all literary journals and presses, including The Gravity of the Thing. Even the most successful writers will receive dozens of rejection letters throughout their literary careers, as even very new journals and presses receive hundreds of submissions in a single reading period. Some rejection letters can be brushed off in an instant, but other letters can weigh on the mind. It is in the latter instance that recognizing a tiered rejection can transform the rejection into a source of motivation and encouragement. Examples of tiered rejections:
- Positive rejection letters: Although the submission was not accepted for publication, the editors thank the writer for their interest and for sharing their work.
- Super-positive rejection letters: Although the submission was not accepted for publication, the editors encourage the writer to submit again. At The Gravity of the Thing, this means the submission made it to the “Maybe” folder.
- Uber-super-positive rejection letters: Although the submission was not accepted for publication, it is acknowledged as a finalist or a runner-up and the writer is encouraged to submit again.
For writers who revise their work and submit regularly, it is only a matter of time before they receive an acceptance letter, that happy day when the submitter becomes a contributor. To learn more about the editorial processes around accepted works, please visit our “Baring the Device: After Acceptances” article, which bares various pre-publication editorial practices.To receive Baring the Device posts by email, please subscribe to our newsletter.