On the Importance of Following Submission Guidelines

Here at Lunch Ticket, we pride ourselves on encouraging emerging writers. It’s part of our social justice mission: we’re looking for pieces that tell new stories, written by authors who are underrepresented in the professional literary world. If you submit to Lunch Ticket, you’ll receive a note that tells you how much we look forward to reading your work, and if we eventually decline your piece, you’ll receive a rejection notice that recognizes how much effort you put into writing and submitting that story. The submission-rejection-submission cycle is often a discouraging process, and we respect any writer who perseveres enough to send his or her work out into the world.

However, respect is a two-way street. We can tell when writers haven’t respected us enough to read and follow our submission guidelines. If you’ve submitted a piece that doesn’t adhere to Lunch Ticket’s guidelines, we’ll give you another chance to resubmit that piece properly—mistakes happen, after all—but not every literary magazine is so forgiving. And rightly so: improperly submitted pieces waste everyone’s time.

Most importantly for you as a writer, submitting a piece that doesn’t follow a journal’s guidelines won’t help your story make it out of the slush pile. Simply put, it’s not professional, and since we folks who edit literary journals are usually writers ourselves—at Lunch Ticket, we’re all MFA students and alumni—we tend to think of writing as a career, not a hobby.

If you want your story to have a better shot at acceptance, ask yourself these questions before you hit that submit button:

Is my piece really and truly ready? If you’re submitting a first or second draft, then the answer is most likely no. If you’re the only person who’s read it—if you haven’t received any outside critiques of your work yet—then again, the answer is most likely no. Good writing takes patience. George Saunders spent years on some of the stories in Tenth of December, coming back to them month after month until he got them right. While your pieces may not take years to perfect, you shouldn’t rush to submit the minute you type The End.

Is my piece a good fit for this publication? Not every story jibes with the ethos and style of every literary journal out there. Be selective in your submissions: know which journals prefer experimental work, which prefer magical realism, which prefer literary submissions, and which are devoted to genre. (If those terms I just listed are unfamiliar to you, then you’re probably not ready to submit—you have some research ahead of you.) Lunch Ticket, for example, prefers pieces that support social justice. No matter how well-written your piece is, if it’s misogynist, racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or hateful in any way, we won’t accept it.

How can you tell which publications match your story best? Read. Pick up individual copies of print journals at your local bookstore, or split a subscription with a friend. Buy a copy of whichever annual Best of anthology interests you the most, and see which journals are publishing your favorites. There are also plenty of free online literary journals featuring great content, Lunch Ticket included. If you don’t read the journals you submit to, then they probably won’t accept your work.

Is my piece in an acceptable, professional format? Standard submission format is Times New Roman font, size 12, double-spaced and with one-inch margins. The concept of “creative writing” does not extend to creative use of font type, font size, or formatting style, because fancy fonts and non-standard formatting make stories difficult to read—that’s why professionally published books and magazines feature similar typefaces.

Again, this goes back to thinking of your writing efforts as a career rather than a hobby. Would you send your boss a memo written in Comic Sans or Papyrus? (You may laugh, but we’ve received both here at Lunch Ticket.) If our editorial eyes can’t handle your story’s appearance, we’ll reject your work by the end of page one.

Does my piece follow submission guidelines? This is not a one-size-fits-all situation: not all literary journals have the same submission guidelines. At Lunch Ticket, we read blind, and so our guidelines state that no identifying information should be visible on your submission. Most journals’ guidelines—ours included—are helpfully posted on their websites, usually under a section titled “Submission Guidelines.” These guidelines are readily available. There’s no excuse for you not to follow them. And if the idea of different guidelines irks you so much that you can’t be bothered to read what journals require in a submission, then the world of literary professionals is probably not for you.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to the fun part: reading your work. Have you walked your piece through this checklist? Is your story a professionally formatted, guideline-following masterpiece that’ll knock our socks off with its magnificent language, narrative arc, and character development? Excellent. Submit it to Lunch Ticket. We’d love to read it.

Related reading: The post Glitter Pen 2014, at the Lunch Ticket blog.