Why Do We Submit?

I was talking with a non-writing co-worker the other day about sending work to journals. Like most non-writers, she assumed that sending work to journals meant that I would get paid on acceptance–and she was flabbergasted when I told her most journals don’t pay for stories, at least not in money. Or, if they do, it’s a token amount. She was confused why I would work so hard on something I never plan on making money doing.

It’s tempting to answer something about how it’s for the art, man. We write because we have to, because we’re artists, and we yearn to create. We send our work out just because we want people to read it. Because our words are that good, the world just has to see them. And on some level, yes, hopefully that’s true. Anyone who’s gotten into writing for the money is either delusional or painfully misinformed about the nature of our industry. Hopefully at least part of you is doing this because of passion. But for the rest of you–that pesky type-A part of your brain–here are three highly practical reasons why I submit work to non-paying markets.

1) To build my credentials
As much as I hate the idea of “experience as payment” that’s so prevalent in the creative pursuits, there is some value in the reputation capital you earn through amassing publication credits. It’s nice being able to include publication credits in my bio, when I send cover letters for jobs and submissions. Even if the person reading your bio doesn’t know the particular journal you’ve had work in, having publication credits says to the world that someone other than yourself has read your work and decided it’s not only worth reading, but worth sharing with others.

2) To be part of a community
Most avid writers are also avid readers, and we want to share the company of other writers we enjoy, even if that’s only by proximity in print. There’s a few journals–The Literary Review, for example, or The Normal School–that I regularly submit work to because I enjoy reading these magazines, and would feel honored to have words published in their pages.

3) Because publishers and agents are avid readers, too
This is especially important for early career writers, a category I fall into. Agents, editors, and owners of small presses also read literary journals, both for enjoyment and to seek out new voices that match their editorial aesthetic. Some presses publish a literary journal, and look to its pages to find new authors. If you’ve got your eye on a certain press for your novel or collection, check to see if they also publish a literary journal, and consider submitting short work for publication there.

I have published work in both paying and non-paying markets, and I can safely say that I have gotten as much satisfaction out of the non-paying markets as I have from those that paid me. Whether or not a market pays in money has never been an important consideration for me when I’m sending out my work. Don’t get me wrong–you can make money writing, but literary journals are not the places to do so. When you’re looking for homes for your poems and short works, think first about whether the market matches your voice, whether you like the journal’s look and feel. And if they give you money, too, well consider that a bonus.

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