07 October 2013

size matters: submissions by the numbers

Size Matters: Submissions by the Numbers
When it comes to submitting your work, size definitely matters. How long, or short, is too long, or too short, of a piece to submit? How many pieces should you submit at once? How can you “cut the fat” from your work to make it suitable for publishers? Sometimes in publishing, length can make all the difference between what gets published and what gets ignored. Here’s a quick look at the submission process “by the numbers”:

0: This is the number of your submissions that should have single-word titles. According to many (if not most) of the editors, professors, and publishers I’ve spoken to, a single-word title suggests that the work is either a cliché piece or that the author wasn’t familiar or confident enough in their own work to give the title more thought. Single-word titles are also considered “soap opera-ish” (think of the modern television shows with one-word titles: Scandal, Revenge, etc.).

1: This is both how many prose pieces a journal will consider at a time and approximately the maximum page length of each poem you should submit. Trying to submit more than one story, or poems that go to or beyond two pages, is tricky business. With each prose submission coming in at 2,500 – 5,000 words, it’s hard enough to get an editor to consider one of your pieces … let alone three. While the number of poetry-only journals is on the rise, the number of poems being published in cross-genre journals continues to shrink; more and more often the number of prose pieces accepted becomes a consideration when it comes to poetry submissions, which means the longer your piece is (and the more pages it takes from potential prose work), the less likely it is to be published.

3: This is the minimum number of poems you should be submitting in your submission packet, unless otherwise noted (some journals set the limit lower, with the rare journal limiting you to one poem per submission). Less than this tends to suggest that you don’t really have much in your “poetfolio” worth sharing … which can sometimes make an editor wonder why they should consider you at all.

5: This is the maximum number of previous publication credits to include in your cover letter. Oh yes, the length of your cover letter can also be a factor in how long a journal considers your work. And if you’re including more than five previous publications in your list of accomplishments, some editors will start to think that a) you’re overconfident in your awesomeness (while it may be well-earned confidence, it still comes off poorly) or b) you don’t know when to shut up … which can give them a negative impression of your work before they even read a single word. This also tends to be the maximum number of poems you should submit in a submission packet, unless otherwise noted by a publisher.

6: This is often the number of months you should expect to wait before really worrying about your submission again. While this has little to do with the actual work you’re sending out, here’s a tip from the publishing industry: impatient authors are annoying. If you start querying after just a month of your work being on an editor’s desk, you may irk him or her into associating your name on a submission with “I don’t want to deal with him/her” … which may lead to a semi (or very)-biased rejection. If you query too much too often, that editor may reject you just to get you to leave her or him alone. Be happy if you hear back in two months. Feel free (in most cases) to query after three. You can begin to pester at six … but delicately.

10-15: No, we’re not talking about a prison sentence … This is the approximately length a submission should not exceed in pages. For poetry, if your submission is going beyond 10 pages, you’re pretty much excluding yourself from publication consideration when the hefty pile of pages hits the poetry editor’s desk. Remember, three to five poems per submission, approximately one page per poem: if you’re up to ten pages, either your poems are too long or you’re submitting too much work. For prose, while many editors allow lengths between 2,500 – 5,000 words, the magic number tends to be around 3,500 words, or 15 pages double-spaced.

Your Turn: Have you noticed any “magic numbers” when it comes to the submission process? How many submissions does it usually take before you get your first acceptance? What’s the biggest number of rejections you’ve received before or without an acceptance? Share your experiences with “submissions by the numbers” in the comments, and let other writers learn from your wisdom!


Want to stay connected? I invite you to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please also sign up for the free email updates from Our Lost Jungle!

Want to be the first to know about upcoming Jungle happenings? Sign up for the Our Lost Jungle Newsletter for updates, contest alerts, and more! Sign up here, or use the link at the top of the right column!


Check out the six Our Lost Jungle Submit-O-Rama Challenge!:


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

Featured Post

Sankofa: The Power of Known History

I recently took on two challenges in the sphere of political and cultural advocacy: understanding the roots of our democracy and national l...