Updated: Oct 23, 2022
If you’ve signed up for a Submitit submissions package, you know that we submit your story to up to twenty journals, in two rounds of ten. Recently we’ve started asking what submission strategy you would like us to use, and below is an in-depth explanation of what these strategies mean.
We have three general submission strategies for the first round of submissions (I’ll talk about the second round in a bit):
“hard” (top journals)
“medium” (mid-range journals; note: this is our default strategy)
“easy” (accessible journals)
Our “hard” strategy: top journals
I have roughly 50 journals in my algorithm that I consider “top-tier” journals, ones such as (to randomly pick a few) Narrative Magazine, The Sewanee Review, StoryQuarterly, etc. These journals show up frequently in anthologies, usually have long and prestigious publishing histories, are often backed by universities, and so on. Most writers—or at least those with knowledge of literary journals—have heard of these guys.
These top journals also have something else in common: extremely low acceptance rates. The average acceptance rate is . . . wait for it . . . 0.44%. Not great.
If I bring in the next tier of journals, an additional 80 or so—ones such as (again, picking at random) The Common, LitMag, and Ninth Letter (fine journals with good street cred, but not up there with the big kids)—the acceptance percent increases to . . . wait for it . . . 0.90%. About twice as high, but still pretty low.
There’s no question that some writers may want to take their chances with these top 130 or so journals. I think this is especially true for writers who already have a pretty strong publishing history. Sooner or later you’re going to want to get one of these top journals on your resume. But for writers who don’t yet have an expansive publishing history, I think it makes sense to start with mid-range journals. . . .
Our “medium” strategy: mid-range journals
My mid-range journals—here are a few: Juked, Joyland, Carve Magazine, Potomac Review, etc. (there are around 100 of these)—have an average acceptance rate of 2.93%. That’s more than six times higher than the top 50 or so journals, and more than three times higher than the top 130 or so journals. And these are truly good journals. I’d personally be happy to get my work published in any of them.
So my default—and, for most writers, my recommended—strategy is to start with these mid-range journals in the first round.
But for some writers, it sometimes makes sense to avoid even these mid-range journals, most of which still have fairly low acceptance rates (2.93% ain’t exactly easy). . . .
Our “easy” strategy: accessible journals
If you’re looking for your first publishing hit, or you’re just starting out as a writer, or the number of stories you hope to get published is more important than the quality of the journals (you’re building your resume), taking the “easy” path in the first round may make a lot of sense.
The next 130 or so journals in my algorithm have an average acceptance rate of 6.72% (more than fifteen times higher than the top-tier journals, more than seven times higher than the top two tiers combined, and more than twice as high as the third tier).
Keep in mind, I’ve diligently vetted all journals in my algorithm. While it’s true some of these more accessible journals may be newer or lesser known—and there’s always a chance that a journal, even a top journal, may go belly up—please know that I take care when adding journals to the algorithm. Read my recent post about how I choose journals.
The second round . . .
For the second round, I usually focus on the most accessible journals in my algorithm. I do consider a writer’s goals when submitting their stories. For some writers, getting published in at least a mid-range journal is the only goal, so I may as well shoot high for both rounds. But for most writers, in the second round (after we’ve given the “hard” or “medium” journals a chance in round one), I assume we should focus on more accessible options. And, since round-two journals may include some lesser-known or newer journals, I always encourage writers, before we submit, to scrutinize the round-two list to make sure they’re comfortable with these journals.
The Submitit Algorithm . . .
It’s worth noting that my submission strategies are merely about filtering journals in or out of the first and second round of submissions. All strategies, in both rounds, rely on match scores from the algorithm. (Learn about how I developed the algorithm, which is really our secret sauce, here.)
Based on the algorithm’s calculations, some stories or essays I receive simply won’t match well with some of the top-tier journals (for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with craft or quality—most of the criteria in my algorithm have to do with things like experimentation, lyricism, topicality, strangeness, etc.). Conversely, some stories or essays may not match well with the more accessible journals (again, for many reasons).
So, once again, what’s our default strategy?
As stated above, our default first-round strategy is to shoot for the highest-match mid-range journals. (If you’d prefer the “hard” or “easy” approach, just let us know.) And then, in a second round, four or so months later, we’ll target the highest-match most-accessible journals.
Erik Harper Klass is the founder of Submitit, the WORLD’S FIRST full-service submissions and editing company. He has published stories and essays in a variety of journals, including New England Review, Yemassee, Slippery Elm, Summerset Review, and Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, and he has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes.
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