A Newcomers Guide to Writing Competitions & Literary Submissions

14 Oct

Literary magazines, journals, and competitions are great tools for writers to get the attention of editors and agents…and the royalties don’t hurt either.

When it comes to submitting your work to competitions or literary publications, there is a lot of etiquette that as a newcomer, you may not be aware of.  When I first thought of putting myself out there I had so many questions: where can I publish my work? What are journals and magazines looking for? How do I reach them?


Before you begin the submission process, it is essential that you research the market to determine which publications are the best venues for your writing.  Poets & Writers has a great database of over 800 magazines, journals, and competitions where you can find details about the specific kind of writing each magazine publishes (and in which formats) as well as editorial policies, submission guidelines, and contact information.



It’s important to research each publications unique editorial voice, tone, viewpoint, and mission before you submit, otherwise it becomes a waste of your time, and the editor’s. This is especially critical when entering competitions where entry fees are involved. If your work doesn’t fit the criteria, do some more research to evaluate other competitions, don’t throw your money away.

When you submit your work, always be certain to follow the guidelines of each publication. Some magazines specify genres or themes in which they are or are not interested. Some accept submissions only during certain months. Some set word limits. Some set page limits or limits on the number of poems per submission. Some specify whether you should include a cover letter or self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).

Many literary publications refuse to read work that is not submitted in accordance with their guidelines, so it is crucial to know what the rules are and to stick to them. Often, they’re spelled out somewhere in the pages of the magazine; you can also usually find them on the publication’s website or by contacting the publication.


Most Literary magazines and journals require you to include a short cover letter with each submission you make. Avoid using the letter as a platform to discuss the merits or themes of the work you are submitting or to summarize your writing as a whole. Instead, keep it simple and straightforward, including a brief bio that lists places you’ve published in the past, if applicable.


For a list of upcoming competitions complete with entry fees, prize details, and submission guidelines, visit  http://www.pw.org/grants

I recommend getting away from the commercialized competitions like Writer’s Digest–They are expensive, and the same group of people seem to always win. They don’t have rules concerning recurring wins, and so I think it’s just not fair.

WOW! (Women On Writing), has great competitions open to women of all ages and geographic locations. I highly recommend looking into their site for writing resources as well.


If you’re in college, chances are your school has a literary publication. I habitually submitted to Montclair’s The Normal Review, and got published many times. They had  parties and open mic readings for each quarter’s publication, and it was a great way to meet other writers and get involved with the process of review, selection, and printing.

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