So, you want to get published in a literary magazine.
Good on you for putting yourself out there!
Seriously. When we go through submissions, we keep in mind that there’s a creative soul out there who might’ve stared at that “send” button anxiously for a minute or two before wiping the sweat off their palms, taking a breath, and blasting a little piece of their soul into what can seem like a virtual black hole. These words really matter to someone, and whether we publish them or not, we ought to be handling them with care.
There are a few ways we do that:
First off, we don’t have a slush pile. Every submission will be read at least once by yours truly, the Editor-in-Chief. At this point in our zine’s life, a slush pile feels like an unnecessary gatekeeping effort. There’s something about only taking seriously work from the people you know that reminds me of an echo chamber. Cavernous and sticky with nepotism. Ew.
Second, we don’t have a reading fee. The only time we will charge for a submission is during a contest. The reason for that is because our contests also function as fundraisers for organizations that are doing the groundwork in the feminist movement. Every cent we make from those reading fees go directly to the named organization in the contest description, and we post our receipts.
Now that you, fellow creative, have been assured that we will take your work seriously and won’t charge you for just sending an email, let’s talk about how your submission actually gets accepted.
- Proofread. I don’t care if you’re the next Auden. I don’t care if you’ve just given me the secrets of the universe in a perfectly formed villanelle. If you have spelling and grammar errors in your submission, it will be very difficult for me to say “yes,” because now it’s a “yes, and please fix these errors.” Find some friends, family, strangers, anyone, to look over your work before you hit “send.”
- Avoid clichés. There’s nothing I can say about this that hasn’t already been said—so I won’t.
- Surprise me. the whole idea behind literary magazines is that they’re a place for artistic experimentation. we want to push back on expectations here; that’s kind of the point. so, now is the time to send over that really weird project that you don’t really even know if it’s poetry, prose; or maybe it’s more akin to a visual representation of that feeling when you slam your head on a kitchen cabinet because your cat decided to claw your leg while you were looking for the damn paper towels; but as you grip your head with one hand and shoo the cat with the other, you remember you actually keep the paper towels in the closet. bring us somewhere unexpected.
- Be relevant. We’re a feminist literary magazine. We’re looking to subvert the patriarchy through art. If you send me a short story about the first time you went water skiing and how the lake is your favorite place on Earth, you will likely be getting a “this isn’t for us” email, because it’s not. The best way to make sure you’re on-brand would be to read our previous content!
- Follow the submission guidelines. I wish this could go without saying. Please just follow these, and everyone’s life will be better for it. You can find ours here.
I’m not going to give you any more guidelines. You don’t need them, and the last thing I want is the Serpentine inbox flooding with words people think I want to hear.
Here’s what I’ll leave you with though: A former professor of mine once showed us a quote from Sven Birkerts, head of Agni, that has stayed with me. It’s honestly the best way I can let you in on how we choose submissions here at Serpentine:
“… editing is, before readying manuscripts for publications, very much a business of cutting away the less essential in order to expose the more essential. I mean this both in practical and philosophical terms. Editing, I have found, is the search for signal in a sea of noise.”
Birkerts, Sven. “Signal in a Sea of Noise.” Irish Pages, vol. 2, no. 1, 2003, pp. 262–264. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30057282. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.
Vicki Barclay is the Editor-in-Chief of Serpentine Literary Magazine.