Turning the tables and checking for RED FLAGS

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Being a writer is hard enough:

  • The right conditions: Am I feeling (mentally and physically) right enough to create? No? Things exhausting or stressing me out?
  • The right time: Creativity takes up hours. Do I have them free of everything?
  • The right subject: What do I write about? Crime? Grief? Solitude? Loss? Current events?
  • The right genre: Prose? Short or short-short? Nah, maybe a poem?
  • The right form: Hybrid story? List story? Menu? Reverse? No-frills narration?
  • The right voice: First or Third? Why not Second?
  • The right words: Do I go like say-it-like-it-is? Or, do I choose lyrical? Or maybe metaphor?

Been through all? Created something? Edited? Looks good?


Then comes the worst possible outcome: rejection. In my last blogpost, I wrote about some common reasons why writing, which otherwise seems amazing, fails at the editor’s table, and how to deal with declines.

Now, let’s turn the tables.

What are the red flags in the submission process you should watch out for? What you should check when you decide to submit to a litmag?

When starting out, I wish someone told me!

Some boxes that you may consider ticking:

  • Always read the ABOUT page and Masthead page: Sounds simple enough but recent literary circle controversies have shown us it’s really important. The ABOUT page tells you what the LITERARY JOURNAL/EDITORS are looking for. You don’t want to send stuff to people not seeking what you have. Sometimes, there’s a Mission Statement. Check for clarity of vision there. Sounds too vague, or confused? Be warned. Don’t miss the MASTHEAD. Who all lead the place? Credentials? Who are the readers? Non-disclosure of the MASTHEAD is certain Red Flag. If you can find it, read about them. Possibly read some work by these people to get to know what they write. Lastly, DO NOT send inappropriate stuff to minor-helmed magazines.
  • Read Submission Guidelines: Again, don’t we all do that? We do. But what do we miss? I’ve learnt the hard way that missing info relating to response times, reading fees, honorarium (either way– yes/no), schedules of publication, whether only print, whether they will be sending responses out irrespective of accept/reject decisions, are red-herrings. Be careful to read closely.
  • Check if they welcome submissions from all. If not, check. Are they open to YOU? This is important. Some magazines only seek work from particular national/geographic/ethnic/gender identities.
  • Be cautious of places that hide their published pieces behind a paywall or conceal where to find and read them. If selected, your piece is likely to vanish too, with few or none getting to read it, something you wouldn’t want.
  • Find if response times are longer than what you’d like. Check on Duotrope and Submission Grinder. You don’t want to be tied down too long.
  • Search the places you want to submit to on Social Media. Twitter is a great place to connect. Check their activity. See if they’re dormant and won’t promote your publication. I’ve had pieces published without intimation or Twitter announcement, and only found out much later from friends.
  • Find out the litmag’s Social Media following. They could be indicators to their popularity, long-run in business, work ethics, etc. Some folks have ranked magazines (lists available online) based on their Twitter Following. However, I personally never judge them on that basis alone. Some little-known places have been really generous to me. I’ve seen some journals tirelessly support their contributors through publications elsewhere as well.
  • Check out at least one work from the magazine’s archives. It won’t tell you much, but you’ll feel good you made an informed choice, and didn’t play a lottery.
  • Find and submit widely. Do not stick to a handful of places because you think they are your ‘target’ destinations. There are hundreds of places around that’re doing exceedingly well, and if they accept you, put your work out there, it will do a LOT of good in bolstering your confidence.
  • Lastly, recognise places that are best suited for your style and for themes that you’re most comfortable with. Do not bombard them, instead, keep your submissions well paced out from one to the next and crafted to their needs.
  • Simultaneously, it’s NOT un-writerly to blacklist some places that’ve turned your work down multiple times, or you think there’s something not quite right in their operations.

I hope you found this blogpost helpful. Writing is lonely if things like these aren’t shared. Happy writing and submitting!

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