For about two years, at the peak of my pursuit of publication, I received approximately 10 rejection emails daily from both Australian and international journals.
Months of relentless submissions had thickened my skin, making it tougher than a rhino’s and as flexible as a honey badger’s. However, when rejection arrived from Overland, this one felt different. This time, the main editor sent a lengthy email complimenting my writing. It was a kind of “you’re almost there” letter, encouraging me to persist. And persist I did.
The same story that had been rejected by Overland not long after went on to win a short story competition. The takeaway is this: just because a piece is rejected doesn’t always mean it lacks merit.
In the ever-changing world of writing, if you’re itching to get your short stories out into the world, you’re not alone. It can feel a bit like a battlefield, especially when aiming for a spot in an established Aussie or international literary magazines. But, I think, to succeed, it’s better to imagine yourself not as a solider but as a disciplined explorer – armed with creativity, stamina, and precision in your writing game. Here are some suggestions how to go about this, based on my own experiences.
Laying the Groundwork
To kick off your publishing journey, start by setting up a Submittable account. It’s the golden ticket to literary journals. But just having an account and submitting your stories won’t cut it; your stories need to be top-notch. Craft a handful of tales, polish them till they shine, and get feedback from your writing crew. Having a local writing group is very useful, but don’t settle for the first one – find your tribe.
My experience with writing groups has been overwhelmingly positive. I was fortunate to be a part of a robust and dedicated writing group, which comprised a few published writers and a professional editor, for three consecutive years. Our meetings took place in my local library. What set this group apart was that our meetings were weekly, an unusual frequency for groups of this nature.
The diverse composition of the group meant I received valuable feedback on various aspects of my writing. I benefited from insights into story structure—understanding what works and what doesn’t—and received meticulous line-by-line grammar edits and feedback. For someone whose first language is not English, this experience was akin to striking gold.
When it comes to submitting, timing is key, especially when dealing with the seasons. In Australia, aim for submissions between March and October. Up north, they have a different rhythm, with windows open from late August to late May. Knowing these rhythms can be a game-changer for Aussies, giving you the freedom to submit year-round.
Another aspect of timing is more nuanced and requires research. It involves understanding the number of “readers” of submissions a journal has and discerning whether these readers are volunteers or paid staff members. It’s essential to know how frequently they sift through the submission pile and the average number of submissions they receive per cycle, which, in Australia, varies depending on the journal’s publication frequency—either quarterly or half-yearly.
Equally crucial is knowing whether they start reading submissions from the bottom or the top of the pile. This information is vital because you may want to time your submission to be at the forefront of their reading list, ensuring it is encountered before reader fatigue sets in.
This involves taking note of the names of editorial assistants and individuals who have engaged with you, following them on social media, and conducting a thorough investigation into their writing background to customize your submission.
Typically, they read towards the end of the submission cycle, but sometimes they review throughout. You can only determine this by consistently submitting and keeping track of when you receive rejections.
Think of submitting like fishing – the more you know about your target journal, the better your chances. Dive deep into their style, themes, and editor’s vibes. Try to figure out who’s on the editorial team; those assistants are your first hurdle. At one point, I avoided submitting to a journal due to its appointment of a new editor. Understanding the preferences of this editor, I was aware that my stories, featuring non-Anglo characters set in Melbourne’s western suburbs, wouldn’t stand a chance of being published. But generally speaking, even if the editors, say, lean towards sci-fi and you’re more of a literary fiction person, it doesn’t mean they won’t publish you. Editors, deep down, appreciate good writing, regardless of their personal preferences.
Such knowledge ensures a tailored submission and shows you mean business.
On another note, even if a journal frowns on multiple submissions, don’t be afraid to cast your net wide. In a world where waiting months for a reply is the norm, having options is just smart.
Keep Your Cool
It might sound weird, but being chill about whether your story gets published is a pro move. Try to immerse yourself into the submission process rather than stressing about the end result. Expecting rejection helps you plan for the next step. This mindset also toughens you up for the inevitable rejections.
Revolving Door Submission Plan
Instead of unleashing a barrage of submissions all at once, opt for a continuous and strategic stream. Ensure that you have a plan for where your short story will be submitted next in the event of a rejection. If it is accepted for publication, be prepared with a second story ready for submission.
I successfully secured publications in Overland, Meanjin, Westerly, and Southerly by diligently following this process. I submitted to Overland 15 times and Meanjin 10 times, making numerous submissions to both Westerly and Southerly. With each attempt, I gradually moved closer to being shortlisted or catching the eye of an editor. Eventually, I gained advocates within the editorial teams who encouraged me to resubmit until, much like Cinderella, we discovered the perfect fit.
In essence, navigating the challenging terrain of placing your short story in an Aussie or international literary journal requires dedication, persistence, and a strategic approach akin to an adventurous journey rather than a battlefield. Equipping yourself with a refined toolkit, impeccable timing, a wide-reaching net, a tactical mindset, and perhaps a Revolving Door Strategy can significantly enhance your chances of getting published. Remember, every successful writer has faced rejection – it’s those who adapt and persevere that ultimately triumph.
Fikret Pajalic came to Melbourne as a refugee, learnt English in his mid-twenties and started writing years later. He has won and placed in competitions, published in anthologies and literary magazines. His fiction has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, Westerly, Etchings, Sleepers, Antipodes, The Big Issue, Hotel Amerika, Wisconsin Review, The Minnesota Review, Fjords Review, Sheepshead Review, Bop Dead City, Structo, Paper and Ink, JAAM and elsewhere. Complication, a collection of short stories, is his first book.