Epiphany #1: If you know the editor(s) of a journal like your writing, you should submit to that journal. Duh!
Until a few months ago, I had never submitted to a journal in which I had previously been published. This refusal to try the same venue twice was based on my desire to have an ever larger number of journals in which my work has appeared. Doesn’t it look better for me, I wondered, to say I’ve been published in more journals rather than having multiple pieces appear in the same journals?
I think this attitude was a holdover from back when I had only published one or two stories. At the time, I wanted to be able to say, in the bio section of my cover letter, “My work has appeared in X, Y, and Z, among others.” It’s that “among others,” see, that was getting me into trouble. I’m still very much an early career writer, but I now have a fair amount of publication credits to my name. This aspiration to always be adding to the number of places my work has appeared no longer matters.
But even if it did, that old idea was pretty counterproductive. When a journal publishes something you’ve written, that’s a pretty good sign those editors like your style. Why, then, would you cross that journal off your list of places to submit? That’s like saying “Oh, I can’t submit there. The chances are too good I’ll get accepted.” Not the soundest of logic.
After years of holding myself to this foolish imperative, a few months ago I finally decided to submit to a journal, the Bound Off podcast, in which I had been previously published. I love this podcast and loved how they had handled the story of mine they had already published, so I decided to go for it, and you know what? The new story was accepted (it should come out sometime this fall).
Epiphany #2: If you don’t like a journal, the journal is probably not going to like you.
Has this ever happened to you: Johnny is looking for places to submit and reading through the sample material posted to a journal’s website. Ug, he thinks, this stuff is terrible! My story is way better than the stuff these guys are publishing. I’ll surely get in! And then he giddily prepares his submission to the journal, preemptively patting himself on the back for his next soon-to-be publication.
Can anybody tell us where Johnny went wrong?
If you don’t like the stuff a journal is putting out, your aesthetic and that particular journal’s aesthetic just don’t line up. Literature is subjective, and if the editor(s) of a journal choose to publish a bunch of stuff that you think is crap, they’re probably going to think what you’re doing is crap. And even if they don’t—would you really want to be published in that journal anyway?
Okay, so maybe the term “epiphany” is a bit strong, but these are genuinely things I only recently started to think about in a conscious way, and I’ve been changing the way I submit as a result. And I’ve already earned myself one publication because of the change.