Yilin Wang is a writer, editor, and translator who lives on the unceded traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Clarkesworld, Abyss & Apex, carte blanche, Arc Poetry Magazine, Grain, Contemporary Verse 2, LooseLeaf, and other publications. She is an assistant editor for Room Magazine and a former editorial board member for Prism International.
At our last event, guest speaker Yilin gave us tips on submitting work to literary and genre magazines. She spoke on the topic based on her experiences as a writer and as an editor for various publications.
I want to start by saying that I’m not a huge fan of labeling work as “literary fiction” or “speculative fiction,” because I find that these labels can be limiting and marginalize speculative fiction writers. However, I’ll be using these terms in this blogpost because they can be useful when it comes to describing the submission process for different types of stories.
I hope that the information in this blogpost will be helpful to not only those with an interest in submitting to both literary and speculative fiction publications in North America, but also help encourage those who work for literary journals to consider what they can learn from speculative fiction publications and ways that they can create more space for speculative and genre-bending work.
How are literary and SF magazines different?
Style and content
SF Magazines often have a focus on narratives and plot that engage strongly with speculative elements and/or genre tropes. Some of the publications can be quite niche, publishing work that is specifically second-world fantasy (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) or science fiction (Apex, Asimov’s Science Fiction), whereas literary fiction publications tend to publish a wide range of realistic stories with some speculative work occasionally thrown into the mix. Another unique feature of many SF publications is that they sometimes accept stories up to 8,000 or 10,000+ words, whereas most literary journals tend to prefer much shorter pieces.
When it comes to formatting, most SF magazines require all submissions to follow the “Standard Manuscript Format,” which is actually not “standard” because many literary journals have their own unique formatting guidelines instead. SFF magazines rarely take simultaneous submissions, whereas many literary journals do, which is important to keep in mind. Some SFF magazines have a very fast response time (e.g. Clarkesworld is famous for sending rejection letters in two days), although most SF and literary magazines respond to submissions within a few months.
Canadian literary journals tend to have varying pay rates that are partially influenced by grant requirements. On the other hand, the pay for SF magazines is heavily influenced by standards set out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). The minimum pay rate set out by SFWA is currently 6 cents USD per word, rising to 8 cents per word on Sept 1, 2019. This standard rate allows for equity and transparency in the publication process for writers.
Where can you find publications to submit your work?
Here are a few good sources to consider:
- Science Fiction and Fantasy list market list
- A list of Canadian literary journals
- Facebook groups: “Diverse Canadian and Turtle Island Writers,” “Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Markets”
- Publication market databases: Duotrope (paid subscription required), Submittable, and Submission Grinder.
How do you decide where to submit?
I recommend writers submit to publications that are a good fit, that pay writers for their work, and that have published writing and/or writers that they enjoy reading.
Additionally, when deciding whether to submit to literary versus SF publications, here are some questions to consider: 1) To what extent is the story driven by plot elements and conventions of a speculative fiction genre? 2) How speculative is the story? Does it have dragons or is it set in a different world? Or are the speculative elements more symbolic? 3) How much does the story focus on language and experimenting with literary elements?
As a queer woman of color, I also recommend that writers from underrepresented backgrounds examine the publication carefully in terms of diversity and representation. It’s important to go beyond statements saying a publication is diverse. Check for awareness of subconscious bias in the publication’s mandate and submission calls. See who is on the masthead and who the publication has featured in the past. Look for transparency in terms of the publication’s editorial process and submission guidelines.
Finally, here are my top four tips for anyone who wishes to submit to literary and/or SF publications:
- Send out your work to many publications. Don’t self-reject and don’t stop submitting your work after a few rejections.
- Read and follow submission calls carefully. Make sure to follow any formatting guidelines and check that you fit any demographic requirements for submitting.
- Be honest with yourself about whether your piece is a good “fit” for the publication. Can you really see your work appearing in this publication? Have they published work similar to yours before or expressed a desire to?
- Keep your cover letter short and concise. Do not explain the meaning or theme of your story or poem, and instead, let the work speak for itself.
- Take your time with each piece. Edit it carefully and give it to beta-readers for feedback before you submit. Make sure the work is something you are truly happy with before you send it out into the world.
Stay tuned for information about our next event and features on our upcoming writers!