1) Let us start, as they say, at the beginning: http://www.duotrope.com/ Duotrope is an AMAZING resource. It is really the modern equivalent of the yearly Fiction and Poetry Writer's Market books, only it is online. This means you can search for exactly what types of magazines you write for, track submissions (which we'll get to in a minute) and is constantly updated. Say, for instance, you are looking for a magazine that publishes science fiction short stories. You select "Genre:" Science Fiction, "Length:" Short Story, and specify other options as you want. I would recommend a first time submitter not to sort by payscale, as many of your initial acceptances will not be paid. I would also suggest to mark under "Sub Type" electronic, so that you don't have to spend money on postage right away. Under "Sub Details" there are some boxes with terms you may or may not be familiar with. "" searches for mags that publish work that has been previously published. Avoid checking this unless you're specifically marketing a piece that you've already had published elsewhere. " " stands for simultaneous submissions. This option will display only magazines that allow you to send work to them AND to other magazines at the same time, with the understanding that as soon as the piece gets accepted elsewhere, you'll email everyone else to let them know about it. "" only displays magazines that allow you to send more than one piece to them at a time. Avoid checking this for fiction. For poetry, most people accept (and encourage) multiple submissions at one time. Then search! Check out the options you're presented with. You can click into each magazine title to see more about it. I recommend right clicking and opening the link in a new tab, so you can easily switch back to the listing. If Duotrope's info page catches your eye, you can open the zine's website, and you're on to step 2!
2) Look at the potential magazine's webpage. Read online samples of the work they've published. Is it anything like yours? If Duotrope said they publish Sci-fi, don't just start submitting. Read what they've published. They may be looking for a very specific type, and you don't want to waste your time or the editors sending them a story about a guy who's half robot rescuing the beautiful alien princess from the evil monsters, if they're a mag that's looking for stories with strong female characters. Once you've established that they're the right place for your piece, find a section of the website that says "guidelines" or "submissions" or some variation of that theme. One of my favorite online literary magazines, Contrary, lists some good recommendations for submitting that you can find here: http://www.contrarymagazine.com/Contrary/Submissions.html Keep in mind that each site has different requirements. This means that some want you to fill out a form on their site to submit, some want you to send the work in the body of an email, and some what the submission attached to an email. Review the submission guidelines, and then you're on to the third step:
3) Send the submission (WITH A COVER LETTER)! I can assure you, as a past editor at the Houston Literary Review, that submissions without cover letters, or with inappropriate cover letters, seriously taint the impression you make. Some sites say that you don't need a cover, and if that's the case, then DON'T do it. Some of the submission forms don't have room for a cover letter, so you're off the hook there. If you're sending an email, though, you absolutely should NOT forgo a cover letter unless specifically requested. Your cover letter should be brief: three or four sentences should be sufficient. The general premise should be along the lines of, "Hello, I would like to submit my piece _____ and _____ for consideration in __(Name of Mag)__." Then add a brief bio about yourself (are you a student? do you work somewhere? have you had any other pieces accepted or published?). Keep in mind that they WILL check, so don't claim to be something you're not and don't beef up your publishing creds. Adding any other literary related things is appropriate as long as your bio-sentence is no more than two sentences long. Avoid being cocky (This is undoubtedly the best poem you will ever read in your life) or self deprecating (I know this isn't anywhere near as good as what you usually read, but please consider it since I'm only a student). Don't use ten words if five will do, and don't just use a bunch of big words (you'll sound pretentious) or little words (you'll sound uneducated). Mix them up into happily balanced sentences. Then, thank the reader for their time, and sign your name.
Notes about the cover letter: if at all possible, find the name of the correct editor and send it addressed to them. If you cannot find information about the editors (sometimes under Masthead or About Us) then address it "Dear Poetry Editor" (or Fiction Editor, as appropriate). Many editors request a bio (biography) to be sent with the submission. If this is the case, I usually edit out the bio from my cover letter and instead say simply, "A brief biography is attached below." Brief is key, here. Different mags may have more specific guidelines, but a traditional bio is 3-5 lines or so and is in the third person. Feel free to express your personality, within reason, but make sure you furnish info about any previous publications and a website, if you have one. When you get accepted, the bio is usually published as well and is a great tool for networking. If someone likes your work, they can check out other things you've published and, if you list a website, can contact you. Some editors will read a piece they like and ask the author's permission to publish it in their magazine once the rights have reverted back to you (more about this later). Finally, be sure to sign it with your name! The editor kinda needs to know that. Then, make sure your document is attached or your work is pasted into the body of the email, and send it off. I'm going to make a separate post about formatting the work you're sending, but briefly, make sure it's EDITED, it follows all specific requests that the editor lists on the submissions page, and it's in a standard font and style.
4) Now we start tracking the submissions. Duotrope has a "Submissions Tracker" that I highly recommend. It's very user friendly. If you choose not too, keep a spreadsheet or some other log of EVERY submission you send. You should be sending submissions to several different magazines at the same time...when you receive your first submission (which will probably happen eventually) you will need to know which other magazines you sent it to so you can email them a quick note to say, "Sorry! My piece ____ was accepted in XYZ Magazine and is no longer available." I also keep a private online journal of each "finished" piece, which helps when I have three or four documents floating around on my computer. Most poetry submissions are of 3-8 poems, and different 'zines ask for different amounts and different formatting. Sometimes, you may feel that, say, four poems you have available are suitable for one magazine, but when you submit to another you feel that one of those four doesn't fit, and so substitute another one or two poems for that one. Because of that, I like to have final drafts of every piece saved individually in a separate location. If you choose to keep your work online, know that many places will consider that "published" and won't take it; so keep the work privacy protected so only you and the people you specifically permit can view your work.
5) This is the fun part: sit back and wait! Duotrope lists average wait times, and many mags will tell you how long they take to get back to you. A wise strategy is to first submit your work to 10-15 "ideal" magazines: the best of the best. About 30 days later, submit to another batch of magazines that may be more accepting (Duotrope also handily shows you each publication's average acceptance percentage). Above all, don't get upset over a few rejections! They often can contain good advice on where to market the pieces or even critiques on the works. Each editor will read a piece differently; you just need to find the place that's right for your work. In the meantime, READ! Become familiar with the mags you're submitting to and the ones you aspire to. Research where they came from, what they like, and who they publish. Read bios. You'll eventually be able to see which names are "big" in the industry, both authors and magazines. This can help you evaluate where you stand. Yes, you just got rejected from one of the biggies, but, they're one of the biggies! It's easier to be positive about a rejection when you realize they're publishing the authors who are on bestseller lists and in textbooks of modern American literature. And don't forget with all this marketing to keep writing! The more you write, the more you have to submit, and the more you submit, the greater your chances of getting published. Continue to hone your craft and you're on your way to becoming a published author: it's easier than you think!
On rights, check out this very informative site: http://www.writing-world.com/rights/copyright.shtml. This covers just about everything you need to know. Good luck on the beginning of your search! I'd love to hear reactions and responses, both from newbies to the marketing game and those of you who've done it for a while. Please comment if you have something to share!