So, you've decided to submit a piece of your writing for publication. First of all, congratulations! This takes a lot of confidence to commit to. Whether it's an essay, short story, poem, or something else, preparing a piece of writing (and yourself) in regards to publication can be a very stressful task. As someone who has had a few works published in the last couple years, I'm here to share some tips for others who might just be getting their feet wet. I'm by no means an expert, but I have learned some valuable lessons so far, and I'd like to share them with you here.
1. Be Serious, But Calm
Sending your work off for other people to judge can be terrifying. It's a difficult choice to decide to put yourself out there like that, and it should be taken seriously. Try to make your work the best it can be before you submit it anywhere. If you don't believe in it, the editors of whatever journal or literary magazine you've reached out to will probably be able to see it. Have other people read your writing and give you feedback before you submit anything. Sometimes writers can get so involved in their own words that they can't look at them objectively anymore. And you really don't want to have a friend read a story you've already submitted for publication and notify you of a massive grammatical error that you completely overlooked.
All that being said, you can still take your work seriously while not letting stress and fear totally consume you. I remember practically shaking when writing out my first email to a publisher with my work attached, and constantly refreshing my inbox all day waiting for a response. Submitting work for publication is not the end of the world. You'll survive it. Achieving this balance between solemnity and peace might take a while, but it's important to find. Know that your work has value and is worthy of publication, but also know that the outcome, whatever it is, will not kill you.
2. Be Short, Sweet, and To The Point
When sending your work to publishers, most will request a cover letter or bio of some sort from you. In my experience, these do not have to be massive litanies of achievements, or memoirs. Most literary magazines receive a lot of submissions daily, and are just looking for basic information. Most don't want long explanations from you about what you've submitted. Let the work speak for itself, and simply provide them with the information they ask for. If they don't spell out everything in detail, it's best to stick with the basics--a short hello, a mention of what you've submitted (as in, "attached is a short story/poem/whatever for your consideration"), and a thank you. That's it. Unless they ask for more, following this template has worked for me in situations where I'm not sure exactly what to say.
3. Read Submission Guidelines
This might seem like an obvious one, but it needs to be stressed. READ. SUBMISSION. GUIDELINES. Not following the guidelines that the publication has specifically spelled out is the quickest way to get your submission deleted. Do they ask for a 50 word bio? Then give it, and not a word more. If they don't ask for a bio, don't give it. If they want one from you, they'll ask. Read the guidelines, then read them again. Follow them. Format your submission how they ask for it to be formatted. Give them all the information they ask for, and nothing they don't. Familiarize yourself with a publication's guidelines before you do anything else. This is for your own good.
4. Be Patient
Response times vary. Be prepared to wait. Be prepared to wait a while. Don't query asking what happened to your submission until the designated time (this information will likely be a part of the submission guidelines). Publications have a lot of work to sift through. Don't be like I was, and refresh your email 20 times a day every day for weeks while you wait for a response. It'll drive you crazy. Be patient and respectful of the publication's time. Write other things. Carry on.
5. Be Prepared for Rejection
It can be difficult to wait for six months for a response only to get a rejection. We as writers often can have our own personal sense of worth tied up in our writing. Having that one short story that means the world to you rejected is hard to deal with. But look at it this way--now you have more time to polish that piece, and to find the one place where it will be a perfect fit. It's not the end of the world. Rejection is just an opportunity to keep trying. Failure teaches us to persevere. Keep writing. Try again.
It takes immense strength to submit your writing for publication. But you can do it. Take yourself and your work seriously, but most of all, have courage, and don't give up.