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In last month’s pontification, I declared that writers do writerly things — join, learn, explore, write, share. And then, of course, the dreaded “submit.”I’m not sure which is more frightening, not knowing how and where to submit, or getting back the dreaded rejection. Lawyers don’t win all their cases, and yet they keep trying them. So, I’m going to assume that you will overcome your fear of rejection. What you need right now are ideas on where to submit and the rules for how.

Where to send is a function of the material itself, your name and your ultimate goal in submitting. Most of us don’t try for the New Yorker right off the bat, but if your piece really, really belongs there, go ahead. No harm in trying (

If you are rejected by the New Yorker or The Atlantic but your story is of the “literary” type, you might submit it to a literary journal. Agents reportedly read the best of these journals, looking for new talent. Clifford Garstang — a former Sidley, Austin LLP lawyer — publishes a dauntingly long list of literary journals. He ranks them in terms of prestige, based on the number of Pushcart Prizes they’ve won over the past 10 years. The top five: Ploughshares, Conjunctions, Tin House, Zoetrope: All Story and the Southern Review.

There are also hundreds of lesser-known journals catering to every conceivable genre, audience and taste. Their creativity in describing their editorial slant is often entertaining:

• BlazeVOX — “haven for undervalued writers … your work must not suck”

• Bombay Gin — “the literary journal of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics”

• The Fiddleback — “inclined toward the outlandish, toward the unsayable, toward the spectacle”

Some are looking for very short work: Hoot styles itself “a magazine on postcards,” looking for “stand alone, zestful nuggets of fewer than 150 words.” 100 Word Story challenges the writer “to reckon with Flaubert’s mot juste in a way that even most flash fiction doesn’t.”

Many journals are ethnic or topical. For instance, the Asian American Literary Review is for writers “who consider the designation ‘Asian American’ a fruitful starting point for artistic vision and community.”

There’s also Azizah magazine for writings by Muslim women; Hadassah magazine for Jewish women and the Acentos Review for emerging Latina and Latino writers. A&U magazine is looking for work relating in any way to the AIDS pandemic.

You can guess the subject matter wanted by Fly, Rod & Reel (fishing); Bugle (elk hunting); Dirt Rag (mountain biking); and Ocean Navigator (high-seas adventures). James Elkins’ The Legal Studies Forum, which has published the poetry of our own retired 1st District Appellate Justice Warren D. Wolfson, is looking for prose and poetry by lawyers.

My very first fiction publication was in a Catholic magazine I’d never heard of until I saw in the back of Poets and Writers magazine a call for stories about forgiveness posted by Liguorian magazine. I already had the story, and was thrilled to have it accepted. What the magazine may have lacked in literary snootiness, it made up for in cash — $350!

There are also a number of competitions, including Glimmer Train’s prestigious contest specifically for new (unpublished) authors and the Writer’s Digest multi-category annual contest. Every story I’ve ever written has been rejected, one way or another, by Glimmer Train, and I’ve only placed in the top 100 in a Writer’s Digest contest. But both of these contests publish a short list of honorable mentions in addition to the single “winner.” I hate contests that brag about the 500-plus entries they received and then announce one, and only one, winner — especially when it can cost $10 to $25 to enter. However, getting my name on a short list of finalists (most frequently for the William Wisdom-William Faulkner Competition) has been ego-gratifying, often giving me the little lift I needed at the time. Every minor “attaboy/girl” builds a writing resume which helps to get the attention of an agent, which is necessary to getting a publisher, etc.

It is critical, though, that your submission follow the specific guidelines (“local rules”) for the journal or contest (usually found on the website) and that it be formatted correctly: double-spaced, 12-point type (Times New Roman or Courier), printed in black on one side of 20 lb. (preferably 24 lb.) bright white paper, left-justified only, one-inch margins, unbound. Then, according to the editors of Writers Digest:

• Center your name and contact information on the top of the first page

• Put the word count and “First serial rights” in the top right corner

• One-third down the page, center the story title in all caps

• Skip a line and write “by” in lowercase, skip another line and type your name, all in caps

• Drop four lines, indent and begin your story

• (Optional: Type THE END at the end.)

Do not number the first page. Put a header at the top of every page (except the first) including the title, your last name and page number. (My friend and blogger Anne Mini is obsessive about all things form and formatting for the novel. I highly recommend the archives of her website,

In short, there is a reader for every writer. The trick is finding your match. Next time, of course, we’ll have to talk about rejection, but for now, be encouraged by the description Keyhole gives of its editorial policy: “We publish what we like.”

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  1. —Founder of one of Chicago’s largest ad agencies, Tony Vanderwarker is author of the memoir Writing With the Master: How a Bestselling Author Fixed My Book And Changed My Life (Skyhorse, February 2014) about his experience being mentored by John Grisham while writing the thriller Sleeping Dogs, releasing through Skyhorse at the same time. He has also penned the forthcoming novels Ads for God and Say Something Funny.