How to use Submittable

(I have zero affiliation with Submittable FYI.)

Short answer: Submittable is the go-to digital submissions manager for many publications and it’s easy to navigate online.

Long answer:

The more established a literary journal or publication, the more likely it uses Submittable these days. Submittable gives you the opportunity to both find new opportunities as well as track your current submissions.

The first thing you need to do in order to use Submittable is create an account. This is free. The prompts will ask for all your contact details, which will be saved to your account. (You should still include your contact details on whatever work you’re submitting unless individual guidelines ask you to remove all identifying details.)

After you’ve set up your account, sign in.

In the upper left corner, there’s a tab called Discover. Click here to find a list of current calls for submissions from a wide range of publications.

NB: you will not find calls from big publishers under the Discover tab, only small presses and literary journals. Also, some of the smaller or newer outlets don’t use Submittable, so you should still check them separately.

The Discover prompts are pretty straightforward—basically, you choose a tag from the drop-down menu or type whatever you’re looking for into the search field eg. anthology, experimental etc. to find open opportunities, which you can further narrow down by whether or not there’s an associated fee or deadline.

Next to the Discover tab there’s a tab called Submissions. Whenever you submit work via Submittable, there will be a record here. This tab also allows you to track the progress of your submission as follows:

All Submissions – This tab shows you the status of everything you’ve ever submitted via Submittable.

Active – This tab shows you all the submissions you’ve sent out that have yet to be accepted or declined. This is the tab I use most often as it shows me how much work I have out on sub at any given time; when that dips below a certain number (for me, it’s 10) I know it’s time to think about subbing some more. This also lets me see which submissions have been out the longest. A long wait time can be a good thing because it often means your work is under serious consideration; however, it can also mean a publication has either missed / forgotten you or, more rarely, stopped publishing altogether and left you on read. (More about wait times here.)

Received – A black tab means your submission has been transmitted successfully.

In Progress – A blue tab means your work has been actioned in some way. Don’t get too excited thinking an editor is actively considering your work at this stage. All this means is that your work has been officially acknowledged in some way by an actual human.

Accepted – A green tab means your work has been approved for publication. Congrats!

Declined – A light grey tab means a publication has decided not to publish your piece. It’s worth checking Messages to see if an editor has added any personalized information about their decision eg. Not this time but please try us again.

Withdrawn – A dark grey tab means you removed your submission from consideration. You should use this feature if a piece you simultaneously submitted has been accepted for publication somewhere else. It’s polite to thank the editor for their time and consideration when you do this; editors also enjoy hearing where the work was accepted.

NB: if you only want to withdraw part of your submission eg. 1 of 3 poems, do NOT use the Withdraw feature as it will cancel your entire submission. Send a Note instead.

The Withdraw feature also comes in handy if an editor forgets to close out your submission for whatever reason. Sometimes an editor will write you to let you know that they want / don’t want to publish one of your Submittable submissions, but then they never action the Accept or Decline tab so your submission is marked In-Progress under Active indefinitely. In this instance, it’s OK to hit Withdraw; include a polite note that you’re just withdrawing an already actioned piece to get it out of your Active folder.

Notes – The Notes tab isn’t visible on the main menu of Submissions. You find it by clicking on an individual submission. This is the place where you can withdraw a single component of a bundled submission eg. 1 of 3 poems. To do this, just send a polite note to the editor letting them know that X piece has been accepted for publication elsewhere (you can mention the other place by name – editors are interested) but the remaining pieces, A, B, and C, are still available for consideration.

Messages – The Messages tab isn’t visible on the main menu of Submissions. You find it by clicking on an individual submission. This is the place where an editor might communicate with you about your submission. For example, an editor might decline a particular piece but then send you a personalized message saying that even though they couldn’t use your work this time, they like your writing style and would like to see more from you in the future. (This is legitimate encouragement. Definitely submit again!) The Messages section is more for receiving than sending communication.

NB: Don’t use the Notes, Messages, or Withdraw features to make changes to your submitted work. If you forget to include one of the poems you said you were sending, by all means message an editor to let them know; if editors love the rest of the submission and they’re desperate to publish it, they’ll ask you to send the missing piece. Don’t bother Withdrawing and Submitting again unless you accidentally forgot to include the whole back end of a short story as it just makes more admin for everyone. This is especially true for revisions. Editors don’t want you to submit work that you’re still actively revising. They might suggest changes to work they accept, but they will not welcome repeated messages about changing titles, lines, or endings.

As an aside, I had the Submittable app installed on my phone at one stage, but it was very glitchy so I removed it and just access my submissions via my desktop now. The Submittable website says they are currently working on a new app, so keep an eye out for that.

— Nicole Melanson