One of the places I have submitted in the past, but now decided may not be the best for my work, is Ploughshares. It’s a serious literary magazine, with a strong pedigree in bringing newcomers to American literature and is guest-edited for each edition by some pretty big names. The magazine (really more like a paperback book) is published three times a year, and mailed out in hard copy to subscribers, who pay $30 per year for the privilege.
There are three ways to submit to Ploughshares.
Fiction, poetry and certain types of non-fiction manuscripts are accepted unsolicited between 1 June and 15 January. Up to five poems can be submitted together, prose pieces should be submitted individually and be no more than 6,000 words long (5,000 is prefered).
There are no submissions fees for mail-in submissions, but a $3 charge is levied to submit online. Payment is $25 per page (Min $50, Max $250) together with two copies of the title published and a year’s subscription to the magazine.
The magazine has recently launched a new series, publishing one longer fiction piece (6,000-25,000 words) in electronic format once a month. The submission criteria are the same as above, and I believe so is the payment scheme.
Emerging Writers’ Contest
Finally, Ploughshares runs an annual contest for up-and-coming writers. This is defined as anyone who has yet to publish a book, including chapbooks and self-published works, in any genre. The contest is currently CLOSED and runs from February to April each year, with the winning entry published in their “Fall Edition”.
Entries should be no more than 5,000 words (or 3-5 poems) and the entry fee of $20 includes a year’s subscription to the magazine. Winners in each genre (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) are awarded $1,000 prize.
So, why won’t I be submitting any more?
Last year, I entered the Emerging Writers’ Contest. I didn’t win, or indeed receive any response to my entry, but this decision is not sour grapes on my part. It is proof of the lesson which is drilled into us time and again by books and articles and anything else giving advice on writing and publishing, and that is to know your market and choose wisely when submitting. My entry into the EWC gave me a year’s subscription to the magazine (for less than a year’s subscription would have cost, I hasten to add!). I’ve now read a couple of their publications in a lot more detail than the free excerpts online allowed me to do and I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t the place for my writing.
I write mainstream, some might even call it “literary”, fiction. I don’t write genre pieces, so Ploughshares ought to be a decent fit in that regard. However, what I don’t write is Literary Fiction in the sense that Ploughshares publishes it. Poems are usually incomprehensible to me, and even the short stories in their publications have a hint of poetry to them. I like a story to have a beginning, a middle and an end – a satisfying balance and a reason behind the words. I like likeable characters, or at least ones that I can be moved by, and I can’t handle even 6,000 words inside the head of a character who is clearly weird.
All of which is a poor attempt at describing the pieces I find in my latest copy of Ploughshares. The writing is good, by some definitions, but if a friend sent it to me and asked for critique, I’d rip it apart. I think most of my critiqueing friends would too.
So the truth is, I won’t be submitting to Ploughshares again unless my writing style changes. But if you think Literary suits the way you write (and for some people it really does), then it’s a fantastic place to try your work. The rates are decent, the lack of submission fees is a bonus and it’s definitely a publication with kudos behind the name. And if you’re not sure, enter next year’s EWC and try a year’s subscription for yourself. It might just be the springboard to great things.