By Courtney Felle
Many of our submitters have never sent work to a literary journal before—and we love that! The chance to amplify previously unheard voices and support emerging artists is one of the main reasons I started and continue to expand Body Without Organs. However, it also means that the dense, professional-style submission guidelines we have online could throw some potential contributors off. Here are some tips and tricks for navigating our submissions process and that of journals like us:
1. Read the submission guidelines
It’s much more likely that we’ll reject your writing if you send us a 5,000 word short story in the body of your email than if you send us a max. 2,500 story as an attachment like our guidelines specify. Typically, when publications set a maximum word length or preferred file type, it’s because they’re looking for work of that length and style, and they’re seeking to streamline their submissions process (so you and writers like you can get faster, more thoughtful responses!). Time spent converting your writing into other styles, files, and fonts cuts into time that could be spent actually analyzing your writing, and it leaves a first impression on editors that you submitted haphazardly without caring what the publication was looking for. Start your submission on its best foot, in the proper formatting, so we can focus on what matters most: the quality of your work!
2. Know how to write a cover letter (it’s easier than you’d think!)
The Internet is full of cover letter templates, and we don’t mind when you send us a fill-in-the-blank cover letter. Even if it’s basic in format and content, it shows that you put thought into what you were submitting. It can be as simple as:
My name is ______ and I am ____ years old. Included in this submission are my poems _________ and ________. They were inspired by _________. I hope you enjoy reading them.
This is a short third-person biography about me:
__________ currently attends ________ School. They enjoy ______, ________, and ______. They edit their school’s newspaper.
Thank you for reading my submission. I look forward to hearing more from you.
This provides us an overview to your piece and to you as a writer. Especially if your writing stuns us and we’re considering offering you an interview for our features section, we may look at your cover letter before making a final decision.
3. Read previous issues
By far, the best way to tell what type of writing we like is to read writing we’ve previously accepted. Conveniently, our archives are entirely free to access online, and we love when submitters mention that they enjoyed specific issues or pieces! It shows us that the submitter is serious about sending their writing to Body Without Organs instead of any random publication and that they know why their piece is a good fit for us.
4. Determine which submissions call is best for your work
It differs between publications, but Body Without Organs is open for general submissions year-round. This means that you can send us unthemed work at any time, and we will consider it for our upcoming issue(s).
In addition to—never in place of—having open general submissions, we sometimes host contests or call for specifically themed pieces. You can see if we have any ongoing contests on our contests page, and you can see if we have any specific theme calls on our submissions page. Usually, we will consider contest pieces for publication in upcoming issues and offer interviews to winners. We will publish themed pieces in portfolios similar to special issues in our features section.
If you want to write based off a specific contest or feature prompt, great! When you send us your work, make sure to let us know that it’s for the contest or feature so we can properly consider it. Given that contests and features typically have deadlines, whereas our general submissions period does not, we love when writers submit to those categories. We also encourage writers to submit to multiple submission calls simultaneously: you can send us a themed poem for our current contest and two unthemed poems for our general submissions, so long as you let us know what you’re submitting each piece for!
5. Know that there are real people behind any publication
In our case, it’s currently me (Courtney), our prose editor Marriah, and our poetry editor Maheen. I’m a rising sophomore at Kenyon College. Marriah is a recent high school graduate from Iowa. Maheen is seventeen and lives in Al Ain.
I say this for many reasons. Firstly, when you’re rude in a response email, real people are receiving that message. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when you respond positively to our feedback, ask us for extra advice, or thank us for the work we’re doing, we sincerely appreciate it. Secondly, we do our best to timely respond to submissions, but every so often, we may lag behind. Day-to-day responsibilities and our lives independent of Body Without Organs sometimes get in the way. Please be gentle with us (and know you can always send us a query email if it’s been more than three months and you haven’t heard anything. Sometimes those can help spur us along). Thirdly, if we reject your piece and you disagree with our feedback as to why, know our opinions aren’t absolute. They simply reflect our goals for Body Without Organs and our personal literary preferences. Keep writing. Keep sending your writing to publications.
6. Don’t send us offensive work
In line with the above, each of us has our own identities that affect how we read submissions. I have a chronic illness. Maheen is a person of color. All of us are female. All of us are members of the LGBTQ+ community. If you send us pieces that stigmatize members of these or other marginalized groups, we will reject them. We aim to create an accepting, inclusive environment, not perpetuate hatred.
We also prefer not to read submissions with excessive gore or violence, particularly sexual violence. If these elements are absolutely integral to the story and are handled in a sensitive way, we will read them, but please think carefully about your writing. A good example of a story involving sexual assault that we did accept and love is available in our third issue: “Slowly fall shut” by Annie Rossington. Notice that this story does not justify sexual assault or otherwise normalize it. Notice that it focuses mainly on the healing process of the victim, not the mindset of the assailant. Notice that the violence is not gratuitous and that particularly triggering details have been omitted.
Our refusal to engage with offensive material does NOT mean that we reject all pieces grappling with racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, or other discrimination. We love and actively seek work that thoughtfully portrays and challenges injustice. Especially if you yourself are a member of a marginalized community (or several), feel free to send us your work critiquing social structures.
7. Feel free to reach out at any time
If you have any questions that aren’t covered on our website (we have an FAQs section in addition to our submission guidelines) or if you are confused about anything that is on our website, send us an email! We can help you navigate the submissions process.
8. Have fun!
At the end of the day, Body Without Organs is meant to support young writers. We love all our contributors and want to see them succeed in the writing world. Don’t let us or other journals make you feel pressured into writing only certain types of pieces or into dreading sending your work out for publication. We want to see writing that you loved creating, writing that thrills you every time you think of it. That's really our main guideline.