A Note on Submissions: What We Look For & What We Decline

One of the most common questions we’ve heard is, “What are you looking for when reading submissions?”

The quick answer: our tastes are eclectic. We love pieces that show passion and vulnerability, that play with language and metaphor, and that exemplify high-quality writing.

But we also know that this isn’t quite the satisfying answer writers are looking for. There’s a question behind the question, which is, what makes us turn down a submission?

At Out Loud, we are always filled with angst when it comes time to send declines. As writers and artists ourselves, we know how much work and effort goes into putting that poem or story or essay out in the world. The last thing we want to do is to cause someone who has been through all of that to feel discouraged or not good enough.

But the inevitable fact remains: with each reading, we receive more and more submissions, and must send out more and more declines.

What’s behind those declines?

The answer, we fear, is also not satisfying: we decline pieces for different reasons every single time.

First, there’s the math: we only have space to feature 10 or so writers at each reading, and that number must be somewhat evenly distributed between poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. That means we can only accept 3-4 submissions per genre.

Of those acceptances, we’re looking for a diversity of voices, subjects, and styles. We make our decisions not only based on what is “strongest” (which, we admit, is entirely subjective) but by what is thematically compatible with other pieces. We like to think of each reading as a symphony of voices; each one should shine individually, and when taken together, they should make a beautiful song.

Some of the things we DO look for in our submissions pool:

  • A sense of humor is always appreciated, and difficult to pull off—we are always delighted to read your humorous poems, essays, and stories, as doing so reminds us not to take things so darn seriously.

  • Pieces that remind us of the infinite power of the imagination.

  • Work that takes an unflinching look at its subject, that doesn’t shy away from complexity.

  • Writing that tumbles headlong into difficult questions rather than striving for easy answers.

  • We love writing that utilizes the micro as a lens for the macro—the specifics that illuminate the universal.

  • Thoughts that niggle into our brains and make us see the world a little differently than we did before, that expand our perspective, that make us more empathetic human beings.

  • Surprise us! We don’t strive for a singular aesthetic, and love behind challenged to try out new styles and approaches to writing.

And, some things we immediately turn down:

  • Anything including overly gratuitous violence

  • Racism, sexism, trans/homophobia, or general hatred

  • Pieces that have not been carefully edited

  • Pieces that go far beyond our 5-minute/~700 word limit

Still wondering what to send? We encourage you to revisit Émile Zola’s quote that inspired our name:

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live OUT LOUD.”

So send us your writing that begs to read OUT LOUD.

And, if you received a decline from us, please submit again! We love seeing familiar names in our inbox and believe that persistence pays off.

We look forward to reading your work!