On the Outs accepts unsolicited submissions from anyone (in or out of custody). Before sending us a submission, please review our Submission Guidelines.
What We’re Looking For
We are open to all kinds of material, including articles for the various sections of our publication. Each section is described below.
Behind the Wall: These are submissions that deal with some aspect of being incarcerated. They can be written by someone who’s currently in custody or on the outside. Whatever the specific topic, the focus should be positive. Articles about overcoming a negative mindset, “Aha!” moments that have changed the way you think about something, ways to be productive, interesting recipes using commissary items, poetry, and short stories are all acceptable.
Education & Employment: This section is for any content that deals with education, from getting a GED to community college and university. Technical and vocational schools can be covered, as well. This is also the section for articles about finding, applying for (resume creation, interviews), and keeping a job.
Health & Wellness: This section is for content about all aspects of health and wellness, including physical, mental, emotional, and social health. Content about nutrition, preventive care, hygiene, self-help, personal growth and personal development can all be printed in here.
Lifestyle: This is a catch-all category that includes entertainment, sports, finances, humor, life skills, and family. Just about anything that doesn’t neatly fit into one of the other sections can go in this section. Examples include articles about music, book reviews, comic strips, How-to articles, artwork (we know there are a lot of artists out there), and poetry.
Features: The Features section is primarily for our staff and special guest contributors. Some of the Features articles are syndicated or reprinted from other sources.
News: Like the Features section, News articles are generally syndicated or reprinted from other sources, though we may occasional draft a short news article about something related to reentry and relevant to our readers.
We won’t accept any material that “by its nature or content poses a threat or is detrimental to the security, safety, health, good order or discipline of a correctional facility, inmate rehabilitation, or facilitates criminal activity.” This includes any material that contains, glorifies, advocates or promotes any of the following:
- Codes, symbols or runes
- Content deemed “contraband” by a correctional facility
- Criminal activity
- Domestic violence
- Explicit sexual activity
- Graphic violence
- Hate speech
- Overthrow of the U.S. government
- Substance misuse (alcohol or drugs)
- Symbols or indicia representing gangs (aka prison gangs, security threat groups)
- Violence against any peace officer, correctional officer or judicial officer.
- Violence against any elected official
How to Prepare Your Work
Now that you have an idea what we want and what we don’t want, how should you write it?
Electronic File: The ideal submission is one that’s in an MS Word (.doc or .docx) file or a plain ASCII text (.txt) file. These submissions stand the best chance of being accepted for publication, simply because they require the least amount of work to be plugged into the software we use. If you have access to a computer, use it. If you don’t consider sending your material to someone who does and ask them to type it up for you.
Printed sheet: If you have access to a computer to type up your material but you don’t have a means to send us the file, you can print it out and send it to us by mail. It’s still easier for us to scan a “typed” article and use OCR to extract the text than it is to have to transcribe a hand-written article. These submissions stand a decent chance of being accepted for publication.
Speaking of hand-written… We understand that not everyone has access to a computer. It’s all good. Use what you have. We’ll review any submission that comes in as long as it’s legible. If all you have is a pencil and a re-used piece of paper, use that. We’re going to keep it 100, though. Hand-written submissions stand the least chance of being accepted for publication. But, we will still review them. Good writing is good writing, whether it’s in a Word document or written in pencil on toilet paper!
How Long Should it Be?
We use 11 point Times New Roman for the main body text of On the Outs. At that size, using our current 5-column layout, about 20 words per column inch. A full column (16 inches tall) holds approximately 320 words.
As a general rule, submissions should be 250 to 1,000 words long, with 250-word breakpoints. In other words, if you’re going to submit something to us, the word count you should be aiming for are 250, 500, 750 or 1,000. It’s okay if you are a little short or a little long. We have a little wiggle room with the layout. Below are illustrations of how much space words take up on the page.
The image below shows a sample half-page article, with a photo and headline. The word count for that article is 497 words. A 500-word article is an ideal size for a half-page article, as you can see.
The next image shows a full page article, with a couple of photos and a headline, plus a quarter-page advertisement on the page (we have to pay for printing these things, remember). The word count for this article is 846 words.
Sample Words Counts
Short article: 250
Half-page article: 500
Feature Article: 900
Short story: 750-1,000*
* Exceptionally good stories longer than 1,000 words (up to 6,000 words) may be serialized. That means it is printed a bit at a time over a number of consecutive issues.
What About Art?
If you’re submitting art, whether it’s an amazing pencil sketch or a satirical comic strip, our preference is to receive it in a digital file. A high-resolution .jpeg or .tiff file, at 300 dpi, is best. You can attach the file via our online submission or to an email.
If you don’t have a scanner, you can send us your hard-copy. We prefer not to have the original work unless it’s absolutely necessary. If it’s clean line art, sending us a sharp photocopy is okay. If you do send us an original work that you want back, make sure to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope with your submission.
Payment to Contributors
On the Outs is published by a nonprofit organization. We do not charge readers for the publication (unless they choose to subscribe), nor do we charge a fee for unsolicited submissions. By the same token, we don’t pay for unsolicited submissions that we accept for publication.
We do, however, pay special guest contributors and certain syndicated content providers. If we contact a contributor and ask them to submit material on a regular basis, we will pay them for the work. The rate will vary, depending on their experience and our budget, but typically between 5 cents and 10 cents a word. Payment to artists is negotiated on a per-piece basis.
If the contributor is in custody, the fee will either be put on their books or sent to the facility in the form of a cashier’s check (money order) to be put on their account.
How to Send Us Your Submission
There are three ways to send us your submission: 1) using our online form, 2) emailed with a PDF copy of a signed Submission Form and your submission attached, or 3) mailed to us with a printed and signed Submission Form.
Online Submissions: To send us your submission electronically, click here or click on the button below:
E-Mail Submissions: You can also send your submission via e-mail. Simply follow the instructions above to complete and sign a Submission Form. Then attach your submission file and digitally signed form in an email to:
Postal Mail Submissions: Submissions sent in via U.S. Postal Service delivery must be accompanied by a signed Submission Form. Click the link to download a PDF copy of the form. You can fill it out on your computer and print it out. You can sign it digitally or manually.
Mail your submission and signed Submission Form to:
On the Outs
PO Box 582155
Elk Grove, CA 95758
You can also mail a blank Submission Form to someone in custody!
We do not, as a rule, respond to every unsolicited submission. With the number of submissions we can receive, it would take the majority of our time to simply reply to everyone who sent us something to review. We understand that some of you may want some sort of acknowledgment of receipt, however. Here’s how to get that.
Electronic Submissions: If you send us your submission via our online form, you will receive an automatic acknowledgment that it was received. If we receive your submission via email, we will send you a short reply email letting you know it was received.
Snail mail: If you want an acknowledgment or receipt for your mailed submission, we recommend sending it via a means that tracks delivery or requires a signature.
Return of Mailed Submissions
We understand that writing can take a while. If you mail us the only hardcopy of your work and you’d like it returned to you (whether we accept it or not), you must include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) large enough and with sufficient postage to return your material to you.
Please note: We will not forward your mail to any third party, period. If you do not enclose a SASE, your submission may be discarded after review.