In one of my many previous incarnations, I was a fine art major. I spent more hours of my life than you can imagine sitting in a large, open studio with cracked windows and creaking wood floors, perched on a metal stool, looking at seas of drawings, paintings, and prints. We would sweat in those old studios summer and winter alike, always after a seat near the floor to ceiling windows that were drafty and let bites of fresh air in. Nearly each day there was a critique and for the young, eager artists with wide eyes and big dreams, crits cut. My first day, drawing 101, my professor, David, asked the class to raise their hands if they'd taken drawing in high school. Nearly all of us raised our hands. He continued, "How many of you were one of the 'top' in your drawing class?" Our hands stayed in the air. All of them. "Look around. You're a small fish now." I think 30 hearts broke that day. He drove salt into our fresh wounds by having us draw apples every single day for the entire semester. Every day we would crit, and every day he would trash my apples. I had graduated early from high school and was still only 17 during my first semester of college. I didn't see it through then, because I didn't have grit, I didn't have self-esteem, I didn't have hindsight.
Many years later, I returned to those familiar studios with a baby girl in tow most days. I found myself cornered into one of David's classes once again and I shuttered at the thought. Fortunately, I was also taking a class headed by one of David's long-time friends, Mark. Mark was the complete opposite of David as a professor and rather than slicing us all down at the knee, he opened his first crit by addressing a singular truth for artists. He said, "When we critique your work, we are not critiquing you. You made a thing, you are not the thing. Please don't take what is said here personally."
I tell you all of this because the same can be said for every creative endeavor, including knitwear design. When you submit designs for publication, you may feel exposed, but the decision made by the editors is not a reflection on how they see you or feel about you - it may not even be a refection of how they feel about your design! When editors are putting together a collection, they are getting proposals from many, many designers - they then need to determine which designs are going to fit in best with their theme (there's almost always a theme), the designs should probably work well together, and maybe there are two that are very similar and one is just not going to make the cut because of it. Perhaps your design is a bit to advanced for their audience! When you hear "no" they're usually just saying, "not for this collection".
I can be here now, because I was sitting at the dining room table with my husband not so long ago, crying real tears because I was afraid - still - of the critique, I was afraid of the no, I was feeling exposed and vulnerable, so I understand. My guy, the ever gentile, told me that if this is what I want to do, then I'd better put on my big girl panties and get to it. I did. And my first design submission ended up being accepted and gracing of the cover of Interweave Knits. Don't get me wrong though, I've had the no's come rolling in, but I kept Mark's words close to my chest and let it go, moved on to the next, and found some success.
SO, you're ready to get in there, game face on and hyped, right? How do you submit? Honestly, the first thing I did when I was trying to answer that question for myself was google, duh. I just started searching "knitting pattern design submissions" or "knitting call for submissions" and a fair amount began popping up. Creative Knitting, Interweave, Pom Pom Quarterly, Knitty, etc all have pretty good, clear, open calls for submissions and you'll be able to find their individual submission requirements pretty easily. Check Knit Picks, too. They not only have calls for their collections, you can also submit designs for their Independent Designer Program (IDP) where you will receive yarn support and they will post your pattern on their website, but you're responsible for editing and photos. It's a great toe-dip into the arena though. Ravelry, of course, is another great place to test out some of your patterns but, again, you're responsible for everything from yarn to editing to pictures.
If you decide to try self-publishing first, do not follow in my foot steps and trust that your knitting friends are going to be good enough editors. Unless they're actually knitting editors, they're probably not going to cut it. Investing in an actual, real deal editor is probably the opposite of what you're wanting to do (spend money rather than make it) but in the long run, it's a must. Again, google is your friend. Search for knitting editors and read all of their information carefully - most will have prices listed on their websites. If they don't have pricing, everyone I've ever worked with has been great about discussing my specific needs via email. Many of these tech editors will offer comprehensive support including formatting, consistent wording/abbreviations, and even schematics. Of course, the more work your pattern needs, the more services you're looking for, and the more time it takes to edit is going to impact how much your cost is going to be. I try to send a very clean pattern to my editor with no formatting or verbiage issues because I need a set of eyes on numbers - that's always my end goal. A good editor will also catch any wording that may be confusing and give some recommendations for alternative instructions. Because I do the work first, my end cost is extremely low.
Now, later on I'll provide some useful links in regard to pattern styles, but for now I'm still focused on submissions. Pattern styling is something that evolves over time and something you can fine-tune as you settle into your design voice, but submissions are much more sterile. As I mentioned above, each publication is going to have specific requirements about what information and how much of it they need. The majority do not want actual patterns or partial patterns - they don't want something you've tried to self-publish already - they want to see a snapshot of your vision. Most submissions should include a brief description of the piece along with construction, yarn ideas, a designer bio, your Ravelry username/link to your website, your address, phone number, email, a sketch (as detailed as you can make it) and a generous swatch. Some will also want a sample schematic and your inspiration. The catch is that many editors only want single page submissions - others only accept mailed in submissions with all of the swatches, sketches, etc in the package. If you fail to submit according to the guidelines, a real show-stopper will be denied on technicality.
So, get out there! Start researching yarn companies, magazines, and online sources that accept submissions. Check out how much they pay out and if you can sign up for call alert emails. Then, put on your big girl (or boy) panties and start submitting. Really.