Submission 101

Talented, would-be-published writers tell me all the time that they have finished articles and don’t know where to send them, or that they have short stories collecting dust, or that they don’t think they are good enough to get published.  So, this is for all the writers out there who need some encouragement to send work out, or just need a kick in the ass.  Whichever way you want to look at it, here are some tips to increase your odds of success once you screw up the courage to submit your work.

1. Before you send it out, make sure it’s ready.  Don’t assume an editor will recognize the masterpiece buried under typos and grammatical errors.  There’s too much competition for you to think anyone will take work that’s not the best it can be.

2. Do your research. While you can’t read every magazine and literary journal out there, if you’re serious about being published, you’ll read the ones you’re submitting to.  Every editorial board has preferences for style and material, and the only way to get a feel for what they like is to read them.  You can pick up some from book stores, or you can order back copies from the journal’s website.  You might also check out Cliff Garstang’s blog, Perpetual Folly.  He’s reviewing some of the top journals in his “Year of the Lit Mag” series.

3. Study the submission guidelines for each journal. These guidelines are in addition to the manuscript standards you should already be familiar with – double-spacing, 10 – 12 point font, 1 inch margins, etc.  The guidelines will tell you things like maximum word count, whether or not they accept genres, whether they want snail mail or electronic submissions, and any other particular preferences they might have.  Take these seriously.  Why bother to send a journal a 10,000 word story when they don’t publish anything over 7500 words?  Geek that I am, I have a spreadsheet that lists journals I think might like my work (based on reading dozens), their submission periods, max words counts, how long they take to respond, and tons of other information.

4. Track your submissions. I use my handy-dandy spreadsheet to track when I send a story out, and when I get a response.  Because I also have a column with an expected response date, I can easily track when I need to follow up.  If you’re not as nuts as I am and don’t want to bother making a spreadsheet, check out duotrope. It’s a free and easy-to-use submission tracking website.  Whatever you use, make sure to track submissions.  There’s nothing more embarrassing than sending a story to a journal and realizing later that they’ve already rejected it once.

8. Don’t give up.  Few writers have their stories accepted by the first journal they submit to. If you get a rejection, send the story right out again.  I have a rule to get it back in the mail within 48 hours unless I decide it’s time for a major revision.

All of this takes effort, and lots of writers hate the submission process.  I happen to love it. I love research, and I love spreadsheets.  But more importantly, I love the challenge of finding the right home for my work.  If I really believe in a story, I owe it to that story to do everything I can to get it out into the world and off my desk.

So stop whining and start putting the effort into submissions that you’ve put into your writing.  You’ll increase your odds of getting that “We’d love to publish your story” email we all obsessively watch for.


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