I set a goal for 2016. That I would submit four times. I don’t remember when I set this goal, I think when I got my Spark Notebook. (Side note: these are great planners for those who love to plan but aren’t into the whole planner decorating movement. If you are, that’s great, but this is not the planner for you) That said, I have started submitting. I’m doing the Flash Fiction contest and I’m counting what I’ve done so far as two submissions since they get judged. I’m also doing the Yeah Write Super Challenge #2 — so that’s #3. If I make it to Round 3 of NYCMidnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge (cautious optimism cautiously in effect!) that will be #4. But, because I like to be prepared I’ve also started working through The Candlestick and Still Life No More on Scribophile with the goal of submitting each for publication.
Submitting? Yes. It’s time to start up again. I took a year to get through “re-enty”, which is a real thing — talk to anyone who has gone through a major transition in life — and have been getting on the ball with writing. But it’s not just about producing fiction for contests and then letting them sit. No. It’s about producing fiction, getting feedback, editing, polishing and then putting them out into the world.
So, how do you do that? For those who haven’t done much by way of submitting, I’m going to share my tips and how I do it/what I think about — there are many ways and resources on the internet and at your local library for different ways. Please share yours in the comments!
Submitting Short Fiction
Unlike novel-writing, one doesn’t need an agent to get their short fiction published*. To get short fiction published the method involves three things: staying organized, knowing how to follow directions, and being disciplined.
Organizing Your Submissions
There are a few things that go into organizing your submissions. You can find much more thorough information on the internet but here are some basics.
What To Submit Where, When, and How
Publications range from hyper-specific (flash fiction about strong women in space) to general (any unpublished poems or fiction from 1-5000 words). When organizing make sure you keep a record of each publication you’re thinking of, what they are seeking, when they accept (in February? all year? only when explicitly marked?) and the method of submission. Some places only take email, others snail mail. Many publications now use Submittable. Submittable is awesome because it will keep track of your submissions, the outcome, and all of the communications related to each piece.
Not all publications use submittable so you can also create a spreadsheet to track submissions. Actually, I’ve made one for you (please download rather than use this blank one to track your submissions) that you can use as is or alter to fit your needs. If you create a new version please share with everyone in the comments!
While I’m all for spreadsheets, I pay for a subscription to Duotrope. I do this for a few reasons. First, I can search for places to submit, submit, and track my submissions all from Duotrope (nice and easy!) but they also monitor users’ updates about response times and constantly update publication pages with information on acceptance rates, etc. This is a great feature and worth the money.
Follow The Rules and Directions
The hardest part of submitting short fiction is the fact that it is a waiting game with rules that would drive the most chill person crazy. Here’s what you should look for for each publication
- How to submit (mail, electronic, carrier pigeon, dead drop). If mail do you send a SASE? How many copies? If electronic is there a time to submit? Does the pigeon have to be male? Can he have a foreign sounding name or must he have simply a number?
- Formatting. Study the formatting guidelines to the tee. I recommend having a super anal retentive friend proof your submission only for formatting. Font size, font type, spacing, margins, file type, header/footer setup, word count, page numbers (where, how?), cover page rules, file naming…
- Everything else. Read all of the fine print. Find that friend from #2 and have him do it, too.
- Timelines and querying information. I’ll get into this in the next section but be sure to track and keep a post it in plain site regarding their anticipated response times for receipt and acceptance/rejection as well as if they note when it’s okay to send a query. In this case, a query is a short, polite message asking for an update. Do not, under any circumstance, query prior to the publication’s advised timeline for this.
- Don’t get creative with submissions. If you write creative non-fiction aimed at the second coming-of-age (think “new adult”) but love to read a publication that prints sci-fi, do not submit there. I read all kinds of things but when it comes to submitting you have to match the piece with the publication.
- Previously published.
SomeMost places do not want work that is previously published. Most publications think of stories posted on blogs as “previously published”. So if you’re going to share writing for the purpose of sharing with friends/followers or for feedback do so in a way that is password or link protected.
- Simultaneous submissions. Most publications want to be the first (See above) to carry your work and will expect certain rights to your piece for at least a year. This means that many places do not allow simultaneous submissions — you can submit a work to them that is not currently being considered elsewhere. One of the many ways to piss off editors is to submit something in multiple places and then have to send an email saying, “This got accepted elsewhere.” — it shouldn’t have. Because they don’t accept simultaneous submissions. Read each publication’s guidelines very carefully. Duotrope posts a nice summary that includes whether publications accept simultaneously submitted (those that do will expect you to withdraw your other submissions if they accept you) and previously published works.
Rules not for you? Think it would be clever to submit something totally outside of a publication’s scope? Avoid doing this. Why? You won’t be taken seriously. And editors talk. You could also get blacklisted from the publication for wasting their time. Don’t waste their time or your own submitting things that don’t work.
Submitting is brutal. I get that. Believe me, I get that. In fact, I have a submittable with all rejections to prove that I get it. That said, you’ve GOT to stay disciplined. And a lot of staying disciplined has to do with the emotional rollercoaster that comes with submitting. Here are some tips.
- Follow the timelines. This goes with #4 above. Do not query before they recommend. Do not! And don’t submit late. It makes you look bad. Just save the piece for the next cycle.
- Do not send a thank you after getting a rejection. I was raised by a woman who believes that you always send a thank you note. I always send a thank you note. It makes my husband insane. I recently sent a thank you note to friends we stayed with on the first half of a trip from the place we were staying during the second half. I’m that brainwashed when it comes to thank you notes. I’m surprised we weren’t forced to send thank you notes for thank you notes. When you send a submission you write as little as possible (it’s not like writing a query letter for an agent). When you get rejected you chalk up the experience. Do not waste editors times with a thank you. And, for the sake of all that is holy…
- Do not make your case. Possibly worse than a thank you (do not use this as justification for sending a thank you): trying to lobby/sway/convince/change the mind of editors. Don’t do it. They said no and no means no and you need to just leave it. Hard to do? Send out more. After a while you’ll be sending so many and getting so many rejections that the idea of responding to them will be exhausting. If you get the urge, sit down and write something else.
- Don’t talk
shitabout publications and/or submissions. Don’t do anything that could be construed as talking shit about publications. In fact, don’t share where you’re submitting and getting rejected from. Just share when you get accepted and be gracious as fuck. Editors talk, people see your tweets, people drop into your blog. Don’t do something stupid.
- Keep submitting. Think of Finding Nemo and just keep submitting. You’re going to get tons of rejections. And each one is going to make you more determined, and one more step closer to publications. Just make sure you follow each publication’s rules each time — and check every time in case they change.
Submitting is not easy. But we all need to do it. Share your tips to newer submitters in the comments!
*Okay, one doesn’t need an agent to get a novel published however I like the brutality of traditional publishing so I’m probably not going to ever get into self-publishing on this blog. There are a LOT of great resources on self-publishing out there.