I’m assuming you have some finished products (fiction and/or poetry) that you are happy with and ready to send out. So let’s do that.
This is a completely separate skill-set from writing, but it’s one you should develop. A lot of it is organization and research. Knowing what tools to use really helps.
Keeping tracking of your submissions.
You need a system to keep track of your submissions. You need to know which stories/poems are out where, and how long they’ve been there.
I use a spreadsheet on Google Sheets. I keep all of my stories along one axis, and all the markets along the other axis. When I make a submission, I put the date of submission in the appropriate cell. When I get a form rejection, I put “form” in the cell; if I get specific feedback for the story, I paste that into the cell. (There are other services available for tracking submissions; I like this system because of the flexibility and control it gives me).
This allows me to see at a glance what stories are out where, and how long they’ve been there. I can easily see if a story is sitting idle, in which case I should be thinking about what I want to do with it (whether it needs to be reworked and then submitted somewhere, or just sent somewhere as-is). It is also an archive of past successes and failures.
Here’s the (deliberately blurred) spreadsheet I use, which I include in case it helps to visualize my system:
Next to my stories, I include a word count. Next to the markets, I include notes for that market, including pay, a link to the site, what they’re looking for, and any other important information.
I use color-coding. The pink entries are rejections (you’ll notice there’s quite a few); light green are active submissions; yellow/gold is for acceptances. Bright green on the market listing indicates pro rates. Red on the market listing indicates a closed market. (There’s no need to do any of this color-coding stuff, but I like it.)
If this big chart looks imposing, just remember it is built up over time. You start with one story and one market. You add stories as you complete them, and you add markets as you submit to them.
Being alerted to open submission windows
Often when researching markets you will find submission window openings several months away. It’s impossible to remember all these things, so you need to use an organizational tool.
I use Google calendar to alert me to open submission windows. I put the submission window opening as an event in my calendar, and I get a notification when the window opens up. If I have a suitable story, I can submit it then.
I paste the link to the website for that market in the event information, so I don’t have to track it down again when the market opens up.
Setting these reminders allows me to free up a lot of mental energy.
You need to know the markets.
Ralan.com is a great resource for finding out about anthologies.
Submission grinder is a great resource for searching markets -both poetry and fiction. You should check out the advanced search function, which allows you to narrow your search by genre, length, pay, and other criteria.
The Horror Tree is a good place to find markets for horror and dark speculative fiction.
Poetrymarkets.com is a good resource for researching poetry markets. Here is a ranking of poetry magazines, if you want to submit to markets by order of prestige.
If you happen have Facebook, you can join “open call” groups, so you can get tips that way.
Make sure to carefully read the guidelines for any market you plan to submit to. Not following guidelines is a quick way to get your story rejected. Often, not adhering to guidelines will mean an auto-rejection. Even when it doesn’t get your story auto-rejected, it still looks bad.
Besides the obvious things, like submitting stories that are the right length and genre, you also want to watch out for:
- Formatting. Most places ask for manuscripts submitted in Shunn Standard Manuscript format. Here’s a template you can use if you want (.doc format): @STANDAD_MANUSCRIPT_FORMAT_TEMPLATE
- Font. Annoyingly, despite the implication of “standard manuscript format”, font is not really standard across various markets. It seems like most markets ask for Times New Roman or Courier, but Arial sometimes shows up as well. If a market doesn’t specify, you can safely submit in Times or Courier, but if they do specify a font, then take thirty seconds and change it to suit their preference.
- Anonymity. Standard Manuscript Format includes your name in three places on the document. But some places ask for anonymous manuscripts for the purpose of blind judging. In that case, make a copy of your manuscript and scrub all identifying information. If a market asks for an anonymous manuscript, and you include any identifying information, your submissions will be auto-rejected, guaranteed.
- “No Simultaneous Submissions”. This means that the editor is requesting that you not submit the same manuscript to any other markets while it is under consideration at their market (your story should only be out to this one place). If you ignore this request, you risk burning bridges in a very small community of editors who absolutely talk to each other. Sometimes it can seem unfair to newer authors, who have to sit for long stretches of time while they wait for what is in all likelihood going to be a rejection. If this bothers you, consider markets that allow simultaneous submissions. Also, keep in mind that you are not sitting idle while your story is out, because you should be moving on to writing the next story.
- “Multiple Submissions”. If “multiple submissions” are allowed, this means you can send multiple stories at once to the same market. This is pretty rare. Most markets request that you only have one submission sent to them at a time. Send your best work, then wait for a response.
- Pasted in the e-mail. Some venues ask that you post the work in the body of the e-mail, instead of including an attachment. This is more common for flash markets and poetry markets.
Form Cover Letter
You don’t want to type the same thing a thousand times.
I use a form cover letter, copy and pasted, and changed to suit the specifics of the market.
A cover letter should be really simple. My template looks like this:
To/Dear [The Editors],
Please consider [story title] for publication in [Publication Name].
[line for third person bio (optional)]
[line to address specific guidelines (optional)]
I look forward to hearing from you.
You can find the name of the editor(s) on the website for the market you are planning to submit to.
The bio line, where it appears, might look something like this:
[Your name] writes from [Someplace], where [pronoun] also works as a [profession]. [Pronoun’s] work is featured or forthcoming in [list of publications].
If you don’t have any publications, just don’t mention it. The first sentence of the bio is enough in that case. If you have special experience or expertise relevant to the story, you can mention it.
The “specific guidelines” section might look like this:
As suggested in your guidelines, the poems appear in the body of this e-mail.
Finally, if the guidelines ask you to specify word count, you can do so following the mention of your story’s name:
Please consider [story title] (2000 words) for publication in [Publication Name].
If the guidelines request particular information in the cover letter, make sure to include it wherever it makes sense to do so. (If they ask for a one sentence summary of the story, for example, you can put that in a sentence following the first mention of the story.)
Good luck! I hope you’ve found this guide useful, and I look forward to hearing about your successes with publication!
5 thoughts on “Guide to Submissions (Short Fiction and Poetry)”
Informative and useful. Thank you.
Glad to hear it! Thanks for letting me know!
After three days of scrolling, pasting, deleting, and ignoring, this is the best advice sheet ever. Thank you.