Submissions, the most intellectual form of begging you will ever undertake

Okay, so you wrote an amazing story/short story/poem/flash fiction or whatever, and are now looking for a way to share it with the world. Where do you go? How do you find the perfect platform for your writing? How on Earth do you convince them to accept your work? These are probably some of the questions running around your head as the inevitable butterflies of crippling anxiety are fluttering around in your belly.

Submitting your work anywhere is a difficult process, and for me the most difficult part was to find the confidence to even try. Most people don’t automatically see themselves as marketable writers, and that giant leap that they take to reach out to publishers involves a lot of trust and overcoming a natural hesitation to expose yourself to possible rejection.

As artists of the written word, writers believe in and love their work; it’s our baby. So before I say anything else about the process of reaching publication let me say this: If you are reading this and trying to get your first piece published anywhere, well done. You are already courageous and are on the right track!

Unfortunately, you having found the courage to publish is not enough to get you on paper (or electronic publishing, welcome to the 21st century!). This is a tough industry, whether you are looking to publish a novel or any other format, you will need to work hard on it. There is an abundance of talented writers out there in the world, so you need to be the perfect match for your publisher. Let me illustrate a few points on this process:

  • Depending on your genre (novel, poetry, short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction, etc.) there will be different forms of publishing. Find out what is the best for you. It might even be that self-publishing is the best answer for you, do your research. There are a lot of online sources that outline popular publishers for different genres, for instance there are blog articles that provide names and links of magazines publishing short stories (e.g. The Write Life), or something like Journeywards for novelists, or when in doubt, google it.
  • Once you picked a publisher (according to what they say they usually publish) don’t just assume they’re right for you, research them further, look at their recent publications and see if it’s similar stuff to what you are writing. Also, check that they “legitimate”. By this I simply mean that there are some publishers out there that demand a fee from the author for them to even be considered for publication. By this I don’t mean a 3 to 5 dollars submission fee, which is fair enough, I mean a substantial reading and/or publication fee of more than a few hundred dollars.
  • If this is a novel, which you are trying to publish, look at what extra help the publisher is offering in the way of marketing. This is a big thing that most writers tend to either neglect, or they just don’t know enough about. Even if the marketing option costs you something, it’s better than having no marketing at all.
  • Take a good long read of the submission guidelines. Many publishers and magazines simply ignore submissions which do not follow the guidelines. Pay special attention to how much time they need to review submissions and make sure you document when you sent what to whom.
  • If you follow a good system of keeping track of your submissions you’d be able to find several publishers to send your material to and not step on anyone’s toes. Keep in mind which publishers allow for simultaneous submissions and which don’t and organize yourself accordingly.
  • Formulate a (pardon my language) kickass cover letter. Make it individual for every publisher, don’t fall into the trap of a standardized letter where you just change the names and a few details. The publisher wants to know why you’re a perfect match for THEM. Find something that connects you to them like having loved one of their books, a recurring theme in their published works, geographical affinity, anything.

These are just some points for the pre-submission stage. I’ll be back with some tips on dealing with publishers after the submission has already taken place.

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