It goes like this: Five years ago I opened my email to find a response from the first literary journal I submitted to. It was terrifying and exhilarating. It was mysterious. It gave me the worst gut-busting anxiety I ever felt. I opened the email and it read:
“Dear Author, (already a troublesome sign)
Thank you for submitting your work to Asimov. Unfortunately . . .”
It would be the first of many.
Over the years I’ve learned a lot about proper publishing etiquette, and although it’s guaranteed your writing will be rejected at times, these five and half tips have also brought me a load of success. They work both for novel length works as well as short stories, poems, essays, and so on. These tips are simple, but they are issues that I see time and time again.
Here is what I’ve learned from submitting over the years, and what we’ve seen come our way here at From Sac.
1. RE-READ YOUR WORK
I can’t tell you how many pieces I’ve read over after submitting and found typos in spelling, misused words, and punctuation. It’s ridiculous. Please, read over your work.
Don’t read it just once, try two or three times. Try reading it out loud. You’d be surprised how your writing changes when you hear how your words sound together. As a writer, intellectually polysyllabic words are fun to use, especially when you can get a string of them together to form a complex sentence. Try reading that sentence out loud and see what happens. More often than not, you’ll end up changing it.
Have someone else read over your work if you can. Your eyes will miss your mistakes, because they made them in the first place. You will miss things like ‘frist’ instead of ‘first’, for example—we’re all mildly dyslexic some times. Plus, having more eyes will make your story better in plot and character.
2. READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES, CAREFULLY
I cannot stress this enough. Every independent press and literary journal has their own set of submission guidelines. Some are vague (which makes submitting easy because you can basically get away with whatever you want), while others have very specific requirements for submitting. You need to read every single word of the submission guidelines if you want any remote chance of getting published. Most publishers will not read your work if you don’t submit correctly. This includes, but is not limited to:
There is a standard publishing format that, although somewhat archaic and structured around the use of typewriters, is still used by most publishers. Check out this essay that does a great job explaining how to format a manuscript for submitting to a publisher.
For example: at From Sac we have a very specific requirement: we do not accept submissions when authors divulge previous publishing histories. We do not care where you have been published; a piece of writing needs to be able to stand on its own, apart from other works previous to it. Other publishers will have similar specifications that could easily eliminate your writing from publication without your story or poem ever being read. Pay attention to these guidelines, and you will have a much easier time getting published.
3. KNOW WHAT THE PRESS/JOURNAL PUBLISHES
It sounds like a ploy to get you to buy their books, but I promise it’s not (most of the time). Here’s the thing: if publishing presses and literary journals are to continue doing what they do, they need money. Peeps got to eat. Because of that, most publishers do not have free examples of work published by them, because that is how they make their money.
With that said, in order for you as a writer to know what a publisher likes, you really need to read what they publish. Often literary journals will provide an editor’s explanation about what they are looking for in a piece of writing, but that doesn’t really cut it. You can’t get a full feel for a journal or press without actually reading what they publish. Ninety percent of all my rejects, I believe, are because I didn’t read what that specific journal publishes. I usually get the standard response: “Thank you for sending us "Title." We enjoyed the piece, but feel it really isn't a good fit for our aesthetic. Thanks again. Best of luck with this.”
If you expect a publisher to publish your work, but you don’t support them as a press as well as their authors, then don’t expect them to support you.
4. SUBMIT EVERYWHERE
You can’t be picky, especially when you are first starting to submit. There are thousands of presses and literary journals just in the U.S. alone, not to mention all the other countries that have their hundreds and thousands of journals and presses looking for good writing to add to their canon.
There are two ways to do this:
5. GET USED TO REJECTION
You will be rejected. All. The. Time. That is just the way the game goes. Whether amateur or expert, rejection is part of publishing. The test of a true writer is one that trudges through the countless rejects until that majestic moment when a story or poem gets accepted for publication.
Keep submitting, keep submitting, keep submitting. Like I said, rejections will happen. It’s a fact of writing life. But remember that it’s all about timing. You and the publisher have to fit each others' needs.
Also, if a piece keeps getting rejected, go back and reread it a few times, chances are it may need some more editing attention.
5.5 WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE
Most importantly, write what you enjoy writing. DO NOT write what you think people want to read, or what you think people want to publish, write what YOU like to read, and what YOU would publish. Chances are there is a publisher out there who likes what you like.
Lastly, remember that it is extremely obvious when a writer writes for someone or something else, rather than writing what they love. Don’t waste your time writing for others. Write your heart out.