New Author Starter Kit – Submission Prep

If you’re a new author and you want to submit your work to magazines, literary journals, anthologies, contests, and the like, it can seem a daunting process. I mean, where do you submit? How do you submit? A lot of us simply learned by doing, and, of course, experience is often the best teacher. That said, there’s no reason to go into the wilds of submission land completely unprepared.

So, based on my experience, here’s a list of six things you need before you throw your precious word baby on the mercy of the market.

1) Duotrope or The Submission Grinder. These two online market guides and submission trackers are, in my opinion, a must for any new author. Not only do they have a vast, searchable databases of potential markets, they also keep track of your submissions so you don’t have to worry about keeping a spreadsheet (though it’s not a terrible idea to do that anyway). Duotrope is a paid service (at $5.00 a month) and The Submission Grinder is free. There are other good databases out there, and you might track those down later, but Duotrope and The Submission Grinder are, in my opinion, the best places to start.

2) Separate submission email address. I think it’s a good idea to set up a separate email address for your submissions (and then use that email when you set up submission-related accounts like Submittable). This is a do as I say and not as I do kind of thing, as my own email is, uh, kind of a legacy thing that would take a while to explain. So why a separate email? Three reasons.

  • Less chance of losing publisher responses in the spam folder. If your personal email is like mine, you probably get a shit-ton of junk mail. I’m pretty diligent about checking my spam folder, but if you have a dedicated email address just for submissions, you’ll get less junk, and you can cut way, way down on the chance of missing a publisher response if your spam folder eats it.
  • Professional presentation. That personal email you’ve had since college, you know, buds_and_beers@aol.com, may not be the first impression you want to make with a publisher. So you might want to set up an email address that is a little more writerly, probably just your name. If you have a very common name, try something like John_Smith_Writes or John_Smith_Author. Is a publisher gonna reject you because of an email address? Very, very unlikely unless it’s outright offensive, but, hey, best foot forward and all that.
  • Mental health. So, here’s the thing, you’re gonna get rejected, like, a lot, and if those rejections show up somewhere other than your personal email you check all the damn time, those rejections might be a little easier to handle. If you can choose when to deal with rejections because they’re safely locked away in your submission email address, I think you’ll be better off, especially at first.

3) Submittable account. Not every publisher accepts submissions through email, and it’s becoming a lot more common for publishers to use submission management software. The most common is Submittable, and I would urge you to just set up an account right away. It’s free, and it’s one less thing you have to think about when you’re agonizing over which story to send to a publisher. There are a few other submission managers, but they either don’t require an author account or they’re not common enough yet to worry about right off the bat.

4) Shunn Standard Manuscript format. Most publishers are going to ask you to format your manuscript in something called standard or Shunn Standard Manuscript format (sometimes simply called standard manuscript format), and you should get familiar with it right away. In fact, if you know how to use MS Word, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to set up a template so you don’t have to mess with all the formatting for every manuscript. Some publishers want slight variations of the format, most often with how things like italics are treated, but this is the most common format for short story submissions. In fact, if a publisher doesn’t mention manuscript format in their guidelines, I just send it in standard.

5) Cover Letter template. When you send a submission, you’ll need some kind of cover letter. It should be simple and short. Generally, the publisher wants to see the story title, the approximate word length, and any publications credits you might have. Here’s the template I use:

Dear Editors,

Please consider my short story [Story Name] for publication at [Publisher Name]. The story is approximately [# of words] words in length. My short fiction has recently appeared in [Market 1], [Market 2], and [Market 3].

Best,

Name (byline)
Address
Email

If you don’t have any publication credits yet, just leave that part off. It’s a perfectly serviceable cover letter without it. For more info on the component parts of this cover letter, check out this post: Back to Basics: The Cover Letter.

6) Know your rights. One thing you should definitely understand before you send your work to a market is what happens if they accept said work. By that I mean what rights they acquire. Many publishers put this information in their guidelines. This article, “Rights: What They Mean and Why They’re Important,” at Writing-World.com by Marg Gilks has good explanations of the rights publishers often look to acquire (and you can find a bunch more with a quick Google search). As a genre author, I think the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) model contract is another great resource for authors of all types and experience levels. This contract is meant to be fair to both authors and publishers, and I would recommend referring to it when you need to know what is generally considered standard in the industry (and what isn’t).

I’ll also add the websites for the various writer organizations are a great source of info about the industry, and there’s one for just about every genre: HWA (Horror Writers Association), MWA (Mystery Writers of America), RWA (Romance Writers of America), and the aforementioned SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America).


Of course, this list doesn’t encompass everything you might need for submissions, but like the contents of any good starter kit, these are things I think you’ll need right away and most often. In the second part of this short series, we’ll get all inspirational and stuff, and I’ll break down what you need for that first acceptance. So check back soon for New Author Starter Kit – Acceptance Prep.

Did I leave anything out of the starter kit? Let me know in the comments.

3 thoughts on “New Author Starter Kit – Submission Prep

  1. I might add a Follow-Up Letter Template and a Withdrawal Letter Template. When a publication doesn’t respond in a reasonable amount of time, which will vary depending on the publication and their stated or known response times, you may need to send a follow-up letter questioning the status of your submission. Make them brief, polite, and to the point.

    Follow-Up Letter:

    Dear Editor,

    I submitted [Story Name] on [Date Submitted] and have heard nothing from you since then. Your guidelines note that you usually reply within six weeks and it’s now been twelve weeks, so I’m wondering if the story is still under consideration.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Signature

    Withdrawal Letter:

    Dear Editor,

    I submitted [Story Name] on [Date Submitted] and sent a follow-up on [Date Sent]. Because I have not heard from you, I presume the story did not meet your needs and will feel free to submit it elsewhere.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Signature

    Or you may combine both into a single letter, as I usually do:

    Dear Editor,

    I submitted [Story Name] on [Date Submitted] and have heard nothing from you since then. Your guidelines note that you usually reply within six weeks and it’s now been twelve weeks, so I’m wondering if the story is still under consideration. If I have not heard from you by [Date Approx. four weeks in the future], I will presume my story was not suitable and will feel free to submit it elsewhere.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Signature

    In a perfect world, you’ll never need to use any of these letters.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Post #24 – Submission Guidelines | Jason E. Maddux

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