Behind the curtain; The Submission Process

11 Mar

For new and upcoming writers, I’ve decided to blog on what I do to submit a story, my process.

This starts out with the assumption that you already have one (or more) story to submit. You may have just finished it, but don’t worry. I’ll be covering all the steps you should take BEFORE you send it off into submission.

Step 1 – Identify the correct market, and that it’s open.
I’m a science fiction writer, so there’s no point in my sending out my stories to romance publishers. It’s the SF markets for this guy. Places like F&SF, Analog, Apex, Clarkesworld, and today it’s Stupefying Stories. All markets state on their webpage if they are open for subs or when they will next open. Only submit if they are open!

Terms that might initially confuse you:- Multiple submissions, Simultaneous submissions.
Multiple submission simply means you can’t send the market more than 1 story at once.
Simultaneous submission means you can’t send the story to more than 1 place at a time.

Step 2 – Check preferred length and payment.
Some markets want flash fiction (normally up to 1000 words) but the bigger fish want longer stories. Generally the cut off is between 8-10,000 words. Check the submission guidelines to see what’s too long for your specific submission market. In order to do this, I had use timetravel (The Wayback Machine).
Ensure you know what the market are going to pay for your story if they buy it. I won’t submit to anywhere that charges a reading fee, I advise you to do likewise.

Step 3 – Proof, Format & Word Count.
This can be a long step for some new writers, you might not know how to use certain features on your word processing software. Learn, and learn fast. You’ll be doing this a lot once you choose to start submitting stories, hopefully it’ll become second nature soon and you’ll be able to move through this stage more quickly in the future.

What is Proofing?
Put simply, it’s making sure you’ve removed all the spelling and grammar mistakes from your story.
Your brain is a bastard! Trust me on this, I shit you not. The human brain will read over mistakes, insert words that are missing, and ignore words you’ve written twice. This is why you always proof your work. Spell checking on a word processor IS NOT ENOUGH! Use text to speech software.

A program will read exactly what you’ve written, as you wrote it. It’s also an excellent way to pick up if you’ve put commas in the wrong place or need to add them. Personally I use this place, it’s free and you can download the mp3 of your story to play it back as you read along, obviously it means you can pause it when you need to fix stuff.

I might do several passes through this to make sure the story is fully checked before moving on.

What is Formatting?
In the submission guidelines, you should see how the market want the story to be presented on the page. Most places ask for Standard Manuscript Format.

An example of the industry standard can be found here:-

All this means is they want double line spacing, italics underlined (and not in italics, unless otherwise stated), your address details and word count at the top on the first page and your surname, story title & page number in the header. And for the story to be in a 12 point font, generally Times New Roman or Courier.

Always check EXACTLY what format is being asked for and follow it. Seriously, markets can & will reject you at this stage for not following their format needs. If you aren’t sure how to change line spacing, Google is your friend.

How Do You Get A Word Count?
Do not rely on your word processing software for a correct or accurate word count. EVER. This place is probably the best site online, and it’s free. Don’t count your name, title or THE END. Just count the actual story text.

Step 4 – The Submission
These can be done in several ways, many markets have their own online forms you can fill in, others ask you to email the story to them. Read whatever instructions you are given and follow them. Here I am emailing my story.

Most places will say what they’d like in an email subject line. If not just put Submission, Fiction, Story Title/Your Surname.

Remember to attach the story to the email!

In the email, say who you are sending it to (Dear Editor, if you can find their first name use it, but you don’t have to!), say what you are sending (please find attached my story “Bob Meets a Dog”), say how long it is (1900 words) and if they ask you to describe it, try to do that in as few words as possible (It’s a wry look at the interaction between species).

If you’ve any publication credits, list the best here, no more than 3 or 4. If not, add your legal full name, your address, your email address, where they can send paypal to if it’s not the same email and a short (100 words max) biography about you.

Then close with a formality. I generally use this:-I hope you like my story.

Remember to attach the story to the email!

I’m saying it twice because it’s important, and an easy stage to miss. And you’ll feel a right fool sending someone a submission email with nothing attached.
If you’ve checked that your story is attached, you can now send your email.

The following step isn’t mandatory, but it is good practise if you intend to submit often.

Step 5 – Keep your own records
For me, it’s good to know what stories are out, where, and when they went. I keep my own archive on my PC, I also log stories I’ve submitted at The Submission Grinder.

Here, if the market is listed, you can log your submission and it tracks how long the story is out for.
The Submission Grinder is free to use (and join), it’s fairly easy to use as a novice and it’s great for finding markets too.

I hope this has helped demystify the submissions process a little. If you’ve got any questions (like what happens when you get a rejection or an acceptance), please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me on twitter @RayDaleyWriter

If enough people are curious, I’ll do breakdowns on rejections and acceptances too. I’ve had both.

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