The gnashing of teeth, the ligament-stretching, bone-popping rack, the barbed whip and oh please no, the waiting… Yeah. Submitting fiction. Don’t let my enthusiasm put you off.
Actually, compared to when I started, printing out and sending every submission by snail mail… no wait, it’s coming back to me. All the way back to the typewriter and using carbon paper for a file copy. Ack!
Submitting speculative fiction in 2013 is pretty sweet by comparison. Even the waiting period is much shorter for certain worthy markets.
One of my favorite things to check out is how other writers do it, so I decided to share my methods. It’s a way to pass along the generosity of all the people I learn from. This submission process works for any kind of writing. I used the same organizing process to support myself writing non-fiction for years.
Study Fiction Markets
If you haven’t checked out the range of markets for what you write, start by setting aside at least an hour a day to hunt for and study markets for your writing.
Most of my stories fit into science fiction, horror, dark fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy, mystery and cross-genre marketing categories, so these are the fiction markets I’m most familiar with. The (Submission) Grinder provides a free fiction market database and submission tracker to help you find places to submit your fiction and keep track of your submissions.
Keeping up on all the best markets for your genres takes time—and it’s one of the best investments you can make in your work.
The first of the three rules of writing as set forth by master editor emeritus George H. Scithers in a copy of the Weird Tales guidelines from Way Back:
“You must put your story before an editor who might buy it.”
Set a Fiction Submission Goal
Make your submission goal specific, measurable and achievable.
Go for having more than one manuscript out, even if you feel as though submitting two is really stretching it for you. This way if one comes back declined, it’s not your whole product.
You whip the declined story out to the next target market, which you cleverly picked in advance so as not to lose momentum, and on you go.
Remember: a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Don’t let your submission-worthy stories sit on the couch.
Back before my life took some off-topic turns, I made a few sales in fiction and even a few bucks on poetry, so focus on paying markets I’d be happy to see my work in, primarily the ones that qualify for SFWA and HWA.
My first task goal in support of my main goal of selling stories to pro markets was to return to my college habit of always keeping five submissions out with editors. I got back in that good habit in May 2013. Now that I’ve kept that going consistently for a few weeks and made first blood, my task goal is to keep 10 stories out with editors by the end of July and write a new novella. All this story submitting isn’t such torture any more.
My secondary main goal is to find homes for the kinds of stories I most enjoy writing. I’m happy my flash fiction “Shroud” is coming out in Apokrupha’s “Dark Bits“ anthology this month. When I read their submission call I found a creepy seedling and grew it just for them. I’m keen to contribute to publications that resurrect and maintain storytelling in the forms I’m most passionate about.
For your task goal, choose a target that’s a bit of a stretch, yet not overwhelming.
Make a list of places you want to contribute. Include a few that might not meet all your top criteria, yet that you’d enjoy being part of. Keep the fun factor in your writing and your life.
Make a Fiction Marketing Plan
Map out how to reach your goal. I’ve found that creating a task list, breaking the project down into bite-sized chunks—visualize your favorite monster chewing right through this daunting mound of flesh if need be—and getting it done, one chunk at a time, keeps me on track.
The submission plan simplifies it, and yes, makes submitting fiction almost painless. I never have to wonder what to do next. I have a map right in front of me.
In a fiction marketing plan, future-tripping is a good thing.
I have a fiction submission plan that extends months out to include anthologies and theme issues and publishers with limited submission windows. I also create a plan for each day.
Today’s plan was:
- Finish one story
- Run it through three checkers
- Fix any typos, spelling or grammar bloopers
- Read it aloud
- Proof it again
- Double-check submission GLs for required format, etc.
- Pop out the cover letter
- Submit it
- Take a break
- Repeat those steps with story two
- Write a Bat post
I actually wrote two Bat posts, probably because it helps me blast submission stress, yet I’m still on track. Note: these were completed stories in the final stage of editing.
Book the tasks necessary to achieve your goal into your favorite organizing system.
It doesn’t matter whether you set dates on a desk calendar, online calendar, organizing software or your cell phone as long as you make the appointments to prepare your submissions and stick to them.
Create a Submission Routine
I’ve learned the power of routine. Setting up routines helped me overcome a lifetime of obesity—dating from childhood—drop 50 pounds and maintain activity levels that would have knocked me out a few years ago. Setting up routines also helped me recover from being raised by packrats and create a serene, Zen environment in my home and garden.
Think about some things you accomplished in your life and what you had to do to succeed. Use that mindset, that sense of accomplishment and those skills to polish your stories and market them. Even if you’re a person like me who doesn’t do schedules—I’ve been self-employed for years and I don’t work set hours—you can create a routine for marketing your fiction.
Send Your Best Story
Tip: It’s better to send your best work, error-free and publishable, than rush to play a numbers game with submissions quotas.
Stories generally go through assistant editors or volunteer slush readers before reaching an editor who might approve them. Taking great care with each story and following submission guidelines in every detail can improve your odds of getting out of the slush pile.
That skull above might have belonged to a writer who wasted away waiting for a response from a publisher before we had instant access for networking with other writers about actual response times. Or it might have belonged to a writer whose work stayed at home, unsubmitted and unpublished. The writer and the manuscripts became worm food.
Today’s a good day to take a step closer to your dream.
Check out her excellent guide on formatting a short story for submission. This is the best guide I’ve seen that’s actually up to date for electronic submissions and contemporary publishing practices. It’s on page two of her blog. Angel Leigh McCoy’s a speculative fiction writer and the editor of Wily Writers and Deep Cuts.
Many markets include a link to this format guide in their submission
guidelines. Although not entirely up to date, it covers basic manuscript formatting and gives a visual example. See the link to Angel Leigh McCoy’s guide for important updates to formatting your fiction to make a professional impression.
Free fiction market database and submission tracker. It’s strong on speculative fiction markets and includes other genres.