Trying to navigate submitting your writing can be wildly overwhelming. What should your cover letter look like? How should you format your writing? What technicalities are you overlooking? What if you don’t get a reply from the journal? How do you even track all the submissions?
In part 3 of my series on submitting your short stories and poems, I’ll break down everything down into 5 easy-to-follow steps and answer all these questions so you can feel confident submitting your writing.
First of all, just a refresher that this series applies mainly to magazines and journals that publish short stories and poems (rather than publishers that publish novels and poetry collections). I’m talking more about the Asimov Magazines and the Paris Reviews rather than the HarperCollins.
Step 1: Read the Instructions
Each publisher will have their own specifications for how they want your writing submitted. READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS. They will tell you where to submit, whether you should single or double space, what to submit, and so on. Make sure the publisher accepts the writing you are submitting (genre, word count, &c.). And make sure you double check the instructions and that you are following them correctly.
Step 2: Navigate the Submission Manager
Many publishers use Submittable (so having a Submittable account is handy–and free), but others have their own submission managers.
Make sure you also read any instructions on the submission manager—there may be additional instructions for you to follow.
Step 3: Organize Your Files
Because you’ll have to create different versions of the same writing piece so that it follows a publisher’s specific formatting guidelines, it’s helpful to keep these versions of the piece organized. Obviously what works for each person will vary, but I store my files in folders, each folder named after the publication I’m submitting to.
Step 4: Write a Cover Letter
Cover letters for writing are different than cover letters for job application. In fact, they are easier than job cover letters. Granted, they’re a bit of a nuisance to continually tweak for each new submission. But once you write one, you can simply replace some of the information for each new submission.
So what should this cover letter look like?
Your address line 1
Your address line 2
Your address line 3 (if applicable)
XX Month 20XX
Recipient’s name [usually the fiction/poetry/nonfiction editor], Recipient’s Job Title
Dear Recipient’s name,
This is where you politely tell the editor that you would like them to consider “Your Piece” (word count) for publication in Their Publication.
Next, you tell the editor whether you are submitting the piece to more than one publication or not. If you are submitting to more than one publication, tell the editor that you will immediately tell them if the piece is accepted somewhere else.
Finally, thank the editor for considering your piece. You should also give the editor your contact information (phone and email).
Attached: “Your Piece’s File Name” [If you are submitting by email, it may be prudent to put this note here so that the editor will know to look for your attachment (in case the attachment didn’t send).]
Some publishers want you to include a bio in your cover letter. This is where you can do that. If the publisher doesn’t ask for your bio, you can still include it if you like—if your piece is accepted, it saves the step of giving them your bio.
That’s the typical cover letter, but some publishers want specific information in your cover letter, so make sure you include that too.
Many publishers will also tell you who to address the cover letter to, but if they don’t, you can check their staff or masthead page to see who will likely be reviewing your submission (sometimes there is more than one editor/reader for your genre, so you may have to address your cover letter to two or three people).
It may also be passé to include the address, date, &c. at the top of the cover letter since you’ll most likely submit the letter by pasting it into a message box on the submission form, but I’ve left it in the example since I couldn’t say for sure either way.
Step 5: Track Your Submissions
Each publisher has their own expected response time along with another (often different) amount of time after which you can query them asking as to the status of your submission. Some publishers only will let you submit once per year, twice per year, or once each submission period. It gets tricky staying on top of all these things. Plus, it’s useful to see where you’ve submitted to and how long it took the publisher to reply.
Once again, your method of tracking all these things will likely vary from mine, but here’s a sample to get you started.
I track all my submission in an Excel document.
Under each column I put the information for the particular submission.
- Date: The day I submitted the piece.
- Type: This just means the type of writing. Is it poetry or prose?
- Name: The piece’s title.
- Place: Where I submitted the piece. I make this text into a hyperlink so I can click to the publication’s website easily.
- Submission Method: Submittable, email, or a different submission manager.
- Simultaneous?: Was this submission simultaneous (or do I intend to submit the piece elsewhere)?
- Expected Reply: When the publisher says I should hear back (X months or weeks).
- Actual Reply: The date of when I actually hear back from the publisher.
- Publication: The date of when the piece will be published (if it got accepted).
- $: How much I earned from the submission (if anything) if I got published.
- Note(s): This is where I put any other relevant information—typically anything else relevant the publisher has in their submission information.
To track whether my piece was accepted or not, I change the row color to red or green for each submission when I hear back.
That’s the submission process! All that’s left to do is bite your nails and wait for a reply.
Part 4 of this series will be coming soon. I’ll be talking about what to expect in a reply from the publisher once you’ve submitted (and how to deal with rejections). Stay tuned!
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