Submission is something that is difficult for everyone, whether you are new at it or seasoned. Putting one’s work out for scrutiny and judgement can be unexplainably unnerving and difficult. At no other time is a writer more vulnerable than when other’s read their work. Words, however, are meant to be shared. The world is starved for words and the ideas that only you can express. It is because of this that the writer must overcome their fear of rejection and submit their work. Although you will lose more often than you will win, and be turned down more often than you are accepted, you must do it anyway. Your role as a writer means nothing if you lock it away to yourself. Share your work, and when it finally wins recognition or is published in a magazine, then you will fully understand your importance.
Based off of my own experience with submission, along with research and talking with fellow writers, I have compiled a short guide to better your chances at having your work accepted. I have also included advice about proper etiquette, copyright, and organization.
- Be wary of your bias
As you are going over all of your files trying to choose what you want to send out, you will most likely do one of two things.
- You will go straight for your new material because it is fresh on your mind, you are feeling confident about it. Looking at your old work embarrasses you, because you can’t believe you ever wrote something like that.
- You will go straight for your old material because you have sat with it for a while and have grown to love it, and you are repulsed by your sloppy new material.
The fact of the matter is that your own opinion of your work can often be skewed. Your emotional attachment to a piece can be disruptive. Have a friend look over your work, because often times it is difficult for us to choose what our best work is when we have had emotional battles with it. Your old work may not necessarily represent your best work, but rather what you have grown too comfortable with. You may love your new work because it is fresh and exciting and you want others to see it, but it will likely be a first draft which has not gone through enough revision by submission standards. An outsider’s perspective is very helpful in helping writers to get past their biases over their own writing.
- Only send revised pieces
It probably goes without saying, but jumping slightly off of the last tip, it is important to revise your work before submission. If you are sending to a contest you will want your writing to be as polished as possible. Any mistakes of spelling, punctuation, or grammar will jump right out at a judge. This will reflect badly on your submission as the quality of your work may not be enough for a judge to overlook other technical errors. If you are submitting to a magazine for publication, your piece will appear in a magazine the way you have written it. You want to be sure that your writing is exactly the way you want it to be seen before sending it off.
- Read submission guidelines carefully
No two contests or publications will have the same rules for submission. Read all of the details of submission carefully to avoid problems. Do they ask for a cover letter? Do they ask you to put your name on your work or is it a blind submission? Do they allow multiple, simultaneous, or reprinted submissions? Do they want you to send your work in the body of an email or as an attachment? All of these small things may seem tedious, but if your submission does not follow the simple requests made by the judges or editors of a magazine, then they will not give your submissions a second look. Why should they take the time to look over your submission if you as a writer can’t take the time to follow the procedure they ask for? Simply following the guidelines for submission will make your submission easier for the judges and make you that much more likely to be taken seriously.
- Be polite and humble
When you email a contest or editor keep in mind the way you sound in your writing. Someone is taking their time to read and consider your work. If you are polite and courteous in your submission letter, the reader will be that much more inclined to like your work. If they think you are a nice person they will look at your work with a positive eye. If you come across as uncaring, then your work will be just another number. Taking the time to say thank you will make all the difference.
- Read the magazine you are sending to
To get a better idea of what sort of material the magazine accepts, read the magazine’s past issues. This way you can easily gauge if your work is the right fit for this particular publication. Your work won’t be right for everyone and that’s okay. Knowing your style is important. Find the people who enjoy the way you write, and what you like to write about. Those are the places you should submit to. If you enjoy reading a particular magazine let them know that in your submission letter. Flattery won’t get you everywhere, but it can’t hurt either.
- Be daring
Don’t be afraid to send that riskier choice. If you are weighing your options of which piece to send with one safe choice and one that you are unsure of, chances are the riskier options will stand out to judges. Imagine sitting in front of the computer for hours on end reading submission after submission, or tearing through dozens of envelopes at your desk. They need a little excitement to shake things up. Any celebrity knows that the way to get noticed is to stand out. Be your daring self and never alter your writing to satisfy what you think others want. People everywhere are in search of new and unique talent. The true aim of contests is not to find the best of the best, because no such person exists. The point is to showcase the voices of skilled writers such as yourself, and share in a community that appreciates the beauty and power of words. With that goal in mind you can hold nothing back. Give it your all!
- Cover your bases
There is no way to guarantee you will win a contest or be accepted for publication. The only absolute sure way to get recognized is to apply to many and never give up. Chances are that eventually you will be chosen. The moment you stop submitting is the moment you forfeit your chances of getting noticed. Until you give in, you will always have a chance. Many contests ask that you not submit simultaneous submissions. This means sending one piece to multiple contests or magazines at the same time.
Here is a secret…Most likely your piece won’t win or be selected more than once at the same time. Send your work to more than one place if you want! If by some chance you do get selected in more than one place, just choose which one you would prefer to be published in and send an apology letter to the other. The worst that can happen is that they get a little upset, but hey you won in the end so what does it matter? As long as you are polite, humble, and sincere in your apology, they should understand.
- Be careful about copyright
Pay special attention to the copyright information on submission guidelines. For contests, most of the time they will ask that work that you submit not have been published before. If you have a blog that you post work to, even for non-profit reasons, most contests will consider that self-publishing. They want the work submitted to them to have never been seen before, so if you know you will want to submit a piece to contests, don’t publish it online.
When submitting to a magazine most of the time they will ask for a “first”, “one time” publication. This means that they want to be the first to publish it and use that right only once. They cannot legally publish it again after that. Others may specify that they will keep your work in an archive so that it can be accessed by readers by searching through contents, usually online. Some may ask to re-print your work in an anthology. This is all up to you. If you are asked to sign a contract, read it thoroughly. If there is something you don’t like about it, then ask if it can be changed. It is your work after all. No award or publication is so important that you should settle for a deal you don’t approve of. It should be noted that as soon as you have written something it belongs to you. Copyright exists simply upon creation. Keep that in mind.
- Keep organized
It is a very good idea to keep track of all the places you have submitted. Write down the name, what piece you sent, and the expected date to hear back by. Programs like Microsoft Excel may prove helpful in keeping a spreadsheet. A very helpful website is duotrope.com. This site has a database of contests and publications easily accessible by search. It will tell you statistics on the number of pieces accepted, how difficult it is to be accepted, if payment is required to submit, genre, style, and more. Submitting through this site is easy as can be. It will track your submissions for you and provide you with statistics of your success rate.
- Don’t let rejection defeat you
You knew this was coming. Rejection is every writer’s worst fear, and for good reason. When you don’t win, it hurts. It’s as simple as that. Writers bleed ink onto the page. All of our strife, and hard work is poured onto the paper for anyone to see. It goes without saying that when others don’t recognize what we have laid forth for them, it wounds us deeply. You’ve heard it before, but I will say it again in hopes that this time you may actually believe it. You are truly talented, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Prizes, medals, certificates are all just glittery junk. Like a new iPhone it impresses people for a week, and then grows old. What is most important is that the work you produce has an impact. If your writing touches the heart of even one person, then you have been successful, even if that one person is you.
I hope this guide has given you a new perspective on submissions, and given you confidence in your abilities. If you have any questions that I didn’t answer then please let me know in the comments. Best of luck to you!