Today I wanted to run through twelve questions you should ask yourself before you send something off with the hopes of receiving an acceptance letter. It can be really daunting submitting to a magazine for the first time, there are a thousand things to be worried about. This will not cover absolutely everything you need to know, and it only applies to fiction writing (short stories and flash). I do not know everything there is to know about traditional publishing either, so this is not a comprehensive list. Feel free to ask anything at all, I am more than willing to assist where I can.
Anyways, onto the list!
1. Is your story any good?
This isn't a question any writer wants to ask, especially when it comes to their own writing. But it needs to be considered. Is what you're written any good? Does it explore a topic in a new way or have characters and a setting that's new and exciting? If you were flipping through a magazine, would you stop to read this story?
There isn't anything wrong with any of these questions being answered with a no. I've written things that I am not proud of and would not consider publishing (with a publisher or online). There's nothing wrong with having a story that doesn't make the cut. You just need to find something that does.
2. What are genre are you writing?
Seriously. It seems like a no brainer, but there are a ton of places looking for stories and accidently submitting your fantasy piece to a place that wants literary (this is a genre, I assure you) pieces is a guaranteed rejection. Figuring out if your genre and style work for the place you're submitting to means your piece is going to get looked at. So read what the magazine is about! If possible, read a few of the stories they've published previously.
3. Have you edited the piece?
If you're considering sending something off to a magazine, you need to make sure it is the best it can possibly be. It needs to be as polished as you can make it. I go through an edit on my computer, print out a hard copy and do a rewrite and edit there, punch all the changes into my laptop, rinse and repeat.
That's the method that works for me. I also read my pieces aloud before I send them off (literally right before hitting that 'submit' button). This helps me make sure my pieces are as error-free as possible. You can also look into critique sites like Scribophile, which are dedicated to helping you grow as a writing. Password protected sites (like the one just mentioned) do not take away your first publishing rights. Posting on a personal blog, facebook, author website, or some other online form does count as publishing (things like Deviantart and Archive of Our Own do)!
4. Paying markets or free markets?
Personally, I strongly believe that writing is a valuable service and you should be paid for your work. However, there are two sides of the story and I'm going to cover both of them because knowing as much as you can about both markets is extremely important.
An unpaid market is exactly that, a magazine or ezine (like a magazine but only online) or website that does not pay you for the rights to publish your work. In a sense, you give them the rights. For free. This should be stated clearly in their submission guidelines (which you will read, in full). Of course you want to be paid for your work, but consider potential benefits. Does the market have a large amount of viewers? If it consistently reaches a large audience, it might be a good option to submit. Remember, editors and agents of larger things read magazines (especially popular ones) and they may ask a previous publisher of yours for your contact information. There can be other benefits as well: a free physical copy of the issue you're featured in, a free subscription to their magazine for X amount of days, promotion on their blog, twitter, facebook, website. These are things to consider before publishing to an unpaid market. So look into it thoroughly before rejecting it outright.
A paying market is exactly what it sounds like, someone pays you for the rights to publish your work. I've seen payments as little as $3 dollars a piece and as high as $480 dollars a piece. Most magazines tend to range from $5-$25 dollars a piece or $0.01-$0.10 per word. It depends on the magazine/ezine/website. This should be clearly stated in the submission guidelines (which you will read, in full). If it isn't clearly stated, be very hesitant on submitting to them. If they're asking you to pay them to publish you, don't submit to them.
Some magazines have 'reading fees'. This is a fee, usually around $2-$4, they charge to read your submission. Usually they run like a paying market and will pay you if they accept your submission. Personally, if the reading fee is any higher than $3, I wouldn't submit to them. But that is my personal choice. If you are comfortable with a higher fee, then feel free to submit as you feel comfortable with.
5. Find a magazine
This can be one of the hardest parts of submitting. Figuring out where to submit your piece can be a daunting challenge, especially when you're new to the field. I know plenty of authors use sites like the Grinder and Duotrope to find markets for their stories. Both of these sites help writers find places to submit to based on word counts, payment, and deadlines. Once you get the hang of them, they can be extremely useful. Duotrope is especially nice because it tells you how old and established the magazine/ezine/website is.
If neither of these resources appeal to you, that isn't an issue. There are other ways to find markets for your work. Simply google your genre, like fantasy, and then submissions. You'll get a ton of results and this is actually how I found many of my markets for my stories.
With either option, make sure you do some research into the magazine. You want to make sure they are a legitimate market and you are not sending your piece to some random on the internet. Easy ways to figure out if it's a scam or not: are they well established, do they publish new and well known, if they have published well known - who, do they have good ratings with their customers and contributors, what projects have the editors worked on before (other magazines, their own writing works)? Getting answers to these questions will help you make sure your story is going to a good place.
6. Submission guidelines and cover letters
So earlier in this blog I mentioned how you're going to read the submission guidelines. Completely, in full. And you're going to, because every magazine is different. This is where you'll find out the payment (or lack there of), what format they wish to receive your writing in, what they need in the cover letter, how to submit, what they want (genre, length, etc), and what rights they are purchasing. All of this information you need as a writer. Knowing and following these guidelines as close as you possibly can will give you and your writing the best chance at being read by the editor. Stick to their word limits. Make sure you submit to the right places, some magazines like email submissions or use a submission manager like Submittable or they have their own manager on their page. It's your job to make sure you go through their method.
There will be conditions. Some magazines will take simultaneous submissions, meaning you can submit more than once piece at a time (this should be listed), some won't. Some will accept multiple submissions, meaning you can submit your story to other magazines. If you decide to submit your piece to more than one place at the same time, make sure both magazines accept multiple submissions. Also make sure you take the first magazine that offers you publication. You do not get to cherry pick if you submit or 'wait for a better offer'. It is first come, first serve. And please, for the love of god, withdrawn your submission (by email, through submittible, however the magazine has it set up) as soon as you know you've been accepted else where.
Cover letters are extremely easy. It seems a little daunting but I promise it isn't. Here's an example:
Dear Editors (if you can find an editor's name, use that instead! Always address with first and last name),
Attached is my submission Super Awesome Story for Your Magazine. It is X number of words. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org at your earliest convenience.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
- My Name
If you have a pen name, which is not required, you may put that in along side the title/word count of your story as "My pen name is Super Awesome Writer Person". If the submission guidelines ask for your cover letter to include a bio, add that to your cover letter as well. Bios are where you can display your personality and show off your achievements.
If they ask for writing achievements in the cover letter, only add what is important. If a market paid you more than $0.03 a word, list that magazine. If you placed in the top three in a writing competition, list that as well. If you received an award, list it. Don't list the blue ribbion you won in grade eleven. That doesn't matter. If you don't have any achievements, don't worry. Leave it blank.
Also, don't explain your story/plot/characters in your cover letter. The editor doesn't care. They want to read your story. Unless it is asked for, don't add it. Leave your cover letter as simple as possible.
Know your rights as a writer. You are more than welcome to say no, even after it's been accepted for publication. Do not be afraid to send the editor an email back saying, "Thank you for accepting my submission but, unfortunately, I am declining your acceptance. Have a wonderful day". It is still your story. If you are uncomfortable with publishing for any reason, you can decline an acceptance.
If you have already told them you are accepting their acceptance, you are shit out of luck. They have purchased, or you have given, them the rights to publish the story. You cannot refuse this once you've accepted their acceptance.
Most markets are looking for "First Publishing Rights". This can be national (your country), international (all over the world), print (for a physical copy), or digital (for a version online or digitally released), or a combination these. Usually, they also ask for archival rights (this means they can 'store' your stories online, indefinitely). They will hold these rights for a certain amount of time, the most common seems to be six months but it can be longer/shorter. This means you are not allowed to sell, post, or submit the piece to any market until that time is up. Then the piece is yours to do with as you please.
Once your piece has been published, you no longer have first publishing rights. You can consider sending your piece to markets that accept reprints, post it on a blog/author site/newsletter, or print it in your own anthology collection of your work. Remember to mention where the piece was originally published, no matter what you decided to do with it.
8. Format it!
While reading the submission guides, there will be a list of how they want it formatted. For the most part, your piece needs to be double spaced and in Time New Roman 12pt font. Do not put a title at the top of the page and centre it. I often put the title and author name (unless there is mention of it being an anonymous submission) in the header, along with a page count. You don't need to do this unless requested, but that is my method.
Pay attention to what file types they will be accepting. The most common ones I see are .doc, .docx, and .rtf. This is what your document is saved as. To change this (in Mircosoft Word), go "Save As". Underneath the title when you go to save your work there should be a drop down box of different file options. Pick whichever one the magazine wants and save it in that format.
If you do not format your piece correctly, the editor won't even look at your story. I am entirely serious. Fantastic stories have gone unnoticed because of formatting. Please make sure you format your stories according to the magazine's guidelines.
You're going to get rejections. And a lot of them. That's how this industry works. Getting a rejection letter doesn't mean you quit writing, it means you look into other magazines or work harder on your craft. Do not give up because of one or one thousand rejection letters.
Here's how I like to think of rejection letters: it was a no on my computer, now it's a no on an editor's desk. This means someone took the time to read and consider it for publication. That is a huge step from my laptop, regardless of whether or not I get published. Keep this in mind while you're submitting, because you are going to be receiving rejection letters.
10. Contract or no contract?
Some magazines will send you a contract to sign and send back, some will not. A general rule of thumb: if you are being paid over $35 (ish) dollars, you should probably receive a contract. Anything less than that is usually pretty safe. Don't request a contract unless the payment is a rather large (over $35) sum. You don't need a contract for a $5 payment. Don't send an invoice unless you are a commissioned/freelance writer. If you submitted and were accepted, you do not need to send an invoice for your services.
If you do receive a contract, read it. Top to bottom. You want to know exactly what you're selling to them and how long they are keeping it before you sign that page. If there is mention of character ownership or copyright ownership, don't sign it (unless it's a novel. But, you should be talking with an agent/lawyer/etc in that situation). You are always focused on selling "First Publishing Rights" and nothing else.
Once that contract is signed, adhere to it. If it states your work cannot appear elsewhere for six months, do not let it appear elsewhere for six months. It is a legally binding document. Respect that stupid piece of paper.
11. Promote it!
Yes, this makes the magazine (not you) more money. But it also helps get your name out there. Promoting the magazine promotes you. It is your achievement to flaunt. Boast about it on your twitter, facebook, instagram, what have you. Hand it over to grandma so she can show her knitting circle. By promoting the magazine, you promote yourself. So start screaming about it once you're accepted.
12. Be proud
I think this one is one of the most important steps. You completed a huge mile stone. You put your work out there and were accepted. It's proof that you have developed a wonderful amount of skill in writing. You did it, against all odds of 'being a writer' you managed to do it.
So congratulate yourself. Eat an entire tub of ice cream or a whole large pizza. You earned it.
Best of luck with your writing,