Let’s say you’ve written a short story and have gone through the painstaking efforts to edit and reedit and edit the blasted story some more and are finally ready to submit. Now you have this precious thing to send off, but what comes next? Is it finished? Is it ready? How can I tell?
The thing is, knowing when a work of lit is complete is completely arbitrary. Depending on the resolve of the person writing, that person that might call it quits after a couple of skim-throughs for spelling and grammar, or they might read through their piece a dozen times and test the rhythmic quality of every single line. It really depends on personal taste and what you’re trying to convey as an author.
What I generally like to do is to test the work’s emotional resolve. How does it make me feel when I read it? Is how it makes me feel the way I wanted it to make me feel as a reader? I might be technically sound in my writing, as there are rules for the ways words are “supposed” to go together, but finding the right emotional cadence in a piece that keeps the reader interested is what I’m generally interested in.
However, spelling and grammar are exceedingly important and shouldn’t be taken for granted. This is another important step in the process of submitting work: polishing. You want your work to be as tight as possible. Clean lines. Few-to-no spelling mistakes. Proper use of grammar. Fact-checking. Make sure each of these elements is as close to perfect before sending anything off.
This applies to any cover letters or supplemental materials the publisher might ask for, as well. Most presses, big and small, ask for a cover letter — a little something about you and your work. I try to have a stock cover letter ready to go with my name and contact information provided below the signature line. That way, when I’m ready to submit, all I have to do is copy and paste and BOOM, I’m ready to go.
A good cover letter contains three paragraphs. The first, a greeting and introduction to the work submitted (or yourself — I find either works), and then a paragraph about what you’ve been up to in the literary world. Round out the cover letter with a final paragraph thanking the publisher for their time or maybe wishing them luck. I usually have the final two paragraphs written and mess with the first paragraph. Play around until you find something that fits.
Submitting work can be overwhelming — the judgement, the decision, the emailing and technical writing. Without the right tools, it can be a nightmare. Without a plan, it’s almost impossible, beginning with where to submit your piece. You really have to know where to look. Below is a list of places to check out when you finally have your work ready to submit:
1.) NewPages.com– Here you’ll find a consistently updated list of calls for submissions from publishers large and small. They also have a huge database of ongoing contests.
2.) Review Review– Smaller than NewPages but still just as mighty, Review Review updates their calls for submissions on a semi-regular basis with focus primarily on smaller presses.
3.) Submittable– One of the easiest submission sites online, Submittable is the perfect platform for sending your work. Find calls for submissions and then send submissions right from the Submittable platform without ever having to leave the website.
4.) Poets & Writers– Arguably the largest database of publishers online, Poets & Writers allows users to search for contests, magazine, small presses, and even agents.
5.) Trish Hopkinson: A Selfish Poet– A must-follow blog for writers of all backgrounds, Trish Hopkinson’s A Selfish Poet provides regularly updated calls for submissions with an emphasis on presses that don’t charge a reading fee!
Alright. Great. We’ve covered submissions, what goes into them, how we know when we’re ready, and where to finally send them off. Fabulous. But it’s important to remember that not everything is intended for an audience. Sometimes, we just need to write to appease our souls. Don’t be surprised if you get denied a few times before you get anything picked up. It all goes back to lit being arbitrary again.
So, keep writing. Whether you decide to submit the work or let a good thing lie really doesn’t matter. Submitting stories doesn’t make a writer; writing them does, and congrats on making it this far.