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This article gives you the ‘low-down’ on how to submit your short stories to different publishing markets.
Just as a quick note, when I mention "markets" in this article, I am using the term to describe many types of publications, including magazines, anthologies, etc.
If you are a short story writer you may already have a list of potential publications/anthologies (markets) that you are considering submitting your stories to. However, before you submit any stories to the first market on your list, you need to do a bit of a ‘deep dive’ into that market. That means doing a little research to ensure that your story will be a good fit for that particular magazine or anthology.
In the old days, of purely print magazines, this could be an expensive and time-consuming process since it would probably involve sending off for a physical copy of the magazine, waiting for it to arrive by post, and then gleaning the information from it when it arrives. Nowadays, with the internet, things are generally a lot easier.
The information you need to get upfront to make sure that your story is a good fit are what types of rights will they require? How much do they pay? What sort of stories are they looking for? Do they have a minimum or maximum word count and how should you submit your story?
Submission Guidelines and How to Submit Your Short Story
The main thing when submitting a short story is to follow the market’s (publications/magazine/anthologies) guidelines.
Generally, most markets will allow you to submit your story either by email as an attachment in a specific format such as a Word document or within the body of the email itself, or you may be asked to submit your story via an online form where you will probably be asked to send an attachment of your story (again via a specific format).
Occasionally, you may be asked to submit a physical or a printed copy of your story through the regular mail, although this is becoming rarer and rarer these days. If this does occur, however, never ever send your original manuscript – always send a copy.
If you do get asked to submit by regular mail, the guidelines will often ask you to enclose an unsealed self-addressed, stamped envelope with your story, especially if you want the market to return your story along with any correspondence from them. You need to ensure that you put adequate postage on the unsealed (and large enough) envelope. You can check this at the post office to save some postage and potential annoyance for the market editor(should the postage not be enough).
To save hassle it is probably better to say that you do not require your copy back. Remember, you've only sent a copy of your story, but even so, you might still have to send a stamped self-addressed envelope if they ask you to do so.
How to Get Rejected – The Easy Way
The easiest way to get your story rejected is not to follow the market-specific guidelines. So read the guidelines carefully and follow them to the letter.
Bearing that in mind, there are some general rules which are often followed when submitting manuscripts when it comes to formatting your short story. When you complete a short story and when you save it, make sure it follows these general formatting rules and it will save you later reformatting drastically every time you submit it to a new market.
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Here are the general guidelines for formatting your short story manuscript.
- Black type on white background only.
- Only print on one side of the page if you are submitting a physical manuscript.
- Use only Courier or Times New Roman fonts.
- Set your point size to 12.
- Use at least one-inch margins all around, top, bottom, and sides.
- Use double spacing between lines.
- On the first page of your manuscript, put your name, address, telephone number, and email address in the upper left-hand corner.
- In the top right-hand corner of the first page, insert the word count of the story rounded to the nearest hundred.
- Place the title of your story, centred, one third to halfway down your first page.
- One double space below your title ‘centre’ to your by-line.
- That is the name you are publishing the story under, whether it is your name, (your real name) or a pen name?
- Begin the text of your story to double spaces below your by-line.
- Indent the first line of every paragraph on your text by half an inch.
- Do not place extra line spaces between paragraphs.
- Insert a page header and the upper right-hand corner of every page of your manuscript. This should include your real surname, not your pen name, one or two important ways that form the title of your story, and the current page number.
- While the left-hand margin should be straight apart from the paragraph indentations. The right should be left unjustified and ragged.
- It often helps to put ‘end’, centred after the last line of the story. This is just to help editors identify the end of the stories, which can sometimes be ambiguous.
These guidelines are flexible and should the submission guidelines to a particular publication say they want a slightly different format, go with that.
This gives you the basics of manuscript formatting. However, I strongly suggest that you visit William Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format website for a more detailed insight into correctly formatting your short story.
Whatever market you decide to submit your story to, you will need to attach a cover letter or cover email along with it. The golden rules with cover letters are to keep them simple and to keep them truthful.
Here are some 'dos and don'ts' for when you are putting together your cover letter:
- Rather than starting your cover letter Dear Sir, or Madam, try to find out the editor’s name who will be receiving the story, and use that. You will probably be able to find this from the research you did into the publication and are likely to find it on the publication's website. Personalizing your letter in this way shows that you have at least done some research into their publication, which is always helpful. Now that you can personalize the letter, still keep it formal, as in ‘Dear John Smith’, rather than ‘Hey John.’
- Tell them briefly about your story, very briefly. In other words, the title of the story, its word count, and the name of the publication you are submitting it to. Also let them know the ‘status’ of your story, in other words, should you be looking to license ‘first rights’ for this story, you would tell them that this story has not been previously published. What does that mean? Exactly what it says on the tin, the story hasn’t been published anywhere online offline, or anywhere.
- Tell them where your other stories have appeared in other magazines/anthologies etc. Make sure to mention any prestigious ‘pro’ markets you previously sold stories to. If you haven't had anything published by the ‘pro’ (paying) markets, then leave this bit out. Most pro markets will not be impressed to hear that you were published by non-paying markets. Although they are likely to be impressed, if other ‘pro’ markets have previously bought your short fiction.
- Also If you have previously sold a short story to the market you are now submitting to, remind them of that too.
- It also goes without saying that If you have been shortlisted for any major writing awards within the genre, then mention that as well.
Here Are Some More No-Nos When It Comes to Cover Letters
- Don't try to summarize or describe your short story, unless you are specifically asked to.
- Don't tell them what genre your story falls into, if you've done your research well into the publication, your story should be a good fit, but in the end that is the editor's decision, and he or she will make that choice.
- Don't include any information about your background unless it is very relevant to the story and they ask for it. For example, you are a retired detective and you are sending them a detective story.
- Do not explain the genesis of your story, how you came to think of the plot, or how you came to think of your main character. They will not be interested.
How to Avoid Instant Rejections
- Always follow the submission guidelines.
- Always include a cover letter using the simple format as previously described.
- Always ensure that your manuscript is correctly formatted.
Types of Submissions
Generally, the best way to submit your short stories is one story at a time, to one particular market at a time.
You won't go wrong If you follow this rule, but occasionally a market may say that they accept multiple submissions.
Multiple submissions mean you are allowed to submit more than one of your stories to that particular market at the same time. So you could send two or three of your stories to a magazine because they accept multiple submissions. Good idea? No, not really.
Here's why, most magazines only work one magazine in advance, so if you send in say, two of your stories, even if they really like both of them, they would only use one of them for the sake of balance and the other one, even though they like it, would effectively be rejected as most magazines do not ‘hold’ stories for future editions of their magazine, and since your second story has been ‘effectively’ rejected you can no longer (re)submit it to the magazine for inclusion in a future edition.
So for magazines, the best way to submit your stories is one at a time.
However, if you come across an ‘anthology’ that says you can submit multiple stories, then really there is no problem. Statistically, when you submit more than one story to an anthology, you increase your chances of publication as you don't have to worry that any stories are going to be rejected since it is a one-off anthology, and you will not get the opportunity to resubmit them.
You may also come across the phrase ‘simultaneous submissions’. This means sending your short story to more than one market, that is one different market, at the same time.
If you are thinking, oh yes, that's a good idea, I'll probably get published and paid much quicker. However, here's a simple rule about simultaneous submissions: Don't do it, And here's why.
Say, you want to submit a great story to several magazines over a couple of days. Your stories are then out there being assessed by the editors of all these magazines, who all have different deadlines and a differing number of stories they have to get through.
Two of the editors really, really liked your story. Editor number 1 gets in touch first and makes you an offer that you accept. Bingo! Then editor number 2 gets in touch and makes you an offer, but you have to say ‘sorry, but you've already sold your story to another magazine. Ouch!
If you were editor number 2, how would you feel now?
Editor number 2 had put in the effort to read the story to make an offer and to make room for it in the magazine, and now can’t have it and will have to start the whole process again. Even worse there may have been very little time to find a replacement story to fill the gap If they have a tight publishing schedule. Suddenly you as an author have gone from a promising new writer to someone they will never ever want to publish because you have messed them about.
Even if the magazine guidelines state that they accept simultaneous submissions, don't risk it.
Better to have several different stories out there for submission to different markets. Simultaneous submissions can get very messy, very quickly.
Further Advice on Submitting Short Stories
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Jerry Cornelius