HOW CON: Submitting Your Short Story

Submitting Your Short Story

By Naching T. Kassa

Welcome to HOWCON, everyone! My name is Naching T. Kassa, Head of Publishing for HorrorAddicts.net. Today, I’ll be discussing the fundamentals of the submission process and what every writer must know in order to increase their chances of being published. I’ll talk about preparing your story, guidelines for submission, market lists and submission trackers, and throw in a few words of wisdom at the end. There will also be some advice from a pretty awesome horror writer, so be sure to pay attention.

I. PREPARE YOUR STORY—Have you ever prepared for a job interview or a first date? You showered, right? Combed your hair? Brushed your teeth? You know how important a first impression is. And, making the right first impression on an editor or publisher is everything.

A.)  PROOFREAD YOUR STORY—Would you show up to a first date with stinky breath, uncombed hair, and an unshowered bod? Of course, you wouldn’t! (Not unless you’re a werewolf.) So, why would you send your manuscript off in an unkempt state? When you send out a manuscript, it should be your best work. It should be polished, all the “I’s” dotted and “T’s” crossed. Everything should be in the correct tense and point of view. Check, check, and recheck. Have a Beta Reader go through it. Or, use a free online program to improve your manuscript. Here are the ones I use. If you can afford it, you can even pay for premium services.

a. GRAMMARLY —The free version of Grammarly helps with spell checking, grammar, and punctuation. Make sure you use common sense when viewing the suggestions it gives you. Sometimes, Grammarly acts drunk and you must send it home.

b. PROWRITINGAID—The free version of ProWritingAid is terrific when you need to check for Passive Voice, Repeated Sentence Starts, Grammar, Spelling, and all things writing. The only drawback to the free version is it only checks the first 500 words and you must continually delete 500 words to check the entire manuscript. Of course, you can try the free trial version or buy the premium if you like.

B. READ YOUR STORY ALOUD—I recommend reading your story aloud to a recording device before submitting. (Many phones and tablets have apps you can download.) Reading your story aloud will help you catch misspelled words and clunky phrases you may have missed while reading silently. It will also help with rhythm and smooth out the choppy areas.

C. WHAT EDITORS DON’T WANT—When writing a short story, stay away from these areas:

a. HEAD HOPPING—“Head Hopping” means jumping from one character’s head to another, or several changes in Point of View. Many short story editors despise “Head Hopping.” They find it confusing for the reader and the mark of an amateur.

b. PAST AND PRESENT TENSE ISSUES—If you choose a tense, stick with it for the entire story. Again, it’s confusing for the reader if you don’t.

c. A STORY WHICH NEEDS TOO MUCH EDITING—This is the main reason for this entire section. If you submit an unpolished story it could be rejected, no matter how good it is.

II. READ THE GUIDELINES—The guidelines editors and publishers set are the rules you must follow when submitting. Many writers have been rejected, their manuscripts unseen by editor’s eyes because they failed to follow these guidelines.

A. COMMON GUIDELINES—Guidelines consist of the following items, though many vary according to publisher. SHUNN format is the standard used by most.

a. COVER LETTER—Most publishers ask for a cover letter to go with your submission. Usually, this is the first page of your document. A good cover letter should be brief. It should introduce you, your story, word count, and any achievements. Sometimes, a publisher may ask for a brief bio as well. (Always write your bio in the third person.) When submitting by e-mail, I usually copy and paste my cover letter into the body of the e-mail.

b. DOCUMENT FORMAT—The publisher will specify whether the document should be in DOC, DOCX, RTF, etc.

c. FONT—The most requested fonts are Times New Roman and Courier. 12 pt. is preferred.

d. SPACING—Most publishers prefer double-spaced. (It’s easier to edit.)

e. HEADERS—SHUNN formatting recommends using headers and page numbers.

f. E-MAIL—The publisher may ask you to include information in your e-mail. You may be asked to provide a biography as well as links to your website and social media. Make sure you include all information and write the subject line the way the publisher requests. If you fail to do this, your e-mail may become lost, or it may find its way into the spam folder instead of the slush pile.

B. UNUSUAL GUIDELINES—Some publishers will request single spacing, different fonts, or a pint of blood, depending on how they present their publication. (Ok, I made that up about the blood. It’s spinal fluid.) Here are a few examples of unusual submission guidelines.

a. BLIND SUBMISSIONS—No, this is not the Bird Box challenge of the submission world. When you make a blind submission, you are scrubbing the story of all personal information related to yourself. You DO NOT include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, or affiliation with any writers association on the manuscript. It should contain only the body of the story, the title, and the word count. All other personal information should be included in the e-mail.

b. MAIL-IN SUBMISSIONS—Most publishers have moved on to Digital Submissions, but a select few have elected to stay with the mail-in submission. Here are some quick tips for mailing:

1.) Do not fold the manuscript when mailing.

2.) Place the manuscript in a folder before putting it in a 9×11 envelope.

c. WAYS OF SUBMITTING—Some publishers won’t accept e-mail submissions. Instead, they require the writer to submit to a submission website. These sites allow them to read and organize large volumes of submissions. You’ll need to create an account if you wish to use them.

1. SUBMITTABLE—Submitting through this site is easy. The publisher will provide you with a link to their submission and, if you have an account, you’ll simply go from there. All the guidelines are on the page. You even have a spot for a cover letter which can be used as a template. It will appear each time you use Submittable and you can adapt it to your needs. Submittable also tracks these submissions for you and, if you check in with the site, you’ll see whether your submission has been received, is in-progress, has been rejected, or accepted. The submission will also be archived under these categories. So, you can delight in your acceptances or sob over your rejections.

2. MOKSHA—Moksha (which means “freedom or emancipation from the cycle of reincarnation” in Hindu) is fairly easy to work with. You simply fill in the blanks with your info and are notified by e-mail whether you’ve been accepted or not. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction uses this site.

III. MARKET LISTS AND SUBMISSION TRACKERS

A. THE HORROR TREE—This is the best market site for horror writers. If you subscribe to their newsletter, you’ll receive new listings in your inbox every Friday.

B. SUBMISSION GRINDER—This market list site is also a submission tracker. You can search for horror markets and then log submissions to them. The site keeps track of how long the submission has been out and, if you are rejected, will search for similar markets to resubmit to.

C. LITERARIUM—Another market list and submission tracker site. You do much of the work inputting info here.

D. DUOTROPE—This site tracks and lists markets. It also requires payment. You can pay $5 a month or $50 a year.

IV. AUTHOR ADVICE

A. JG FAHERTY’S TIPS FOR SUBMITTING TO PUBLISHERS—JG Faherty is the author of Carnival of Fear and The Cemetery Club. He’s been gracious enough to provide us with a few words on the submission process.

1. Always make sure your manuscript is in tip-top shape, whether it’s a novel or short story. Proofread, and then do it twice more, and have another writer or professional editor look it over as well.

2. Make sure the story is a good match for the market. Don’t assume that every horror magazine is going to like every type of horror. Some specialize in weird fiction, some in traditional horror. Some don’t want vampires or ghosts; others don’t want excess bloodshed. Do your homework. This goes for book publishers, too.

3. Read the submission guidelines very carefully and follow them to the letter. If the publisher or editor wants stories formatted in a certain way, do it. If they say only send 3 chapters, don’t send more or less. If they want a synopsis, send it. The surest way to end up in the rejection bin is to not follow the guidelines.

4. Always include a cover letter, unless the market specifically says not to. That cover letter should contain all your contact information, the word count of the story or book, and a short paragraph detailing your professional credits. For a book submission, you can include a paragraph or two about the novel and what makes it unique. For short stories, never tell about the plot, just give the title and that’s it.

5. Some editors still prefer hard copies to be snail mailed. In those cases, make sure to use a 9×11 envelope, either padded or place your manuscript in a file folder so it doesn’t get wet or bent. Never fold the document into a small envelope.

6. Always be polite and professional. Don’t make weird jokes in the cover letter, or threaten the editor, or criticize their work. Don’t offer bribes, even as a joke. It is okay to say you’re a fan of their work, but certainly not necessary.

7. Sometimes we finish right before the submission deadline ends, but always do your best to get the story to the editor before then. Submission periods exist for a reason, and most markets strictly adhere to them. If you miss the deadline, you can try to request a 1-day extension, but don’t be upset if it’s not granted.

8. Never publicly criticize a market or editor, or write a scathing response, if you get rejected!

V. WORDS OF WISDOM—You’ve learned how to prepare your manuscript, follow guidelines, and where to submit and track your submissions. Just a few more words of wisdom.

A. DON’T GIVE UP—Whether you’re applying for a job or beginning a relationship, there is always the threat of rejection. Writing is no different and, if you don’t develop a thick skin (or borrow one from your favorite neighborhood cannibal) you won’t make it very far. If you’re rejected, look the story over and try again somewhere else. Remember: J.K. Rowling received many rejections before she found a home for Harry Potter. Can you imagine how those publishers feel now?

B. TAKE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM—If you receive feedback from an editor and they’ve taken the time to give you some constructive criticism, don’t freak out. Take it and apply it. It could vastly improve your work. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Thank you for joining me today.  Good luck and keep submitting!