On Submitting


I’m going to talk a little about short story submissions, because a comment on facebook made me realise that for someone just starting out submitting their stories, it can feel very daunting, and that a lot of information seems to contradict.


I’m going to talk about my process and experience, which is mainly with speculative fiction. When it comes to submitting to literary journals, you’ll have to dig a little more for relevant information, though the basics should remain the same.


So there are a few things that need to be done.

1: WRITE. This is kinda a big one. Talking about writing is not the same as writing. Sit down. Make words. If you need prompts, there are sites that give prompts, or go look at art, or ask yourself “What if?” or read newspapers and see what strange things the world offers. Without an actual story, the rest of this list is useless.

2: REVISE. Don’t send out your first draft. Just, don’t. And don’t only revise your work – read and critique the work of other writers. It’s easier to see the flaws in other people’s work than your own, and it’s a great way to learn, and build community. Find a writing group and get stuck in. You can also hang out on boards like AbsoluteWrite and find like-minded writers and learn more.

3: SUBMIT. You don’t sell anything that sits on your hard-drive, slowly forgotten. I use The (Submission) Grinder to find suitable markets, but others also use Duotrope. I tend to filter for pro-markets first (highest paying) and work my way down. Not because I’m a meanie, but because I want to be paid for my work. Some semi-pro and token markets are better venues for particular stories, though, so never assume Highest Pay = Best Market. Always follow the market guidelines; not doing so is asking for an automatic rejection. Many places want a cover letter. Here’s mine, and you can totally steal it:


Please consider my [WORD COUNT] [GENRE] story, [TITLE] for inclusion in [NAME OF VENUE].

Thank you for your time,


(because I have a few sales, I have an extra line after the first one that says, I have previously published works in THIS MAG, THAT MAG, and THAT OTHER MAG. Don’t stress if you don’t have this. It will come.)

Keep subbing. Don’t self-reject after a few magazines have turned you down, just keep looking for new venues. Not all editors want the same thing.

4: KEEP RECORDS. Many markets don’t allow multiple submissions. This means you can only send your story out to one market at a time. And markets can take a looooong time to respond. Do not think you will remember. I use a very basic spread sheet to track stories with title, venue, submission date, rejection date.

5: DO NOT BEHAVE LIKE A JERK. This might seem obvious, but apparently it’s not. Don’t respond to rejections (at all, not even to say thank you for reading – you are just cluttering up the editor’s inbox) but especially not to berate them for their stupidity at passing over your work of genius when they publish all that other shit. This happens. Friends of mine read slush, THIS HAPPENS. Please don’t be this writer.


I hope this helps you, and if you think of other things that I’ve forgotten to include, ping me.

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2 Replies to “On Submitting”

  1. As someone who reads short story slush, using software designed for use by multiple readers, I just wanted to say that the basic cover letter you use is ideal. It’s mostly a formality anyway. I once saw a cover letter that was just a single full stop (presumably because something had to be entered into that field) and it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to me. Sometimes I don’t even read the cover letter, because I don’t have to. It’s my job to judge the story on its own merits, not on the author’s qualifications, hobbies, pets or progeny. Leave that for the bio, which the editor will request if they want to buy the story. If anything, cover letters that try to be quirky or personal just come off as amateurish, and long letters seem to signal subpar stories.

    The only thing you could put in that letter to help your cause is to say that you’ve been published in places I would have heard of. At most, that will raise my expectations and, if I don’t like the story, I will think about it carefully for another few minutes before rejecting it or passing it on for a second opinion (in which case it still has to be approved by the editor).

    So yeah, that cover letter probably isn’t going to help sell the story, as some authors seem to think, but it can hurt your image. Stick to a brief, professional introduction; anything more risks making you look bad.

    1. So much of this.

      You have to think of the editors and slushies too: they are reading hundreds of these so wasting their time with unnecessary blather is not going to do you or your stories any favours.

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