The Art of Submitting

A guide to the many factors to consider when submitting your writing to magazines, agents and publishers.

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So, you’ve got a piece of work you want to share with the world? You’ve got a blog, or your social media pages, but that isn’t quite the kind of recognition you’re going for.

Submitting to publishers can be a daunting task. They carry a lot of weight. They’ve got fancy deals with lots of lingo. Your favourite authors might even be amongst their listings and alumni. Yet, it needn’t be a dreadful experience. Just know your market. Research appropriate places for your work. Don’t try to fit your work to their guidelines, find a place where your work fits in naturally.

Follow the Rules

Regardless of whether it is a standard submission or a competition, always read the guidelines. Always follow the rules. Every single author, including those you respect and admire, followed the rules. The only time they didn’t was when they had enough clout the break them.

The rules aren’t just there to weed out pieces that don’t fit their bill, but they’re also there to see who is paying attention, and who is respecting them. It’s a test. If they ask for 5,000 words, give them 5,000. Maybe 5,012, but definitely not 5,543. If they ask for the first chapter, give them the first chapter. Not the first, second and third all mushed and packaged as the first chapter, and absolutely not chapter 12 because you think it is the best of the manuscript—they should all be the best. This only makes their life harder, and it makes you look like a nightmare to work with.

“When you break the submission rules, you’re saying ‘I value my genius over your time and expertise. I will prove you wrong.’ That is not a statement that makes professionals anxious to work with you. We know it will trickle/gush down into your every interaction/task.”

Delilah S Dawson

Unless explicitly stated by the guidelines, avoid funky fonts or crazy cover letter designs. It does not help, it merely bothers. Stick to average margins, double line spacing and a standard font.

Don’t Stand Out

Trust in your work to do the heavy lifting; don’t resort to gimmicks to get attention. This is just a sign to publishers that you aren’t ready to be published. This is the one area where standing out will simply get you weeded out. The ones that are easiest to work with, and let their work speak for itself, are the ones that ‘level up’ and get places. This is because their energy is spent in better areas, such as improving their skillset, on absorbing criticism and reviewing their work, or working on something new.

Know Your Market

Check the market for your work. If the publisher you have in mind is saying they’re not interested in poetry at the moment, don’t submit poetry to them at the moment. You can either wait it out, or you can try looking for others who may be suitable. If they’re not open to submissions at all, don’t submit.

Question Paying

This is very important: be absolutely sure before you pay for submission or publication.

Sometimes, publishers ask for a small fee to submit short stories or poetry. Often they will have a free option, but you can pay to hear back quicker. The more they ask for, the less genuine it is. If you’re looking at a magazine that has a distribution of 100,000 and has been going since 1921, and they ask for $3 to submit, then that’s obviously to make sure only people who are serious will send in their work. However, if instead the magazine in question is relatively new, with a small readership, and doesn’t pay authors, and it’s charging £5 per submission, that would be one to avoid.

Even more prevalent is paying to enter competitions. More often than not, these are scams. If 500 people pay £5 to enter and the first prize is only £250, it’s fairly obvious who is profiting the most.

Consider who you are looking at if asked to pay, as once a publisher has your money, they have no reason to try to market your work.

If you are looking at a full manuscript, never pay. To do so is to be conned, without question. The publisher will be squeezing you for money instead of selling your book, therefore they will not invest in marketing or even pay for a decent cover. They are also well-known for being difficult to talk to regarding concerns, and once you are in your work is trapped.

Publishers pay the author. Traditionally, this works as a kind of loan. Say they give an author a £10,000 advance for a book, the first £10,000 of book sales goes towards paying back the publisher this advance. After that, the author gets royalties. If they don’t make that money back, it means the publisher may offer less next time. The amount they offer is not indicative of how much they think the book is worth, however. There are veterans who have sold consistently well who may have less offered to them than their last book, simply by the nature of the market or other defining factors.

Read the Small Print

Make sure to take note of what kind of rights you are offering for your work. This could be indefinite copy of work, or non-exclusive rights. Most publishers dislike the idea of work being elsewhere for free (why would someone buy it if they can get it for free?), and this may work against you if the work is already published on sites such as Booksie or Wattpad, or even Facebook.


So, in conclusion: follow the rules, check the details, and trust your work to sell itself.


Next: Rejection

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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