You have just completed what you think is going to be an excellent piece to submit to your local writing contest, lit mag, or journal. You’ve probably read it over about a dozen times and picked at your wording as if it were peas touching your portion of potatoes . . . and you were five years old.
If you are so picky about the work you are submitting, then why are you not just as choosy about your outlets? Your tester pancake could be seen as a cow pie if you submit to the wrong place.
So without further ado (which I’d like to think was the older, more mature way of saying ‘without any more bull sh*t’), here are a few of my (subjective) rules of thumb for when you are submitting your work.
Treat it As Your Child
Recognise its individuality and the strengths of your piece verses its weaknesses. Know your genre as well! Too many people mistake a knack for Creative Non-Fiction (CNF fondly), as fiction. And you just wouldn’t submit a short story to a poetry magazine . . .
Are you plot driven? Character driven? Is your work strictly genre? I am a contemporary writer with contemporary influences. My work surrounds average joes and the plague of western life as told though arguments characters have within themselves to give perspective on a certain situation. This means I may re-write a scene several times to get the correct feel. Households are fascinating to me, but I wouldn’t submit a piece to a contest that had a theme of horror for example, because it is out of my depth at the moment.
There is a definite difference in dabbling for fun, and working towards a serious piece. This is where having a blog comes in.
Blog Regularly – and Read Blogs
Blogs are a look into someone’s perspective of a certain process. The MFA Years is a great blog if you want to catch a bit of writing style. People are different when they write articles of blog entries verses their prose, poetry, or fiction.
CNF is a must-read. The New York Times has a love story column, which encourages the CNF aspect of bloggers, authors, and those who wouldn’t normally write Non-Fiction.
Let everything influence you. Today’s media can be your accomplice. Make use of it!
Read Your Stuff Out Loud
To a group preferably. I attend a writer’s workshop every Thursday and it is the basis of my editing. Make sure your work isn’t uncomfortable for you to read aloud. If you are wary of the themes you write about, then you need to reconsider what you submit and make sure you are comfortable with it.
I was terrible at reading aloud at first, but as time went on it became something I look forward to. Reading aloud to a group can open up the can of constructive criticism, which is a good thing. Don’t be offended, consider that you can make a version everyone appreciates and keep your draft for yourself. Writing is very personal, no one understands that more than other writers.
Found Where You are Going to Submit? Read First!
Read the website and notice what the people running the magazine are into. If you can, read an issue of the magazine first. If it is a competition, read the previous winner’s entries and some of the honourable mentions. I was shortlisted in a story competition that had ninety-five entries. So even though I didn’t get to read my work in the end, I was still recognised. Near selection is by no means, failure.
Last, but not least – Spreadsheet
List all of the places you are going to submit to (I’d recommend only five or so at a time, though some people can somehow manage forty/fifty subs at one time).
Record their response times and write the date you’d expect attention at the latest. An example would be ‘We reply typically within six to eight weeks.’ If you submit on the fifteenth of February, make note that the eight week cut-off would be the twelfth of April at the latest. Do contact the magazine after this point, because closure is better than nothing. Sometimes the work gets spammed, especially if you aren’t using a submitting system, but just a standard email.
Expect a bit or rejection and don’t let it get you down. Writing is very subjective.
If you get accepted, congratulations! Your learning process isn’t over yet. Make note of who accepted you and why. Read the entire journal or magazine when it is released, and make sure you have a strong understanding of why your work was featured so you can state your case in your next covering letter.
Good luck, and keep writing!