Tips for Successful Submissions

Does this sound familiar?

You  slaved over your submission piece and have waited for weeks (or even months) for an answer  only to  get the ubiquitous one liner which crushes your confidence.

Your immediate thoughts focus on the end  of the world……..You decide to ditch your dream of being a writer… but wait!

Firstly The feedback you receive, be it a rejection letter or a longer piece of advice has nothing to do with you as a person or your ability as a whole as a writer. The feedback is about the specific piece you submitted with regards to the specific competition, anthology or opportunity the publisher was running.

You are not being rejected.  The piece of work you submitted is.

Every writer gets rejection letters. The question is, how to interpret them and what to do next.

Its very often the case that the story has not been rejected because of the quality of the writing, but for a simple, easily avoided reason.

Top reasons a submission will be rejected

1. You failed to follow the submission guidelines.

Judges and Adjudicators  are very particular about fonts, setting out of paragraphs, word count and cover letters.  Be particularly careful about putting identification on your work as most places request that there is no identifying names attached to the piece.

2. It is very obvious that you didn’t proofread.

Although a minor point as far as judging goes, if  there were spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or similar structural issues, it reflects on you as a writer as to your committment to your craft.

3. You failed to read the submission outline regarding the theme, prompt, audience or publication restrictions.

Ensure your story has the appropriate tone and languaging suitable for the publication you are submitting it to. If the publishers are looking for fantasy, don’t send in steampunk. If the publication has asked for stories themed around rebirth, don’t send in your depressing emo – everyone – dies – apocalyptic tale.  It might be a fantastic story – but if it doesn’t suit the target audience or the style of publication, it won’t be included. Ensure your piece fits well with the ethos or aims of the publication.

4. Your Cover letter –  was either non existent, bland or a work of fiction. Your cover letter is just as important as the manuscript and needs editing, tightening and proofreading to showcase you as a writer in a short space.

5. Word Count – Although this is covered in ‘read the guidelines’ it bears highlighting again. No doubt your 3000 word story is brimming with outstanding prose and you could not bear cutting a single word down. Great. Send it to an appropriate competition. However, don’t send it to a flash fiction competition for stories under 1000 words. Regardless of its merit, f its too short, or too long, editors will reject it without reading the first line.

6. Bad Timing. Unless an anthology is themed, eg stories about suicide, its unlikely  that more than one story following the same theme will be published together.  Although three stories about suicide submitted for one anthology may all be fantastic, it is not in the editors interest for marketability to publish all three.

7. It could of course be a fundamental flaw in the piece –

  • The quality wasn’t there. Ensure you have had your story beta read by a variety of readers and act upon their advice before submitting. Having a passive voice describing flat 2 dimensional characters wandering around a lifeless setting with nothing to do or say, will not get you published.
  • Its boring or unoriginal. There is no plot or development, no conflict and no characterisation.  Worse still, its a re-write of a popular television show or recent film.
  • The opening failed to grab. Depending on the length of the manuscript, if your story hasn’t made the reader care about something quickly, then it will get rejected before they have read your witty or double twisted ending. The opening needs a hook. Every word you include is an excuse for the editor to stop reading.

And just think, if your story has been rejected, you are in good company. George Orwell, D H Lawrence, and Leo Tolstoy were all knocked back by publishers before they had success. The script for M.A.S.H was rejected 21 times before a producer took it on. J K Rowling was rejected by five publishers, Gone With The Wind suffered 18 rejections and Dr Seuss was rejected 23 times.

Imagine if one of those writers decided after the first rejection that they were not cut out to be a writer?  What a poorer place our world would be.

To give yourself the best possible chance of success in the submission process, ensure you do your research to find publications which suit your style of prose,  read the guidelines and adhere to them.

Best of luck!


About Annie Evett

Writer, Thaumaturg, Mum. Purveyor of Fine Characters, Words and Storylines. Prolific scribbler of speculative fiction, feminist literature, romance, adventure and non fiction exploring darker themes in urban mythicalism.
This entry was posted in Tips for Writers. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tips for Successful Submissions

  1. New writers should read this tip sheet. Often we think that editors are being arbitrary in their decisions, but we have an obligation to present our work in the best way.

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