What to Check Before You Hit Submit
We’ve talked about building worlds and creating in-depth characters. Even our secondary characters have backstories now. Our stories are written and edited. Now what? Before you submit, there is still an important step to seeing your work in print. It is the dreaded F word. Now, get your mind out of the gutter because that’s not what I meant. I am talking about formatting. But wait, you say, how do I figure out what I need to do for formatting. That’s what I’m here to talk about—submission guidelines.
First, let’s consider submission guidelines in general. It is critical to understand submission guidelines because this can be the make or break point for your work. As an editor for Mighty Quill Books, that’s one of the first things I look at and, yes, I’ve rejected work for lack of following submission guidelines. I understand this may seem petty, but following guidelines tells the editors about how well you researched your plan to submit to them. It also reflects on your ability to follow direction, and helps editors focus more on content than trying to puzzle out a million different formats. Also, it can provide evidence about how easy you will be to work with as an author should your piece be selected for publication.
Short Story Format
Now, let’s review some specific submission guidelines to understand the ins and outs of what is being asked for. Here at Our Write Side, we have two slightly different sets of guidelines—one for the literary journal and one for the annual anthology. The basics for both sets of guidelines follow the standard short story format, often referred to as Shunn’s or William Shunn’s format. This includes one-inch margins, Times New Roman or Courier 12-point font, double spaced, and headers on each page—except for the first page. These requirements are set up this way because it makes it easier for the editors to make notes and to know how much room your submission will take in the publication. In the age of ebooks, it makes importing your file into the master file much easier to do.
Next, make sure you’ve double checked what file formats your preferred publisher accepts. While this may seem picky, it is critical because you want to make sure the editors can open your file. They will not take the time to ask you to resubmit it if you get this step wrong. For Our Write Side, we accept .doc, .docx, or .txt file extensions. Another common file extension accepted is the .rtf file. Be safe and double check in case they have something you may not expect as their preferred file extension.
Formatting the “Other” Stuff
All of this has been for your manuscript itself. Once you finish everything with your manuscript, go back to the submission guidelines again for other submission requirements. This is a place where the guidelines here differ. For our literary journal, the expectation is that your email subject line read Inquiry/Your Name/Name of Piece. In the body of the email you’re asked to put in your name, bio, word count, and information about the piece. However, for the annual anthology submission, the email subject should read Inquiry/ (Insert the name of the current anthology)/Story Title. In the body of the email, you’re asked to write a synopsis and word count. Why the difference? Because with the anthology, the word count is generally much higher than in the lit journal. This means to read every submission in its entirety would take a significant amount of time. The synopsis requirement lets editors make sure your story is close to what they are looking for without spending as much time on it. The shorter pieces are not as time consuming to read through, which is why the lit journal does not require a synopsis.
Don’t think you’re done with submission guidelines at this point. There are also guidelines out there for novel synopses, back blurbs, cover letters, and the like. It is getting more common in the submission email, publishers ask authors to add a comment to acknowledge you’ve read the submission guidelines and you’re not spamming every publisher out there with your story. When you think you’ve gotten everything formatted according to the guidelines, do one more thing. Go back and double check that checklist. I hate having to reject an author’s story because the guidelines were not followed.
Hopefully this has helped you understand how to think about and understand submission guidelines. They can be the make or break point for a piece being published or rejected. What other questions do you have about submission guidelines? Hit me up here or on my blog—where you can also find my social media links—and ask them. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out for you.