8 Submission Strategies That Get Results

January means New Year's resolutions—many of which we will ultimately fail to keep. But If one of your resolutions this year is to get more of your work published, friends, I'm here to help you make it happen.

The following tips and techniques are from a class I recently taught for Litreactor, Fiction: Final Draft, an intensive for emerging authors who are in it to win it. Which is to say, it's a class for those who have worked hard, put in their ten thousand hours, and are now ready to beat the numbers game that is publishing. 

If that sounds like you, it's time to put the following strategies into play—now, early in the year—and consistently apply them over the course of 2018. If you really have put in the hours necessary to hone your craft, I can guarantee you they will produce results.

1. Set Aside Time

If you are not currently setting aside time on a regular basis to submit your work, now's the time to establish that practice. (I would also recommend that you keep this time separate from your writing time, because if you try to perform these two functions at the same time, not only will you not be working efficiently, you'll be more likely to second-guess your work.)

Here are some of the tasks I’d suggest you include in the period of time you set aside for submissions: A) researching reading periods, open calls, and opportunities; B) researching target markets and updating your “hit list”; C) submitting your most polished pieces of work, formatted according to the guidelines of each publication; D) updating your submissions records.

2. Do Your Research

It’s great to have big ambitions for your work, but everyone wants to be published by The New Yorker or Asimov’s, which means everyone else is submitting to these publications too. There are plenty of other publications that are worthy of your best work, in terms of their prestige, pay, or both, and on a purely statistical basis, you have a far better chance of being published by them.

But in order to suss out these publications, you'll have to do your research. So don't just hit the same ten or so dream pubs over and over again—do the research necessary to expand that list of target publications to 20, 30, or more. (And hey, if a publication sounds intriguing, consider a subscription—while we can't do that with every journal or magazine, there's no denying that actually reading a pub is the very best form of research there is.)

Looking for resources? Check out Poets & Writers online and Duotrope.

3. Get a Spreadsheet

But wait, you say, I hate spreadsheets. Well, I do too. But I use a spreadsheet to track my submissions, and so should you.

How many times have you revised a piece? Where have you sent it out already? How long did it take to get rejected? (We know you have no trouble keeping track of your acceptances.) Was it rejected "nicely," with an initiation to send more work? And did you do that? When?

Moreover: What are the themes and word count of each of the pieces you're ready to publish? (This can be important in determining whether a submissions opportunity is a fit.) How many times did you have to submit it before you got it published? Moreover, what is your overall acceptance rate?

If all of this sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is. So even if you hate spreadsheets, consider using one.

4. Get Smart

Along the lines of "do your research," consider this: absolutely any factor that limits the number of submissions in a given slush pile is your friend.

Is the journal only open to submissions for one week twice a year? Is the contest only open to women over 40, or memoir writers from Louisiana—or, even better, female memoir writers over 40 from Lousiana? (Remember, any given parameter has the potential to cut down on your competition.)

Also, consider anthologies. Because while that high-profile speculative journal might be looking for the perfect short story, that high-profile anthology might just be looking for a good one that furthers their exploration of the steampunk aesthetic. Because anthologies have a narrower focus than journals, they can be a great place to snag your first big byline.

5. Double Up

Most established literary journals receive a thousand or more submissions a year, with acceptance rates hovering between .5 and 2.5 percent. Those numbers should make it clear that in order to get results, no matter how brilliant your work may be, you’ll need to up your numbers. 

Of course, there are only so many hours in the day, and if you’re already got a lot on your plate, the responsibility to submit more often than you already are can seem overwhelming—paralyzing, even.

Here’s a trick to avoid that sort of paralysis: however many submissions you tend to have out at one time, double it. That means, if you have nothing under consideration right now, submit one thing; if you have a piece under consideration by five publications, submit to five more. As submitting becomes more routine, and your system better established, you can double up again.

6. Follow Up

New writers tend to take rejection hard; experienced writers hardly notice it. Either way, if you don’t take the time to read your rejections carefully, you may miss the fact that your submission has been rejected with regrets.

It might note that while the editors enjoyed the piece, they ultimately decided that it wasn’t right for them. Rejections like this often come with an invitation to submit more work—and though they can sting (so close!), it’s important to realize what such rejections really mean.

Kate Winterheimer, the founding editor of The Masters Review, notes that she has published many authors that she had previously rejected many times. “I can’t emphasize enough that continuing to submit to the same literary magazine is something you absolutely should do,” she says. “It’s terrible to think [authors] might not submit to us again when their work is so close and such a strong fit, but has otherwise been beat out by other stories.”

7. Submit Early

We’re all busy people, right? That's why so many of us wait until close to the contest deadline or end of the submissions window to submit. 

But editors and general readers are busy people too, which is why they generally do not wait until the contest or submissions window closes to start reading—and the way they read at the beginning of their slog through the slush is not the way they read at the end.

If you want to give yourself the best possible odds with a given contest or publication, here's a pro tip: send in your work as soon as submissions open.

8. Submit often

Lastly, remember that submitting is an essential activity for any writer who aspires to be an author. It pays to stay abreast of new publication opportunities as they arise, and to submit work frequently enough that you can take advantage of those opportunities whenever they come your way.

Interested in more submissions strategies that get results? Sign up for the second installment of Fiction: Final Draft, coming in May. 

In the meantime, let me know in the comments below: What was your best acceptance of 2017?

Susan DeFreitas

Column by Susan DeFreitas

Susan DeFreitas has never been able to choose between fantasy and reality, so she lives and writes in both. A first-generation American of Caribbean descent, she was born and raised in rural west Michigan and spent fourteen years in the high country of Arizona before moving to Portland, Oregon, where she has served as a collaborative editor with Indigo Editing & Publications since 2010. She is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a 2017 Gold IPPY Award; her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been featured in more than thirty journals and anthologies. She enjoys mysterious books, strange weather, thinking machines, and sketchy characters.

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