Welcome to the very first Bread Crumbs from the Void, your writing guide into the unknown from a drunken Sherpa who lost his map. Today kicks off a series focusing on unleashing your twisted musings on an unsuspecting world. Sound like fun? Buckle up for the info dump, kids.
Submitting your work for publication can be one of the most nerve-wracking, anus-clenching experiences you will ever endure.
You send your children out into the world hoping for acceptance, only to have them bullied, battered, and sent home crying with black eyes and skinned knees. You wait inordinate amounts of time, sweating and biting your nails down to nubs only to receive a form rejection that does not even address you by name. It is a process which can make you feel two feet tall. It is a process which can make you want to put your fist through the wall, vowing never to show any work to another soul as long as you live.
Submitting can also be greatly rewarding. The moment a short story, poem, piece of flash fiction, etc. finds its way before the eyes of an editor who digs your vibe can make you feel like maybe, just maybe, what you are doing has some merit. Because, in reality, if you are bleeding on the page, exposing the mucus and bare muscle of your soul, then what you are doing does have merit. Depending on your brand of wordplay though, it may take some time to find the circle who will appreciate your words.
I am going to assume you have already edited for grammar and spelling, and revised until your fingers ached and your eyes burned. I am going to assume you have received honest and brutal feedback from a source you can count on to be objective (i.e., not your mommy). Now you should be in the place where the thought of offering up your work for merciless scrutiny is keeping you awake into the wee hours of the morning. To help you catch a few winks I would like to share a few essentials I have learned along my own perilous journey to publication.
Around 2006 I began submitting stories and artwork to indie comic book publishers. I was unanimously rejected and, to be quite honest, that was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was not ready to be published. Plain and simple. I spent the next few years honing my craft, self-publishing a limited run series, and toward the end of 2010 received my first job in the industry with Viper Comics.
Since then I have worked for several other underground comics publishers such as Arcana Studios and Under Belly Comics on one-shots and graphic novels, had a picture book published by Wandering in the Words Press, and most recently saw a handful of short stories and poems accepted by a number of literary magazines.
This list is certainly not meant to sound boastful or arrogant, I only aim to illustrate that I have an intimate—albeit turbulent—relationship with the publishing world. There is no paint-by-numbers formula to getting work published, or writing in general for that matter. As such, this is not a step-by-step guide. Aside from hard work and patience, there are various things which can help increase the odds. Here is a breakdown of a few of the top gripes from editors and publishers which you can easily avoid.
Play to the Crowd
The numero uno, most important thing to do when submitting is to know your audience. I am not talking about the throngs of devoted fans you hope to attract in your meteoric rise to literary stardom. In this instance I am referring specifically to the editors and content of litmags and periodicals where you decide to submit your work. There is nothing that will twist an editor’s giblets quicker than a cold submission from someone who obviously did not bother to do their homework. And with good reason. Why the fuck should an editor take the time to give a hearts and unicorns romance piece the consideration it deserves when they so clearly publish a magazine dedicated to gruesome horror?
Know your audience.
It is about respect, first and foremost. I am certainly not saying you have to agree with every editor’s opinion—I sure as hell don’t—but you do have to respect their time, their knowledge, and their hard work. The way to show this respect is to make sure you put in your due diligence and research extensively before even thinking about submitting.
Pore over the website. Read a large cross section of previously published material. If there are no archives available online, be a peach and purchase one of the back issues to study. Fully understanding the proclivities of specific publications will save all parties involved a lot of time and a lot of heartburn.
Guidelines are not Suggestions
Every publishing entity, be it magazine, comic company, etc. has a set of submission guidelines. Some are fairly common, while others can be quite specific. Eons ago, we dinosaurs had to purchase weighty tomes such as the Writer’s or Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market and thumb through hundreds and hundreds of pages to find one address or one set of guidelines. Unlike the ancient past, all of the information is now online. Literally at your fingertips and as close as the click of a mouse.
Now, I am not one for rules and despise authoritarian law, but submission guidelines are one of my few exceptions. They are not in place to give a recommendation on how you could possibly submit if you so choose. They are there to advise you exactly how to submit to a particular publisher. Submission guidelines are your gospel. Bow in reverence. Sleep with them under your pillow. Absorb each set and follow them to the tee.
Overlooking this essential step is shooting yourself in the foot before the race even begins.
If editor A wants prose submitted in Times New Roman, which is essentially industry standard, do not submit your piece in Comic Sans because you think it looks snazzy. If editor B divulges the fact that their submission process is to read blind, then remove all of the identifying information from your document.
Following guidelines is not rocket science.
Hell, it is not a science in any way, shape, or form. It is a matter of comprehension. The last thing you want to do is show an editor that you do not have the mental capacity to adhere to a few requests. Worse yet, failure to comply will display an apathetic and pertinacious air serving as a one way ticket to the shit list. Believe me, this is not the rapport you want to build and the stench will follow you for eternity.
To sum up, just follow the god-damn guidelines.
The Cover Letter
The cover letter is an exercise in brevity. There is no need to give a detailed synopsis of the piece you’re submitting (unless specifically requested), sing the flowery praises of the publication in question, or prattle off your entire resume including the spelling bee you won in the third grade convincing you that writing was your destiny.
Remember the acronym KISS? No? Well, it stands for keep it simple, stupid. So, KISS the hell out of the cover letter.
When an editor receives a cover letter running more than a page, and in some cases more than a few paragraphs, they will already be turned off. If they even decide to review your work after such underwhelming foreplay, you’ll already have two strikes. I will repeat, KISS that cover letter from head to toe.
Some things to keep in mind are:
A (completely fictional) crisp and effective cover letter reads something to the effect of:
Dear Ms. Rigby:
Please consider the attached story Don’t Fear the Reaper for inclusion in a future issue of Exile on Main St. Review. Your Winter issue featured the short story Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie which blew me away. I feel like my work may be a fit with your publication alongside other such storytellers looking for life on Mars.
Currently I am in a working classic rock cover band, with short stories and essays recently appearing in or forthcoming from the likes of Motorhead Review, The Stiff Little Fingers ‘Zine, and Wild Thing Monthly.**
Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.
Ronnie James Dio
**If you do not have any publishing credits at the time of submission, it is perfectly acceptable to omit this section. In the event that an editor requests a bio, you can simply tell them (briefly!) where you are from, what you do for a living, and what you are working on.
That is really all there is to the cover letter. Your work should speak for itself. And it should fucking scream.
Just know up front that rejections happen. Rejections happen to everybody who has ever put pen to paper. They are going to happen to you. One or two rejections should not be enough to make you call it quits. This industry requires a thick skin, cupcake. I am not saying you should not be upset by rejections. They still piss me off to this day. What I am saying is a rejection should not be the brick wall that causes you to permanently crash and burn.
Allow yourself to be angry or hurt, and then dust yourself off and move on. Make mistakes. Rework pieces from top to bottom. Learn from every failure and every triumph. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves, dig in, and put in the time.
Next time I will be covering tricks and techniques on how to find the right publication and network. Until then keep scribbling, you freaks.