Some Gripes About Submissions

I produce over a dozen anthologies for new and established writers in a year, offering many the opportunity to get published for the first time and others the chance to consolidate a career as a writer. In return for this, I get a tiny amount of money from the sale of each anthology -- much, much smaller than you probably imagine — but even that minuscule income in the early days made me feel guilty that I was ‘profiting’ in some way from the work of others (even though no published book so far has covered the costs of its own production).

So I designed things so that authors had a chance to win a paying collection of their own work, if readers voted for their stories in particular anthologies. This led to about a dozen authors winning such opportunities, and, at this writing, three of those authors have had their own collections published, with more on the way.

With all that in mind, I wanted to point out some things about the nature of the work that now pours in whenever Clarendon House opens up a new anthology for submissions.

This isn’t about the quality of the work as such, most of which continues to astonish and delight me. It’s more about the technicalities of submitting work.

Earlier in 2019, I published Steve Carr’s book, Getting Your Short Stories Published: A Guidebook. It gives an outline of the various successful actions Steve undertook in order to get over 300 short stories published in less than two years. In the book, he says:

Every publication has submission guidelines. The importance of following the guidelines, along with submitting quality stories, was the most frequently mentioned issue by the editors/publishers who contributed to this guidebook.

I was one of those editors/publishers. But I find that I need to make many of the same points again.

If you are serious about submitting your fiction to others with the intention of seeing it published, the very least that you should do is read the publisher’s submission guidelines.

Sending in work without checking to see what a publisher is asking for is basically telegraphing a request NOT to get published.

This isn’t because editors and publishers are ‘mean’ and are trying to catch you out. ‘Ha! Got you! I’m not publishing this piece because the line spacing isn’t exactly correct! Hahahaha!’ That’s not what happens at all.

Editors and publishers — myself included — have developed their guidelines, probably over a period of time, in order to make it easier and more streamlined for them to accept work. A piece of work that comes in which exactly follows the guidelines given is very simple to categorise and file in the right place ready for publication.

However, pieces of work which come in which are NOT in accordance with the guidelines cause extra work for the editor/publisher. Perhaps the formatting isn’t right and has to be adjusted; perhaps a bio is missing and needs to be chased up; perhaps the work doesn’t even have the author’s name on it and so needs to be matched up to an earlier email, etc etc.

This is all quite apart from whether or not the actual content of the story is anything to do with the anthology’s theme. I recently received a lengthy non-fiction essay about medical conditions, submitted to a flash fiction anthology. But mis-matching of content or theme is actually much rarer than simple technical problems.

The thing to keep in mind is ‘Do I want to create extra work for the editor/publisher? Or do I want t make it as easy as possible for him/her to accept this piece and publish it?’

If you’re serious about becoming a published author, the answer to that is obvious.

What if the publisher’s submission guidelines are unclear? Then write and ask for clarity. At least that shows that you have attempted to read the guidelines. Friendly editors and publishers will write back with answers (me included!) and may even modify their guideline documents to avoid future queries. So you might have saved trouble for future writers too. But at least read the guidelines to begin with.

Then watch as your statistics pick up, more of your work reaches readers, and you start to achieve your goals.

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