So you’ve completed a piece and want to submit your work–great! But where to start? Here are some tips to get your work out there:
Literary Magazines and Contests
This is probably the best place to start for getting your work out there. There are tons of great databases out there of literary magazines and my personal favorite is Poets & Writers. It’s a free list and you can search based on genre. Another option is Publishers Marketplace. That one costs $25/month, but it is a much more comprehensive list and gives you access to tons of other resources. Publishing in literary magazines is a great way to get started because it’ll help build up your writing bio (ex: “My work has previously appeared in . . .”). Additionally, I’d recommend submitting to places that allow simultaneous submissions. That means you can submit the same piece to multiple places; just inform the other places you submitted it if your work is accepted for publication.
Additionally, consider submitting your work for contests. You can find lists of them on those two websites and that can be another way to get attention for your work. Many of them have entrance fees, but most of them are under $20.
Publish a Book
When it comes to publishing a book, you have three main options:
Option #1: Try to find a literary agent/connection with a bigger publisher for your book.
This is the traditional publishing model and the best way to reach a wider audience quickly. However, a downside is that you need to have a literary agent. Most of the bigger publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, which means they only take manuscripts from agents, not the writers themselves. It’s part of the vetting process; if the agent thinks you’re good enough to take you on, then the publisher might consider publishing you.
Publishing has changed SO MUCH in the last 10-15 years that many agents and big publishers won’t take on a new client who isn’t guaranteed to make money (i.e. someone like Stephen King). Even newer authors are unofficially “required” to have some kind of pedigree of validation, so to speak, like being a winner or finalist for a contest or having a huge social media following. That’s why you see so many celebrities and YouTube creators publishing books–the publishers are guaranteed to make money.
Option #2: Submit to smaller publishers.
Smaller publishers publishing houses don’t have the marketing resources or reach of larger publishers, but they do accept manuscripts from authors themselves instead of from agents. This is how I published my first book, a collection of short stories called Unraveled.
Option #3: Self-Publish
Another option is to self-publish your book through a platform like Amazon. By self-publishing, you have a much higher percentage of profits that go to you, but you’re also responsible for all the marketing (although this can be the case with smaller publishers as well since they don’t always have much of a marketing department). There are some free things you can do like offering a free copy of your book to a small group of people in exchange for reviews (like on BooksSprout.co) or, if you want a wider reach, I’d recommend hiring a publicist to help get reviews and write ups in bigger publications. You’d also be responsible for cover art, but there are tons of great artists out there with reasonable rates who can create something magical for you.
So now you know where to send your work, but how do you format it?
I’m so glad you asked!
Anytime you submit your work, you’re going to need some kind of query letter to introduce yourself and your work. The basic format is as follows:
- Greeting (if you don’t know the name of the person you’re sending this to, just write “To Whom It May Concern”
- 1st Paragraph: Your bio
- 2nd Paragraph: A brief teaser of your work
- 3rd Paragraph (really, just a sentence): “Thank you for your consideration of my work and I look forward to hearing from you.”
- Sign Off
These don’t need to be very long and each paragraph can be only a few sentences. In fact, many places prefer something brief because they have such a high volume of queries to get through. A lot of places will also have submission guidelines and will tell you exactly what they want to know from you.
When you submit your work, you want to make sure you look like you know what you’re doing. Agents and publishers will take you more seriously if you follow a basic format on your first page. Up in the header, you need to have a few things. On the left, you want to list your name and contact information. On the right, you want to have the phrase “First Serial Rights” and beneath it, your word count. The First Serials Rights notation gives the publisher the rights to publish it for the first time, but then the rights revert back to you.
About a third of the way down the page, center your title. Don’t do anything fancy or weird with the title–just plain font, no need for italics, quotation marks, or underlined words. Then, on the line below that, type your story. Be sure to double space your document and use a simple font, preferably Arial or Times New Roman, size 12. Simple, clean, and easy to read!
I can’t stress enough the importance of following the specific guidelines for each literary magazine, contest, or publisher. People in charge of submissions will find any reason to toss your work into the slush pile just so they can weed through submissions faster. Make sure you pay attention to the following items so your work has a chance of being read:
- Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck!
- Make sure the query letter is addressed properly (i.e. don’t accidentally put the name of an agent from a competing agency)
- Follow the submission guidelines very carefully. Sometimes they’ll want you to send a sample as an attachment, others will want it in the body of an email, and others will just want a synopsis.
- Be prepared for rejection. This is an unfortunate truth, but all writers have to deal with it. The nice places will send you a stock letter saying no thanks, but others won’t say anything. When I start feeling down, I remember that Stephen King was rejected by 30 publishers before someone finally picked up Carrie and J.K. Rowling had Harry Potter rejected 12 times before someone said yes. It can be hard and depressing to keep plugging at it, but it’s part of the process.
Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Do you have any lingering questions about submissions? Let me know in the comments!
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