Saturday, August 4, 2007

WORD: Submissions 101

NOTE: Because it's so long, this week's WORD is directly posted here. It's also easier to find for future reference.

There are different kinds of submissions, because there are different kinds of magazines and pieces. Today I’m just going to explain an unsolicited short story. That is a bunch of big words meaning that I am sending a magazine a story they didn’t ask for. To answer the unspoken question, yes, there are situations when magazines do ask for certain stories or articles, but I’ll talk about that in another Innovative.

So imagine yourself as a teen called Gabrielle who, one day, has an idea.

1. The Idea: the first step to any submission. Who knows where ideas come from? They come from everywhere. The important thing is to notice them.

I have an idea: “The Tale of Fat Fred.” Who is Fred, I don’t have a clue. I just like the title. I think this could be a short story, maybe a short story about dieting and the Evil Master of Chocolate. It could be fun! I’d like to publish this.

2. The Research: not necessarily the second step to submission. A lot of stories are written completely first, and then submitted. While that can be successful, it saves you time if you find an idea and then research magazines.

But who will publish “The Tale of Fat Fred”? I have to go on a quest to look for the best magazine. I will look in very strange places. I can Google children’s magazines. I can read “Writer’s Market” books and zines. These are literally lists and descriptions of publications. Maybe I scour my siblings’ trashcans, looking for ideas. What I need is names, so that I can do…

3. The Picking: Figuring out which magazine to submit to. Submitting “Fred” to five different magazines at the same time is a BIG NO-NO. This is called “simultaneous submissions” and they’re not popular with editors. So I have to pick one.

There are several things to look for while picking a magazine.
The first thing is subject relevance. Do they publish your kind of story?
Methods of submission. I love email submissions, they’re free and much easier to deal with. However, most zines still prefer snail-mail submission.
Another thing to look for is payment. Will the magazine pay you? Paying magazines, obviously, give you money, but that means they’re more competitive. Nonpaying magazines are usually less competitive, but you still publish the story.
Yet another is quality. Will your story look nice? Will your name appear with it? What’s important in its presentation?

I have searched the internet and all writing literature, and found Children’s Horror. It’s a paying magazine that only accepts snail-mail submissions. It’s a nice-looking magazine (I can tell by the pictures on their website) and I think “Fat Fred” would do nicely here. My magazine is picked, so I can do…

4. The Writing: most necessary part of any submission.

The nice thing about doing the steps in the order I have put down here, is that you can tailor your submission exactly to the editor’s liking. Your best friend in writing a short story for Children’s Horror is their Writer’s Guidelines. I found these while going to (made-up website.) Their guidelines say that the editors prefer stories with fast openings and funny heroes.

So, when I start writing “The Tale of Fat Fred,” I open it with a nighttime chase in a candy store. I also have Fred cracking jokes while hiding from Evil Chocolate Master. I finish my first draft.

5. The Editing: Very, Very Important.

I re-read my first draft. It’s pretty good, but I have some awkward sentences and this one scene that isn’t working. So I fix it all. This can take a day or a week or a month. Every writer works differently. My pal, Writer’s Guidelines, is also a big help here. Children’s Horror only accepts short stories that are 1000 words or under. Because I know that I must always respect WG, I check my word count by clicking “Tools” and selecting “Word Count” on Microsoft Word. It tells me my total word count is 1200 words.

Uhoh! Too long. I re-read “Fat Fred” again, skimming down some paragraphs, taking out adjectives, making him thin. When I check my word count the second time, it’s 1004 words. That’s fine. I’m ready for…

6. The Sending: Necessary for submission. If this doesn’t happen, not much else does.

Again, my best friend Writer’s Guidelines tells me the address to send my story to and what to include. Some important things are an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope), my contact information, a total word count and a picture of myself.

Every magazine is different. Make sure you send exactly what they request.

Now, I have assembled all the necessary ingredients for “Fat Fred” to be submitted. I neatly write the correct name and address on the large envelope (big enough to hold everything comfortably) in pen, and enclose everything they asked for. Most importantly, I included a neat, double-spaced typed copy of “The Tale of Fat Fred.” I walk down to my mailbox, lovingly place the large envelope in there, and stick the little red flag up.

7. The Waiting: the hard part.

This is exactly what it sounds like. I wait. The WG told me that the response would come in 2 months. So I play the piano, email friends, live my life and come up with an idea called “The Story of Skinny Sara.”

8. Their Response: the fun part. Sometimes.

One day two months after Step 6, my mother tells me that there’s a letter. My heart beats quickly as I race to open it. This is slightly strange, because it’s my handwriting on the envelope. But there’s a couple pieces of paper inside, stamped with the Children’s Horror insignia.

It’s accepted! I scream, and then seriously read it. The editor loved my story, but she wants me to make a few changes (cut 200 words and make more jokes.) I need to email them, to say I received their letter. I have two weeks to make their deadline.

9. My Response: this is where everything your mom taught you about manners is relevant.

I send them an email, that day, to I address it to the editor (Marja Black) who had sent me the letter. I tell her that I received her letter, that I am thrilled about the acceptance, and that I will give her the final version of “Fat Fred” by or before the deadline. Meeting deadlines is MOST IMPORTANT!

So, in the next two weeks, I work with the suggestions they gave me and turn “Fat Fred” into an incredible story. Maybe I have to stay up a little later, or skip the mall a couple times, but it’s worth it. I email the story back to Marja as she asked me to (many editors resort to email, after the piece is accepted.) I get a quick note from her telling me it’s great, and she’ll send me the payment ($20.00 and 2 copies) when it’s published.

10. The Publication: Where you see your name in print and dollars in your wallet.

One day, six months after Step 6, I get a big package in the mail. There are two free copies of Children’s Horror, Issue 121, and “The Tale of Fat Fred” is inside. It’s beautiful, it’s amazing, it’s got my name right next to it. Even better, there’s a check for twenty dollars. This is the end of a very happy idea.

Well, not really. Twenty bucks won’t cover the ten copies my mother is going to buy to send to family and friends. And for most people, the story has just started. Kids everywhere are going to read “The Tale of Fat Fred,” and never know how long it took to get into their hands. I, on the other hand, am already to step 2 with “The Story of Skinny Sarah.”

So, that’s your average submissions story, with a few noted add-ons.

Writing The Story First. Sometimes I write the story first, and then look for a suitable magazine. This is OK, but it means I may have to do extra work in order to make it fit the Writers’ Guidelines.

Getting Rejected. Rejection is a huge part of the writing life, and it will be part of yours too. If you are rejected at Step 8, you go back to Step 2… sort of. After dealing with your rage and disappointment, you remember this other magazine you thought about: Scary Stories. I would have to cut out some jokes, because this zine doesn’t like jokes as much, but altogether I can go from Step 3 to Step 6 because I’ve already written most of the story.

Un-perfect Publication. Maybe you get the magazine and your name is spelled wrong. The magazine looks terrible. Your money is late in coming. The editor is condescending and awful. After publishing a story, there’s not much you can do about it. But hey, you did get published. This way you can tell other zines that you have been, as well as your friends. Don’t ruin a pretty good ending… just avoid Children’s Horror in the future.

And, that’s a wrap! Any questions you would like to ask, please do. If you have a general question, I would advise you post it on the site, even directly onto this postIf you have a specific question about your situation, etc, talk to me at . I would like to say that most everything I have learned about submissions comes from other people. Editors, writers like Kathy Henderson, books, magazines, and one or two things from experience. Thanks to everyone.

Nextweek: So, we know how to submit, but why should we? And what happens if I’m working on a book at the same time?

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