A couple of years ago I decided to start a new ezine publishing contemporary fiction. I placed a few adverts asking for submissions of just that – contemporary fiction. What I got was a revelation.
As a writer myself, I know how competitive the market is. Even non-paying markets are deluged by wannabe writers desperate for a by-line and some publicity. Competition, I had thought, would surely lead to a high quality of submissions, with every writer determined to submit only their very best work. Not so.
Of the handful of submissions I received the day after the adverts went out, only around four were fiction. One was a “how to write” article. One was an essay on “the day my gran died”. Two were stories about vampires. One guy just sent us his CV – in Arabic.
Tip one , then: read the guidelines carefully. If the market you’re aiming at publishes fiction, then no matter how brilliant your essay or article is, it’s not going to be accepted. Neither is your CV…
Tip two, I need hardly even mention: if the publication is in English, don’t send your submission in Arabic, on the off-chance that the poor, beleaguered publisher will understand it. Simple.
Having deleted the non-fiction submissions, I moved onto the “good stuff”. Or so I thought. Of the four remaining pieces of writing, none had been proofread too carefully. One story made reference to a businessman “clenching the deal”. One made frequent use of the word “teh” and had apparently random. Punctuation. A bit like. This. The other two were … stories about vampires.
Tip three : Proofread. Or, ideally, get someone else to do it for you. Any writer knows that once you’ve worked on a piece of writing, you become blind to its mistakes. You can “proof” it as many times as you like, but you’ll still just see what you think is there, rather than what actually is there. In any artistic endeavour, a fresh pair of eyes is essential in providing a little bit of clarity and perspective. For this reason, I present:
Tip four : constructive criticism is your friend. There are a lot of aspiring writers our there. Get together with one, even if it’s only by email, and swap stories with them. Chances are they’ll be able to point out something about your story that you’ve missed. They may have some knowledge about your subject matter that you lack – for example, the fact that it’s called a “bass” guitar, not a “base guitar”, as one enlightening submission had it.
Finally, a quick word about biographies. Of course you should supply a little bit of information about yourself along with your submission. “Little” is the operative word here. I don’t want to know your life story, the names of your children, or the details of every single story you’ve ever written. I don’t need to know how many pets you have, or any of your hilarious stories about your cat. While I’m sure the path to becoming a writer was, indeed, an enlightening one for you, save the 1000 word essay on it for another time.
Tip five : let your writing do the talking. When it comes to biographical info, less is more. I want to read your story, not a breath-by-breath account of the last twenty years of your life. Keep it simple, keep it short.
And tip number six? Be gracious in defeat. If the answer to your submission is “thanks, but no thanks”, arguing with the editor won’t change their mind, and being rude definitely won’t. Remember, editors talk to one another: a reputation for rudeness won’t do your career any favours, so pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and get on with the next submission.