If you’ve just started writing short stories, you may be considering sending them to magazines or anthologies. But how do you do that (easy)? How do you avoid anxiety when you submit the stories (hard)? And how do you deal with the crush of rejection that’s an inevitable part of selling short stories (sadly necessary)?
How to do it
First, finish the story. Believe it or not, this is much harder than sending it–but that’s a topic for another time.
Next, find a magazine or anthology that fits your story. You can take a look at Ralan.com or The Submission Grinder to find a long list of magazines that takes submissions from writers.
On the magazine’s website, you’ll want to find the page that says ‘Submissions’ or ‘Submission guidelines’. Submission guidelines are where the editors tell you: A) What kind of stories they’re looking for. B) How they want you to ‘package’ that story, that is, how the manuscript you send them should look. C) How you should send it in (typically by mail or through a web form).
Formatting a manuscript may take some time, especially if the magazine asks for something other than a ‘standard manuscript format’. My advice is that you always follow the guidelines, even when they’re a hassle, because a well-formatted manuscript shows the editor you’re serious about your submission. Besides, formatting a story is much easier than writing it, so just get it over with.
Don’t worry – Just send it
A frequent reason why manuscripts stay in the author’s drawer is anxiety. You may fret over the question whether the story is original enough to send, or gobsmacking goooood enough, or brilliant enough–or if it’s even remotely publishable.
Worrying about originality is perfectly natural, especially if you’re constantly trying to improve your writing. Striving to write better stories is what serious writers do, so by all means continue to think about how to blow your readers’ minds. But forget those worries while you’re in the process of submitting the story, all right? Doubts have a nasty way of turning into blocks, and you need to get your story out there.
So take a deep breath and tell yourself you’ve done all you can for your story. It’s time to send it out and introduce it to the world. You can’t control how it’ll be received, but if the story just sits on your hard drive, it won’t be received at all.
Hit the ‘send’ button, and you’re done.
A while later, just as you suspected, the editor mails you back and tells you they’re buying the story. Congratulations! Read the contract, sign and return it if you agree with the terms, and bask in the accolades from your fellow writers when your story is published.
If your story gets rejected
Of course, sometimes stories get rejected. Well, actually, this happens more often than not, and for a new writer it may be cause for concern and even anxiety. When you’ve spent hours writing a story, and years honing your craft, it can be tough to learn that an editor doesn’t want to use it. If you’re just starting out as a writer and haven’t sold a story yet, you may even wonder if you have any talent at all, if your story sucks or if you should just call it quits.
This still happens to me, and I’ve sold 30 stories and received 900 rejections. But don’t listen to those doubts.
My cure for the submission blues is to send the stories out again. But what if you’ve been hit by those anxieties mentioned above and don’t dare send anything out again, ever?
Here are a few good things to remember:
1) The competition is fierce. Magazines receive tons of stories every month. At one point, Apex Magazine reported receiving over 1200 stories in a month, although they also stated that they usually only get between 800 and 1200 stories. Since they have space for less than ten stories per issue, it means they reject a lot of perfectly good stories, and sadly, yours may be among them. This doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with your story, so go ahead and send it to the next magazine.
2) Editors know what they want. They have a vision for the kind of stories they publish in their magazine, and they may also collect stories to match a particular theme for an issue. Your story could be the best story in the universe, and it might still not be right for that particular magazine or issue. But it might be right for another magazine, so if the story is rejected, just send it out again.
3) Rejection doesn’t mean you’re banned from submitting again. In fact, editors only blacklist writers who send them an email telling them how much they hate the magazine. But a story that doesn’t fit the magazine will not get you banned, even if it’s a bit amateurish (trust me, I’d be banned for life for my first stories). Editors love to find new writers, and even if they reject your first 22 stories, they may still accept number 23 if they want it. I’m talking from experience here.
4) Trust in yourself as a writer. Your stories may not be right for a particular magazine, but if they are right for you, you should definitely write them. At a glance, this may not sound terribly productive. After all, why write stories that no one wants to read? But this may only be true for one of your stories. You next one is going to be different, and if you keep telling stories that only you can tell, you’ll have something rare that editors are going to print.
Hopefully this will help you to find the courage to submit your story again. And to write new ones.
And if you have other anxieties, feel free to mention them in the comments. If I have any advice, I’ll be sure to share it.