If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already written and edited a story of your own. Your work is at the point where you’re comfortable putting it in front of editors. Congratulations! That’s no small feat.
Before you start submitting to publications, there are a few things you can (and should!) do to help you prepare. Some of these tips will help with your current story, while some tips will give you pieces of writing or advice to help you over the long term.
And don’t worry, these tips won’t take you a lot of extra time. You’ve already written a story, so you’re probably not excited about another potential mountain of work. These tips are quick and easy, and hopefully well-justified so you know why you’d want to spend more time.
Write a brief, reusable biography of at most one paragraph
While it’s true that you’re submitting a piece of writing and your bio might not seem relevant unless the work gets accepted, your biography can help contextualize your work. Stories don’t appear out of the ether. Stories are written by authors, and the readers (and editors!) will want to know a little bit about the person behind the curtain, so to speak. Knowing who you are, or more specifically, who you want to present yourself as, can be a valuable piece of information.
As another bonus, if you’ve already taken the time to create a bio, a publication can be relatively confident that you’re professional enough to tackle any follow-up work that might arise.
You’ll probably have about a paragraph to describe yourself in the final publication, on average. That means you’ll need to be a bit picky about what you include and what you omit. There’ll probably be more of the latter, unfortunately! For example, if you already have a hundred publications, that’s great! That information belongs on your website. A few braggable highlights will stand out much better. And if you don’t have any publications yet, that’s okay too!
You can always consider adding a touch of flavour by adding an interesting detail about you and your background to act as a good hook and help you stand out.
Here’s an example bio that you can consider using as a template:
Jane Doe is a Canadian fiction writer who hails from the snowy plains of Toronto, Canada. She graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in English, but has been writing for herself ever since she started forming memories. She is the author of Scary Book and Scary Book 2: The Scarying, along with a handful of short stories. While she hasn’t yet won the Hugo yet, she’s already made space on her desk for it.
Write a brief, reusable, lightly customizable cover letter for each piece
You’d create a cover letter when applying for a job, wouldn’t you? Same deal here, but to a lesser extent. A brief, brief note can be helpful to contextualize your work.
Editors can be reading dozens or hundreds of stories each day. You have the opportunity to summarize your work in your own words instead of relying on the brainwaves of a frazzled editor who might still be thinking about the previous piece they just finished reading.
A cover letter in PDF will probably be ignored, unfortunately, so plain text in the body of an email is perfect. Adding a quick introductory paragraph to the top of your submission email will almost certainly be read. State you who are (again, briefly!), and explain at a high level what your story is about.
Remember, you can stand out by being memorable, but this is subjective, and you can easily overdo it. If you choose this route, be just memorable enough. A cute sentence (or sentence fragment) can contain just enough character to make the reader pause and smile.
The following example can serve as a rough template:
To the editors of [publication],
Please consider the following story, Li’l Snappers, which is approximately 4,000 words in length. This piece follows the Jones family as they move into a fixer-upper on the edge of Lake Ontario to distract themselves from an upcoming divorce, only to discover the walls are full of baby piranhas.
I hope you enjoy this story, and I look forward to your response.
Format your story for readability
Whether you have a favourite font, prefer to write in alternating shades of blue and gold, or are submitting the unsanctioned sequel to House of Leaves, you should at least consider converting your manuscript to plain text. The publication will want to typeset your work later, which means all of your hard work will probably be cleared in post. Unless you have a compelling case for adding your own formatting, consider letting the story stand on its own.
Italics and bold highlighting are generally alright, but make sure you at least double-check at submission time to be certain. Sidestepping the submission guidelines is a great way to distract your editor in a way that isn’t in your favour.
Both Microsoft Word and Google Docs have an option to clear formatting, if you aren’t keen on walking through each paragraph manually. Alternately, if you don’t want to lose italics and bold formatting, you can select the entire document and choose a font, such as Arial, then choose a font size, such as 12.
Ensure that your email client knows your name
This might sound like a strange request, but you’d be surprised how many emails come from an address that doesn’t match the author’s name.
For example, which of these email sender fields looks easier to manage in an inbox full of other submissions?
- From: Jane Doe
- From: jane
- From: the doe family
- From: email@example.com
As a secondary benefit–or even as a primary benefit!–there’s a strong chance your friends and family will thank you. 😅
Give your story one final spelling and grammar check
You’d be surprised, you really would.