Monday, December 17, 2012

10 Things Not to Do When Submitting Your Short Story

This post first ran here on November 8, 2008.


I was asked to help compile an anthology of short stories for a South African publisher. I’d never done anything like it before so was very excited. As the process got underway, I realized quite quickly that I was about to learn a lot more than I expected I would, and I thought now that the process is over I might share some of my insights with you in a list of the 10 Things Not To Do When Submitting Your Short Story.

1. Leave all contact details off of your story.
In the occasional blind contest the guidelines might instruct you to do this, but otherwise don’t. I downloaded all the stories from the gmail account we used so that I could read them off line. I was shocked when I realized some stories had no name or contact details. When it came time to get back to the writer it was a serious slog to find the information.

2. Go with the first thing in your head
Our anthology had a theme. Themes are good and bad. It’s bad if everyone rushes for the first idea that enters their head and, surprisingly, it seems most writers do this. If that happens, then you have two hundred stories that sound like school essays. It is unlikely if you confront the topic dead on you’ll end up with a unique story. Blind side it and you have a better chance.

3. Mention your pets and hobbies in the cover letter.
I’m sure Fluffy’s a real gem, but she will not increase your chance of having your story chosen. Honestly. Nor will the fact that you have climbed Kilimanjaro. Impressed I was, but it’s not going to sway me. Keep it professional; publishing credits and little more.

4. Use SMS language
I know I am BBC (born before computers), but I want a capital I when it is in first person. 8,4,2. These are not words; they are numbers. @ is a symbol in an email address. Just as houses are made of bricks, short stories are made of words. It’s just the way it is.

5. Go under or over the word count
I’ll admit sometimes I read long complicated submission guidelines about margins, style, and types of quotation marks they want and think – what?? But word count? Never. Easy to read, easy to understand, easy to follow. So why? Why?

6. Send a poem for a short story anthology and then ask why the publisher is so rigid
There are many poetry markets. There are combined short story and poetry markets. Why on God’s earth would you want to send a poem to a short story market and then get pissed off when you’re told no thanks?

7. Scan your story and send it as a big, fat, heavy JPEG
I have painfully slow dial-up. A heavy JPEG file is not going to put me in an accommodating frame of mind. Besides, no one can do anything with it. It’s a big, fat unyielding block that for me goes straight into the trash.

8. Ask for a critique of your story
I was surprised at the number of people who asked if I might give them a critique of their story if it was not chosen. There were over 300 stories I had to read in a relatively short period of time. Please, writers, let’s be fair. There are editors that you can hire to do that job (See almost everyone on Blood Red Pencil).

9. Undermine yourself by revealing this is your first story ever
Why say, “This is the first short story I’ve ever written and submitted”? Do you expect the reader will give you a few points for your newbie status? Likely the opposite. Don’t do it. Looks unprofessional and, frankly, desperate.

10. Write after two weeks, then three weeks, then four weeks, etc. asking if your story has been chosen.
Either you want the reader to take their time and consider your story and every other submission or you don’t. Over three hundred submissions and a week after the deadline you want to know if your story has been chosen? By the third week you are insinuating that the publisher is using your masterpiece without your permission. Have some empathy for the task at hand, folks. It is not easy.

Well, that’s a bit of what I learned in the process. Educating for this writer; hope it helps a few of you too.
Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time, award-winning writer living in Botswana. She writes novels, short stories, TV and radio scripts, textbooks, and anything else that comes her way. She is the author of the popular fiction Detective Kate Gomolemo Series which includes The Fatal Payout (Macmillan 2005) and Murder for Profit (Pentagon 2008). Read her blog, Thoughts from Botswana.

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  1. Lordy, you had me laughing. I have judged in contests before and your "don't do this" list is so right-on.

    I'm still chuckling.

  2. I guess it's easy to get nervous and excited while you're in the process of submitting to a contest and completely forget that human beings are involved in selecting the results. I'm not sure why people can't slow down a moment and use common sense, and the good old-fashioned rule of reading and following the submission guidelines. :-)

  3. Terrific info! I admit to not attaching any sort of contact info before - because I was afraid of doing something wrong! I'd actually feel better if more places had a big, fat dose of guidelines. It seems to me that a lot don't. It leaves me more worried that I've formatted wrong than whether or not my story is good!

  4. This is great advice, I can't believe anyone would send a story as a JPEG!! Why?? Why?? Did they illustrate it? Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed reading at least some of the stories you received!

  5. Tania-Many of the stories were lovely, some were so exceptional I wanted to eat them. It was a great experience.

    Helen- Glad I made you laugh!

    Emma- I can't say I haven't done some unprofessional things along the way. I recently entered a contest that required three copies to be sent. I always enter early and my writing partner always enters late. In this case, the time difference was so wide I seemed to have forgotten if I entered properly. When my writing partner sent hers and mentioned the sending three copies I was sure I hadn't so I contacted the organisers to see if I might send again. They politely told me that I had sent three copies and please do not send again. Oops!

    Elsa- Likely us writers are not very common sense oriented with our heads stuck up in those clouds. That might be the problem after all.

  6. These are great reminders. I think Elle is so right in that often we just need to slow down and let our enthusiasm and excitement go down a bit so we can focus on the guidelines. And it would help if the guidelines were clearly defined by the publisher. Like Emma, I have run across submission announcements that had some areas of the guidelines a bit vague.

  7. Wow! Great advice . . . more than advice, actually. These are 10 must-dos if we want our work to be taken seriously in any writing competition. Excellent post — glad to see it here again.


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