I’ve read more submissions than I’ve written. I assume most people working on any kind of journal has. Deciding what goes into Visible Ink this year has definitely informed how I’ll approach submitting things to journals in the future. Here’s five thoughts on the matter, because I’m totally an expert.
1. Know what you’re writing.
This informs the next two thoughts but bares singling out. You need to know exactly what you’re writing and how to best present that. While drafting, immerse yourself in the writing but at some point you’ve got to look at your story and be able to clearly state: this is what I want to accomplish. Then, work to that. If not for you or for the story, then for your audience.
The moment you decide to submit a story to a journal, you’re no longer writing for yourself. You’re writing for the world. And what a world it is, full of intelligent, thoughtful people. But you’re up to the task because you’re a thoughtful individual. Ask yourself: how will a person in my target audience respond to this? How can I make them feel what I want them to feel? What themes am I trying to express? Am I expressing them in believable, compelling way? Interrogate your story, and yourself.
Pretty much every idea you have can be seen through to be a great story. An integral part of that is figuring out just what that story is.
2. Cull. Cull hard.
So. You’ve got your draft and golly what a draft. Close that Word file and pat yourself on the back. Have a biscuit and then get back to work: it’s time to delete words.
Culling is both fun and harrowing. How do you know just what words to keep? Oh, you know what your story is all about? Awesome. You’re pretty much genius. What you remove will be dependant on a lot of things: what your story’s about, its themes, your style and your voice. But even if you’re trying to create something a bit flowery there are still things to keep an eye out for: overwrought expression, needless action or movement and repeated information, to name a few. Ask yourself: what’s the least amount of information a reader needs to get what I want them to get, to feel what I want them to feel. Provide them with that and nothing more.
Until your story is finished, it isn’t a story. It’s a piece of malformed stone. Your job is to chip away at it until you’ve created the literary version of David.
One small second point: a great short story has a better chance of getting published than a great long story. As someone who favours long-form essays, I feel the pain of people who write stories to the upper-limits of word count restrictions. If a journal has two short stories at 1000 words and a longer one at 2000, and they’re all of comparable quality, the shorter two being chosen is a safe bet. It’s sad in a way: there aren’t many options for long-form storytelling in the journal world at the moment. Consider it a niche to fill and go forth.
Please don’t have any typos in your opening paragraph, and especially not your opening line. Pretty please? I know it’s not entirely fair, but having them will immediately cast your story in a negative light. The rest of the piece could be pure Crime and punishment level gold, but chances are your reader is already against it. Mistakes later on in the piece are a little bit more forgivable but run the risk of knocking the reader out of the flow. Here’s a tip: imagine that your story will be the last to be read. Someone has just spend the last five hours reading stories—they’re tired, grumpy, disenchanted and hopped up on coffee. They’ll do their best to approach your story with an open and optimistic mind, but man, they’ve just fought through some dreadful erotica involving cupcakes and Nancy Drew. You want to give that person every chance at loving your story. Using the wrong ‘there’ by accident isn’t going to do that, and it just may elicit a blood-frenzy.
Protip: consider contacting the journal you’re submitting to and asking if they have a ‘style sheet’ you can look at. If they do, follow that when proofing your manuscript. It’ll make the journal’s life a lot easier down the road, and may cast you in a positive light. If they say ‘no’, hey, at least you tried.
4. Know the journal you’re submitting to.
This tip doesn’t apply to Visible Ink as much as other journals since we change crew every year but it’s something to keep in mind. Read the journal you’re submitting to, know what they publish, judge whether or not your work fits. Sometime you’ll get a ‘rejection letter’ simply because it doesn’t play with the vision the publisher has for their journal—quality won’t even enter the equation. Besides, there’s little pleasure to be had in being published somewhere you don’t like (which is why I never update my personal blog).
5. Contact the journal.
Say hi. If you’re unsure about something, ask. If you want to submit to a student press with a committee that changes regularly, ask what they’re about this year. Maybe ask if you can help out in any way if you’re into that kind of thing. Meet new people in the lit community. They may be able to offer advice, or other places to submit to or read that may be up your alley. Who knows! The possibilities are endless.
A sneaky sixth: Keep submitting.
Seriously. Submit. Write more, edit, refine, submit. Repeat until you’re famous and/or satisfied emotionally. Remember: there is a place for your work in the world. Look around, click links, investigate! There are so many websites and journals dedicated to posting writing available, and so many of them are doing great and interesting things. Get among it!
If nowhere seems to fit, start your own journal. Spend as much time as possible being a revolutionary.
What do you think? Have any tricks or thoughts on submitting to journals? Things you keep in mind?
Or do you run a journal and have some ‘other side of the fence’ things to add? Let me know in the comments!