One question I frequently see in various writers’ forums, is “how can an indie get their name out there and gain fans for their work?”
My answer is simple. We write short stories and submit them to magazines, anthologies, and contests.
Every time your short work is published or places well in a contest, you stand the chance of getting your name out there and it’s nice to have a little extra cash in your pocket.
Despite the changes in the publishing industry as a whole, writing short stories is still the way to get your foot in the door and increase your visibility. Anthology calls from traditional large publishing houses and reputable small and mid-size publishers that are willing to pay for your work are sometimes open to new authors.
Also, magazines that are SFWA approved regularly post open calls for submission, so it pays to check each magazine and publisher’s website for opportunities.
Submitting to contests is good too. If you have a story that was a contest winner, you may be able to sell it to the right publication.
Writing for anthologies and contests have similar requirements. You must learn how to write to a specific length. Often, you must make use of a specific theme, one that may not be of your choosing.
So, what do editors of anthologies and magazines look for versus how contests are judged? Trust me, editors work hard, and more than anything, they love to read.
And all publisher and editors want to discover brilliant work written by new authors.
I have worked on both sides of the publishing industry. I know the frustrations of the author who waits to hear back regarding their submission, and I’ve seen the publisher’s inbox. I’ve read for many contests and edited several anthologies.
First, your work will receive a far closer inspection from a contest than from a publisher. Contests have readers who are either editors or authors, and who do their best to judge each entry on their merits. This means two people will have read the submission and each reader will have looked at the technical aspects of the piece as well as the overall story and characters.
Contest readers must judge:
- Plot: the sequence of events and the overall story arc.
- Setting: did the world building include a location, time, hints of the weather, and hints of the environment? Was the world solid to the reader?
- Viewpoint/narrative mode: how was the story told? Was the POV consistent or did it inadvertently drift, say between present tense to a few paragraphs in past tense, and then back to present. Was it consistently first-person, (or second, or third, or omniscient, etc.)?
- Characters: Were the characters believable, and did they have an arc?
- Did the dialogue, both spoken and internal, advance the story? Did each speaker have their own voice and style?
- Transitions and hooks: Did the opening lines hook the reader? Did the narrative move from scene to scene smoothly, without jarring the reader out of the story? Did each transition hook the reader, enticing them to keep reading?
- Showing versus telling: did the author understand how to show the action?
- Mechanics: Did the author have a good grasp of grammar, punctuation, and industry standards? Did they follow word count and length requirements, and obey formatting directions as listed in submission guidelines?
Editors for anthologies will look at each submission with the above guidelines in mind, but they will have two more caveats:
- Theme: did the author understand and incorporate the theme into their story?
- Appeal: did that story strike a chord, make them want to read more of that author’s work?
Contest readers/judges read every word in each submission and base their opinions on how well the first eight conditions were met.
Anthologies and magazines have a slightly different style of judging what they will accept.
The main difference between publishers of anthologies and those of magazines is the sheer volume of work that is submitted, and the number of people/editors available to read it.
Anthologies will close on a specific date, or after a certain number of submissions have been received.
The inbox of a large publisher fills up every day. Larger publishers may have a gatekeeper reading submissions, but most editors do their own work. For this reason, the editor will look at the first page of the story and based on what she sees there, she will decide whether to continue reading or reject it.
If all ten of the above criteria are clearly shown in the first paragraphs, the editor will read further. If the work continues to be engaging and professional, they will read it to the end.
At that point, criteria number ten is most important condition to be met—your story must have wowed the editor.
Once you have written a short story with the intention of submitting it to a specific publisher or contest, you must edit it. Then you must format the manuscript to make it submission-ready, by reading and following the guidelines published on their website.
I’ve said this before, but it bears mentioning again: if you don’t follow your prospective contest or publisher’s submission guidelines, you have wasted your time submitting it.
These steps demonstrate your level of professionalism. Editors at magazines, contests, and publishing houses have no time to deal with unedited, poorly formatted manuscripts. Their inboxes are full of well-written and properly formatted work, so they will reject the amateurs without further consideration.
I hope knowing the requirements your work will be judged by will help you find good homes for your work.
If you have any doubts about the quality of your work, consider running it past your critique group to hear their opinions on characterization, story arc, and other features of your work.
It’s hard to hear a bad verdict, but sometimes you should completely rethink certain aspects of a piece before you submit it, and this is where the external eye can help you.