Five Quick Tips
for Getting Your Story Published

Absolute Blank

By Erin L. Nappe (Billiard)

The slush pile. It’s where no writer wants to be, and where no editor wants to go. As an editor at Toasted Cheese, I’ve had to wade into the slush pile on many occasions. As a writer, I’ve tried my hardest to keep out of it.

I recently had the good fortune to have one of my short stories published in the national-circulation women’s magazine Woman’s World. In light of this success, I thought I would share a few quick tips for keeping out of the slush pile, a vital first step toward seeing your name in print.

  1. Know your market!

It’s no mistake that the magazine that published my story is one that I’ve read. My mom has been picking up Woman’s World and reading it since I was a kid. And because I read just about anything you put in front of me, I’ve been reading it for about that long. As I got older, I started looking at the fiction with a writer’s eye, and truly believed this was a market I could succeed in. The stories that I’ve submitted to Woman’s World were written specifically with this market in mind.

Woman’s World publishes two types of stories; short romances and mini mysteries. Knowing this, I wouldn’t send them, oh, say a science fiction story. I was writing a short romance, and I know that Woman’s World‘s readers want uplifting, character-driven stories with endings that hint at the possibility of true love. With that in mind, I wouldn’t send them my angst-ridden piece about a young woman in love with a musician who keeps breaking her heart. You need to understand the magazine or journal’s readership, and you need to be aware of what the editors are looking for. If you don’t think your story will fit in, it probably won’t.

Read the publication before submitting. At the very least, send for a sample copy or spend some time online or at a bookstore looking at examples of what’s been published by this market. Getting published is kind of like dating or job hunting… it’s all about finding the right match!

  1. Follow submission guidelines carefully.

Always, always, be sure that you’re following the most recent submission guidelines. When I first submitted to Woman’s World, the maximum word count for short romances was 1,500 words. Sometime between when I submitted the story and when it reached the editor’s hands, that word count was cut to 1,100 words. Fortunately for me, the editor liked my story and gave me a chance to cut it down to fit their guidelines. But the bottom line is this; if you’re given a maximum word count, don’t go over.

Make sure you submit your manuscript in the correct format. If the magazine or journal wants a hard copy of your story, don’t send an e-mail (and vice versa). If the online journal asks for submissions in the text of an e-mail, don’t send an attachment. Check the most recent copy of the Writer’s Market for guidelines, or check to see if guidelines are listed on a web page. Don’t let your manuscript be thrown out over something you could have avoided!

  1. Submit only your best work (editing and proofreading are your friends!).

I cannot stress this enough—before submitting, make sure your manuscript is clean and error-free. Once, I submitted a story that had a punctuation error in the first sentence. It was immediately rejected (with the error circled), and I’ll never know if it was thrown out because of the story’s content or because of my mistake. Don’t let this happen to you! Post your story at one of our online forums for critique before sending it in. You want to be completely happy with what you’re submitting. Have a meticulous friend check your spelling and grammar. (Even the best of us make mistakes—trust me!)

  1. Be professional.

When submitting your work, always do so in a professional manner. Manuscripts should always be typed, and you should make sure to include all requested information such as address, telephone number, e-mail address, etc. When submitting manuscripts through regular mail, you should always include a SASE to help the editor keep you informed of the status of your submission.

DO NOT inquire about the status of your submission until after the time designated in the submission guidelines. If the publication’s guidelines state that they normally respond within three months from submission, don’t write an inquiry letter after two. Editors are busy, and bothering them unnecessarily is not recommended. After the designated four-month period had passed, I sent an inquiry to Woman’s World with another SASE, and heard of my acceptance via e-mail within a couple of weeks.

Be sure to keep good records of what you submitted, when and where. You don’t want to embarrass yourself and forever be tagged as an amateur by sending an inquiry letter to the wrong publication!

  1. Keep your cover letter and bio brief.

Brevity should be the soul of your cover letter. The editors don’t need to know your life story. My cover letter looks something like this:

Dear Ms. Granger:

Enclosed is my short story “A Mother Knows” (1,089 words). You are the first editor I am soliciting with this story, as I believe Woman’s World is the ideal place for it. [Your introduction. Name the story, give the word count, maybe say something nice about the publication. You might possibly also include a brief synopsis.]

I am a part-time college writing instructor and substitute teacher in Buffalo, New York. I am also a contributing editor at Toasted-Cheese.com, an online writing community and literary magazine. I have had short stories published in the online magazine NoNounsense.com and in Journal of the Blue Planet. [Your bio. Keep it simple. List any publications… if you don’t have any publications, leave this part out. Don’t draw attention to it!]

I will wait four months for your reply before approaching another publication. Please notify me of your decision by using my enclosed SASE. Thank you for considering “A Mother Knows”. [Your closing.]

Sincerely,

[signature]

That’s it. Simple and to-the-point.

Of course, I can’t guarantee that following these guidelines will get your story published. What I can guarantee you is that not following these guidelines will get your manuscript thrown out before anyone even reads it! Of course, submitting your work will always be hard, but knowing your market and following the rules of the game will make it a little bit easier. I know; I’ve been there.

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