Anyone who routinely submits work for consideration can tell you how long it often takes to receive a response, let alone see your words in print. Right now, for instance, it’s too late to plan for summer; publications will shortly be looking for Christmas-themed material.
In October last year, I heard that my poem The Executive Lounge had been accepted for the local publication Dundee Writes. However, the launch only took place on Thursday of last week. Nonetheless, it was worth the wait because my piece is alongside some excellent work from students and alumni. There is also a focus on one of the creative writing tutors who died around a year ago.
The style of the pamphlet tends towards the less mainstream and more experimental and wistful. My poem describes an object without naming it. Instead, the reader is presented with a list of statistics about the item, with the most telling stats placed near the end.
It’s a favourite of my own work, and it seemed to go down well with the audience, but it is primarily a page poem. On this occasion, audience members could follow the text in the book; but when I read a loud it a couple of years ago, it received no reaction at the end, not even applause.
As I’ve no urgent writing projects on the go right now, I’ve turned my attention back to submitting work to publishers. There are never any guarantees in publishing, but I have a few tips to help ensure the process is as painless as possible.
Keep a close eye on what you submit and when
I maintain a spreadsheet with the following columns: Publisher, Submission guidelines, Closes, Date entered, Decision notified, Title(s) entered, Entry method, Overall submission count (target 52 per year).
Most short story and poetry publishers insist that you don’t submit a given piece to any other place until they’ve accepted or rejected it. If a piece is rejected, I use the strikethrough font effect so I know it can be sent elsewhere; if accepted, it’s noted on a separate spreadsheet. Note that agents looking for novelists usually don’t mind if you send to several places at once.
Right now, we’re heading into the Christmas and New Year period. Publishing lead times can be so lengthy that it’s far too late to submit festive pieces, as editors will now be planning for Easter or even summer. Yet there’s also an opportunity here: if you’re inspired to write a piece this December, there’s plenty of time to refine it and submit it in summer next year for next December.
Unless instructed otherwise, use a standard manuscript format
On his website, writer William Shunn offers a range of templates that contain all the information publisher needs, such as your contact details and pen name. Occasionally, you might be asked to use a certain font or a different layout. In those instances, always read the instructions carefully and follow them precisely.
Be selective about entering competitions
This is perhaps a contentious point, but it’s a purely personal point of view.
When you send work to a publisher, there is almost never a charge. For a competition, there’s almost always a fee, and it can be up to £5 or sometimes more. Assuming an average fee of £3, entering even one competition a week can cost more than £150 per year. Aside from the financial aspect, I’ve had experiences where competition rules have been badly phrased or even self-contradictory, leaving me unsure how to enter.
That said, there are a few competitions I make a point of entering because they’re so prestigious or because the potential payoff would be worth it, which brings me to my final point.
Look at the reward offered
It’s a fact of a writer’s life that some publishers want your work without payment or other reward, usually with the well-worn line that they can offer exposure. If you do simply wish to make your name known, then by all means enter your work, but be clear about this from the beginning. I generally take no payment only when it’s for someone I know personally, or if it’s for charity.
Otherwise, the least I’d expect is a contributor’s copy of the finished book and/or a cash fee, however nominal. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time to create a publishable piece, so never be afraid to charge for your work.
We’re midway through July now. In some respects, this is a troubling month for me.
Firstly, there’s the weather. I can’t speak for anywhere else, but I’m from Scotland and it can fluctuate wildly. Thursday brought the sort of weather for lying in a hammock and listening to the Isley Brothers. I took the opportunity to walk to the seaside and enjoy a round of crazy golf and a trip on the road train. By Saturday, the rain was tipping down in the least Julyish fashion you can imagine.
Secondly, the daylight. Regardless of the weather, near-perpetual daylight does things to the brain. I find myself waking sometimes an hour or two before my alarm, which does nothing for my concentration.
Thirdly, it’s holiday season for many people. You’re out of your normal routine and writing might not feature as highly as it does during your normal day.
But there are ways to keep your writing flowing even through the least Julyish July. A gloriously warm day or a change of scenery might provide you with fresh ideas. I make it a habit to carry a pencil and notebook with me, and I recommend taking a sharpener as well. And if it’s practical, perhaps a 5am writing session would work for you, or at least give you an opportunity to catch up on your reading, and that can be as important as writing.
Just remember that if you’re writing about summer and you plan to interest a publisher in your work, it might be up to a year before you see it in print as lead times are months long. Right now, editors are planning for Halloween and even Christmas, and probably won’t take you on until the New Year. So if you have any festively-themed stories, this would be a prime time to dig them out, even if it seems a very long time away.