Five Strategies for Successful Submissions
Five Strategies for Successful Submissions
by Jan Fields
January 7, 2021
There are few things more frightening than submitting your work for publication. First, there is always the chance of rejection, which is painful. And then, there is the worry that you're simply doing it wrong. Making wrong market matches. Writing queries wrong. Using the wrong salutation. Honestly, name virtually anything about submissions and writers have agonized over it. Still, most of us recognize submissions as a necessary evil, an unavoidable discomfort, so how can we make the most of it? Here are some ideas.
1. Don't Rush It
Many of us have been through the "ripping the bandage" school of dealing with painful situations, and since submission can be scary and painful, we rush to get it over. That can lead to far too much self-sabotage through poor market research, poor market matching, and needless errors. All of those things hurt the chance of successful publication.
One excellent way to avoid poor market matching is to do ongoing market research. In other words, spend part of every writing day or at least every writing week, noticing markets and reading about them. I will sometimes do searches online combining the name of the publisher that interests me plus the word "editor." Doing that, I can learn the name of the editor, and details of the editor's interests. I have found editor interviews that way. And doing that search on Twitter has sometimes netted me specific manuscript wish lists by the editor. I keep test documents of the tidbits I glean in this way filed in folders for different publishers. Along with specifics about editors, I also note any specifics about how they want submissions: via email? As PDF attachments to email? Via submissions portals? Via the postal mail? Through this on-going collection of research, when I'm ready to submit, I am already a step ahead on choosing who will receive my submissions and I can do a quick bit of research to be sure nothing has changed rather than starting from scratch on my research.
2. Have a System
Another thing writers will rush if given half a chance is revision. I’ve talked in the past about why it's important to have a standing revision system for your manuscripts, but it's also important to have a standing revision checklist for your correspondence with editors and agents as well. If your first contact with an editor spells the person's name wrong and misidentifies the person's gender, you've made a bad impression before your actual manuscript ever had a chance. Now most editors aren't vindictive, and they know mistakes are simply human nature, but a writer's credibility is a valuable thing and the kind of mistakes that suggest you didn't do proper preparation can erode your credibility. So create a system for every bit of correspondence that reminds you to check the spelling of the publishing company or literary agency (including capitalization), check the spelling of the editor or agent's name, check for typos (not being able to send a brief letter without errors will not do good things for their hopes about your manuscript), check that you've included full contact information (you'd be amazed by how many times editors end up with material that interests them but without the means to contact you in the way they would prefer), and check that you don't misidentify the title of your manuscript or your character's name (this sounds strange, but it happens).
3. Have a Multi-step Submissions Plan
Try to avoid ever sending out any submission without knowing where you'll send it "next." This can save you massive amounts of time if your manuscript doesn't succeed at the first submission (or the second or the third). My plan even includes what I will do with the piece if it doesn't sell at all (rework it as a different genre? Save it as a sample of my writing? Or shelve it for a few months, then rereading it to see if I can determine what was keeping it from selling?) Having a plan will keep emotional reactions from derailing your forward momentum of submissions.
4. No Thumb Twiddling
Never simply wait to hear back on a submission. Always have something to jump into next. I often find that exciting new ideas are constantly vying for my attention while I'm trying to write a specific project, but all those ideas seem to vanish when I finally sit down to start something new. Because of this, I've learned to stop when great ideas come along and do a quick synopsis of the story idea or at least a blurb. If the idea comes to me as dialogue (which sometimes it does), I'll write that. All of these things go into my "what's next" file that I turn to when my project is done. That way, once my submission is sent, I don't face a blank screen with no idea of what to do. Instead I have a file of possible choices to consider and I pick whichever one I feel most excited about.
5. Prepare a Pep Talk
Another thing I like to do while I'm on the revision process is make notes of things I really like about a project. What are my favorite things about the story I've written? Do I love the character interaction? Do I find it funny? Do I love the action? Do I find the theme moving? I make a note of these things and once the thing is off on submission, I'll write myself a pep talk where I run through all of those things. Then when rejections happen (and sometimes they do), I can remind myself of all the things I like about the submission so that I don't go into a death spiral of thinking I can't write and should take up some other career, immediately.
These five things might seem silly, but they are based on knowing myself pretty well and heading off those roadblocks I build for myself and mistakes I've made far too many times. These days, submissions go smoothly and often successfully, but when things do take a turn toward rejection, I'm ready to move forward every time. And the value of that is nearly limitless.
Jan Fields is a former Institute of Children's Literature Instructor and a full-time, freelance author.
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