This post was originally going to be a YouTube video, on my new channel, which you can find by following this link: The Writer Life , but we are still in lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, and my neighbours on both sides are using the time to do some serious DIY making it impossible to film, and since I have yet to line up this week’s Writing the Rural segment, I thought I’d do a little How To segment on setting up a submissions routine.
My biggest piece of advice, coming from someone who has been doing this quite some time and has made, I imagine, ALL the mistakes, is to set up your routine, and everything you will need for it, first. This will save time and avoid frustrations later on. The below is a very basic method of organising your submission routine. My other big piece of advice is to find your own way. Find the method that suits you best. But that’s really easy to say, but if you’ve never submitted anything before, you need somewhere to jump off from, a scaffold to build your own routine on. Hopefully this will help.
Keep it simple. It does not need to be complicated. There are really only five things you need.
- Writers’ and Artists Yearbook
- Access to the Internet
- A recording system
- Cover Letter Template
- The F*ck It Bucket
Let me elaborate:
The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook
You don’t strictly need one of these, there is so much information on the internet to choose from, and it is an expensive book, but for me, this is like a bible. It has a tonne of useful information written by industry and art experts and it has thoroughly vetted listings. It’s done the gathering work for you. However, it retails at £25 and I know for certain that most writers at the beginning of their career, or just beginning to build their career, will struggle to afford that. I see it as a genuine investment, and that price usually pays for itself through paid opportunities and placing in competitions over the year. But, again, £25 is a lot of money. Some top tips:
- Get your W&A from the library. Most libraries will have a copy and if not, you can ask them to get one in for you, it’s free to borrow, though won’t always be available to lend.
- Buy it second hand. You can make good savings doing this. You can usually find them on the big site that doesn’t pay its taxes *cough* Amazon *cough* which has been a bit of a lifeline for me as a fairly isolated rural writer. You can usually get them for much less than retail price.
- Buy last years. I used to just buy the previous years copy or even the year before that. Be warned though, the further back you go, the less relevant the information.
Access to the Internet
You could just use the W&A yearbook (see above) or you could just use the internet. But if you have both, my advice is use both. You can back up information and you will find things on the internet that aren’t in the W&A and vice versa. Cover all your bases.
I am a Passion Planner fan, as you will see if you follow me on social media.
The Passion Planner is expensive. You might not need something as complicated and thorough as this planner. Make it simple, work to your own needs, you basically need something with a monthly record. Passion Planner is designed for productivity and for me, as a full time freelancer, it has been a game changer. I don’t work for PP by the way, I just absolutely love them. This is the sort of planner you can use to increase your productivity and meet your goals, and I am very goal orientated. As I have lots of different revenue and arts streams at the same time, it really helps me to find my maximum productivity and find a way to work within that, but that’s for another video/blog. For now, you literally need just something that will give you space to record things over the month, and a place to remind yourself on the day.
A Recording System
I use a spreadsheet, but you don’t have to. You can use a piece of paper, you can create a word document. I’ll show you how I create my spreadsheet further down, but remember, you need to find your own way. there’s no right or wrong in this, it’s just about finding ways that work for you as a writer.
A Cover Letter Template
This is a sort of generic cover letter that you can adapt to each individual submission.
The F*ck It Bucket
An essential piece of metaphorical kit, this is where you put your rejections, your frustrations and your failures. Grieve briefly, then put them in this bucket.
First Things First
Sit down, look, realistically at your ‘free’ time. Find at least a day, but more likely two, in which you can give yourself over to setting up a system. How often you update your system is up to you. I do my ‘big plan’ in the week between Christmas and New year and it’s for the whole year. It’s part of my annual goal setting. Did I mention that I am very goal orientated? And I like lists. I LOVE lists. List lovers unite! You should have a goal in mind. Keep it simple. It might be ‘I want to submit to one competition and one magazine a month’ which is admirable, but I find that it’s better to choose where you want to submit by how much you want to win/be published in a magazine or competition, rather than trying to meet a set of numbers. There are really two types of submission goal – 1. to get yourself seen in as many places as possible to raise your profile and 2. to get seen in the competitions and magazines you most admire, to raise your profile. One is easier to accomplish than the other, but you have to choose which one is right for you and your career. I think I probably started out aiming for no. 1 and gradually moved over to no. 2.
Go through your W&A with post it notes, or a highlighter (this is probably frowned upon with a library copy, so don’t do that) or a notepad and pen, and highlight all the comps and magazines that interest you. My approach is to first go through them highlighting as many as I like, then go through them again, teasing out the ones that aren’t right for me. Once you’ve found the ones you think you will definitely apply for, put them in the planner. These are the things you need to make a record of:
- Competition/ magazine title. Don’t just put: Nature Comp. You will not remember what that is. Put Rialto Poetry and Nature Comp, for example.
- Deadline. This is the closing date. Lots of magazines have reading windows and competitions always have a deadline.
- Deadline TIME: This one has caught me out so many times. Don’t assume the deadline is midnight, sometimes it’s midday, sometimes it’s 5pm. Make a note of it. You shouldn’t leave it to the last minute anyway, but I can’t really say anything about that as I am a last minute girl.
- Theme. Some issue/competitions have themes, some don’t. It is quite soul destroying to prepare a piece only to notice at the last minute it’s a theme that doesn’t fit the piece.
- Method of Submission: Some places only accept paper subs, some places accept email. Obviously you’ll want to send a paper sub long before the deadline.
- Other. Is it a sonnet competition, is it a rhymed poetry comp…this sort of thing needs recording
I then have a couple of places online that I like to check, one is The Poetry Kit which is lovely and friendly and always has loads of good competitions on, the other is The National Poetry Library which has a comprehensive list of magazines and competitions. These are obviously poetry resources, I’ll update if I come across theatre and fiction lists, if you know of any comprehensive resources, let me know. Duotrope is a good one, but I don’t use it so much anymore, not for any specific reason, I just fell out of love with it, I think. Oh, and Cathy’s Comps and Calls which has loads of free to enter stuff on it.
Right. So now you’re ready to actually submit.
Submitting Your Work
I tend to set aside a specific day of the week (Monday, in case you’re interested) when I put my weekly planner in place. When doing that I see what deadlines are coming up. I then look and see when I have time to have a look over the work I have ready to go out and to make sure I have time to edit before sending it. Next you’ll want to look up the details of the place you’re submitting to online, to make sure nothing has changed, to check word count, line count, submission guidelines and to prepare your file. Some places like each piece of work on an individual document, some like it all in one document. These are things you want to check. if you’re submitting to a magazine, or a publisher with a manuscript, you’ll need a cover letter. If you submit through submittable, you usually need a cover letter too. Here’s the template I used to use with mentees. This one is for a pamphlet/collection.
Dear [ Try and find the name of the specific person you are emailing, if not able to find the information, ‘editors’ or Sir/madam]
Please find enclosed a copy of my pamphlet, [name of pamphlet in italics] to be considered for publication with [name of publisher in italics]
My name is…. And …here’s where add a short paragraph about where you live, your own personal history and where you are in your career. If you feel you haven’t got anything to pad this out CV wise, it’s worth just talking about why you write and what you love about poetry, where you’d like to be etc.
e.g. My name is Wendy Pratt, I am a full time poet and freelance writer living on the east coast in North Yorkshire. The enclosed pamphlet is my fifth, my last four have previously been published with…blah blah blah boast boast…
This pamphlet is…. this is where you add a paragraph telling them the influences that have caused you to create this pamphlet – where did it come from, what life experiences is it reflecting, how long has it taken to write – and possibly where you see it fitting into the wider scale of publishing (egg the rise in poems about motherhood, is your pamphlet unique (spoiler alert – yes it is)
I have always liked…this is a couple of lines which say what you like about the publisher and why you are submitting – generally something like “I have always admired …publisher’s commitment to new and diverse writers…
Thank you for taking the time to read my submission, I look forward to your response
Any social media tags
Some top tips when submitting to magazines:
- Include a cover letter. I was Dream Catcher magazine editor for a short time, and it really annoyed me when people just sent an attachment. Without introducing themselves.
- Do not assume the editor is a man. I cannot stress this enough. It is another thing that annoyed me.
- Try and find out the name of the editor and use it. It proves you’ve done a little research.
- Include a short biographical note. editors do not use this to judge your worth as a writer, they simply use it to know a bit more about you, and sometimes, if you are published by that magazine, it ends up in the back page of the magazine, so that people who like your work can look out for more of your work.
- There are more tips in this other blog post I wrote: How Not To Write a Cover Letter To a Literary Magazine
Then you press send, or you kiss it, put it in the post box (including a stamped, self addressed envelope) and sit back and wait. But before you do, you’ll need to record it on your Recording system.
The Recording System
Like I say, you don’t have to have anything fancy, but I think a spreadsheet is best because you can cut and paste so easily. However, a pen and a piece of paper work well too!
Think about your needs. What will you be sending out/ poems, fiction, other stuff – proposals, pitches? And what information do you need to know? My columns are as follows:
- Submission Type. Competitions/magazines/proposal. Poetry/prose.
- Title of piece
- Submitted to.
- Date submitted
- Date available again. The submission guidelines usually give some sort of indication, but if they don’t, the general rule is to leave it up to twelve weeks before chasing up.
- Chased up? This is a handy column. You can record their response here too. This column works well for manuscript submissions when you might chase a couple of times. (editors are very very busy)
- Result. I tend to mark with A for accepted or D for declined. Declined is a gentler way of saying ‘rejected’. If I win or place in a competition, I put that in too.
Underneath the columns I keep a list of work that I have ‘available’ that is, unpublished and not submitted anywhere. This is so that I don’t accidentally submit the same thing to the same place twice or submit a piece to two different places at the same time.
This is how I fill in the spreadsheet. I cut the title of the piece from the ‘available’ list and place it in the ‘Title’ column. Then fill in all the bits around it. Once it is available again, I copy it and paste it in the ‘Available’ list. I don’t cut it, because I need the record of where it has been sent previously.
- the empty chart
2. with the available work listed
3. with a competition entry filled in. Note that the title is removed from the available list, to avoid mistakes.
4. The result is added. Congratulations, 1st place!
5. You have had a piece declined, you keep the details on the sheet and copy and paste the title back into your ‘available’ list.
The F*ck It Bucket
You will be rejected, a lot. You will find that magazines sometimes lose your work. If you see a lot of success, you might find that other writers get a bit sour grapes over it. Allow yourself a short time to get annoyed, angry, sad, then put it in the F*ck It Bucket, and move on. If you dwell too long on the things that don’t go right, you will end up only seeing those things. The best way of dealing with them is to keep walking, keep submitting, keep reaching for your goals.
I’m sure you will all have your own systems and this is really just a bit of a beginners guide, but I equally hope some of you will find some use in it.
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Take care, stay safe