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Answering Submissions Calls
By Corina Milic
November, 2007, 09:59

Remember the basic rules of proper submission and you'll be published often.
You have scribbled your heart out and come up with a masterpiece. You are now ready to submit your work of genius for publication. If you are beginning to wonder why no one seems interested in Lobster And Garlic Butter: A Romance In Three Parts, then keep reading. Your story may have editors licking their lips, but the way you've presented your piece could turn them off lobster altogether.

I am the poetry and copy editor of an online humour publication with a yearly print review. Focused on publishing new writers, I read each submission predisposed in its author's favour. Yet, too often I find myself fighting the urge to reject a piece outright for some glaring error. A misplaced comma or two is one thing; misspelling the name of the magazine you're submitting to is another.

So let's make some editors happy and get Lobster And Garlic Butter published.

The Submission Letter

Whether submitting the old fashioned way or with that new fangled email, there are three things to remember.

  1. Spell check
  2. Don't swear
  3. Be creative not self-deprecating

Let us start with correctly spelled words: I cannot overstress the importance of writing "and" instead of "nad" or "maracas" instead of "maraccas." Both Microsoft Word and email programs have easy to use spell check tools. Use them. Taking a minute to employ spell check reflects your work ethic, the quality of your writing, and how much you respect the publication you are submitting to.

Spell the editor's name and the name of the publication right. We're sensitive creatures with delicate egos who think our website, webzine, or magazine is God's gift to the world of literature. Treat us accordingly.

Swearing isn't professional. Of course there are some shaggy haired, Birkenstock wearing liberal minds out there who express their share of "screw that," but there are also a few conservative types reviewing your submissions too. So why risk it? This is an editor's first, and perhaps only, impression of you, make it positive.

The piece you are submitting with your introduction may use bad language appropriately and to great effect. But remember, swearing for the sake of swearing doesn't make your work any funnier, sadder, hipper, or more tragic.

My editor-in-chief received a letter recently which started out, "My normal poetry is either terribly cynical and rude or based on Dr. Seuss. Hopefully these poems are more suited to your publication."

Hmmm. Go ahead and use a pun or some witty banter - you want to stand out and make an editor smile. But don't tell an editor they wouldn't like most of your work or that it is not the kind of thing they would usually use. If you want the editor to believe he or she should publish you, then you need to believe it.

Instead, an email we received from a cartoonist shows a better blend of creativity and professionalism.

"Here are some cartoons; you can pick your favourite. I will be scanning some new ones this week and will send them your way. Basically I will keep sending you doodles until I am issued a restraining order from a municipal court."

There is no magic formula to writing a submission letter - it just takes a little common sense and effort.

The Submission

You can submit your work to any number of publications, but I have two suggestions for any and all submissions.

  1. Spell check
  2. Read the submission guidelines

Ah, spell check again. It is an editor's job to catch mistakes; do not kid yourself thinking they may not notice you spelled "hippopotomus" instead of "hippopotamus." In fact, a convenient red squiggly line appears under all those misspelled words in most word processors.
Edit your own writing to catch mistakes. This may mean sending it to a trusted friend or simply walking away for a few days and coming back with fresh eyes. Read your work out loud - in my experience, this is the best way to edit your own work.

Once you have the basics down, you can decide which piece to send to which publication. Note: this means you must read the publication. I'm sorry, there's no way around it. A humour website doesn't publish tragic poetry. Do you know why? Because wanting to slit your wrists is not funny. To increase your chances of being published, send magazines appropriate content.

Submission guidelines are important. Editors get swamped with material - a great way to thin a large submission pile is to throw out work by people who can't read. If the submission guideline says send in three poems, do not send in 10. If the submission guideline asks for a story of 700 words or less, do not send in the first draft of your novel.

Ask yourself, do they publish themed issues? Is the publication devoted to one genre or many?

There aren't that many rules. Remember these basics, and then when you send in ole Lobster And Garlic Butter, you will have editors eating out of your hands with a creatively professional submission.

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When she's not editing or writing poetry, Corina Milic is a continent hopping journalist - some of her latest trips have been to Rwanda, Africa, and Suriname, South America. She currently lives in the Toronto area.

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