Welcome, dear friends and readers, to the Hunger Games!… I mean, the submission series! Honestly, it can feel like a fight to the death when manuscripts are being evaluated. Which one is better? Which will be the last one standing?
In this third installment of my submission success series, we’ll be looking at the best way to get your story all dolled up and ready for the ball, without a midnight curfew.
Are these metaphors getting weird? They’re getting weird. Onto the point, then!
1. Gather all the necessary parts.
Before you send in your story, it’s imperative that you make sure you have everything you need to send in. Different publications ask for different things. Some will ask for the story only. Others will ask for other examples of your writing. For longer pieces, you might be asked to only send in a short portion of the entire manuscript. Some places will ask that you send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) for their reply, while others will ask that you include one only if you want the manuscript returned to you.
Sidenote, if you want your manuscript back, always, ALWAYS, write that you do somewhere in the packet.
Nearly every publication with a website publishes their submission guidelines. That’s because they want to make things easier, for both you and them. They will tell you exactly what they want from you.
A piece of advice: very few places will specifically ask for a cover letter, but always do one. It makes life easier for editors, to have all the information in one place. Plus, if you write a nice, concise cover letter, it makes you look super professional.
2. Read the text. Leave it alone. Read it again.
Repeat this multiple times.
Now, it’s important to leave your work alone for a time. When you read something too often, your brain fills in the words as you think they should be, not necessarily as they are. When you take a break and come back to the piece with fresh eyes, you’re more likely to notice missing words or letters out of place. Auto-correct can only fix so many things. A word that is spelled correctly, but is not the one you intended, will be left alone.
Not to mention that time spent doing other things allows your ideas to simmer in your subconscious. You might come up with the perfect tweak.
3. Proof everything.
One of the things that makes me cringe more than anything else is a cover letter full of errors. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen immaculate stories accompanied by cover letters riddled with mistakes. I realize (being a writer myself) that cover letters don’t get as much time or attention as the story (after all, we’re trying to sell the story, not the letter).
However, I read the cover letter first. And if I read a cover letter that has absolutely no capital letters (true story) or commas every third word (also happened recently), it leaves me with a bad impression of the writer before I even look at their story.
And the last thing you want is an editor who thinks “This person can’t write well” before even looking at the actual story.
4. Find trusted writer/reader friends.
Now this is important.
I don’t mean give your story to your family or your best friend. They are going to love it because you wrote it. Find those friends who read a lot and have a good grasp of grammar and the like. Have them look over your story for mistakes.
One of the best ways to get results out of those friends is to ask them to read the story in a technical light (looking for typos, misplaced words, or incorrect punctuation) rather than the story itself. By now (presumably) you’ve edited and polished the story from a plot standpoint. Now you just need to dress it up to make it all pretty.
That’s not to say they should ignore the story. You want them to point out inconsistencies if they notice any. And sometimes, if you’re just stuck and can’t seem to figure out what’s missing or what should happen, outside eyes are just the solution.
Perhaps the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard (at least, in regards to editing and getting outside opinions), is to use an odd number of people. That way, if people disagree about some point, there will always be a majority, one way or the other.
So there you have it, word nerds! Preparing your story (and all it’s accessories) for submission!
Tune in next month when I cover proper submission etiquette.