5 Quick Short Story Submission Tips

So, you wrote the next best thing since the novelization of Cabin in the Woods? Once you’ve found a few magazines and publishers who are taking open submissions, you might think to yourself: Now what? Well, hold on to your electrons, let ol’ Jo show you a few tips (before you submit!)

5 Quick n Short Submission Tips:

1. Say hi in your cover letter 🙂

Let’s face it. Query letters are scary. You are basically asking someone you don’t know for their time and money for the exchange of you giving them a story they did not directly ask for. At least say ‘hi’.

After reading query letters for two decades, I can tell you that a lot of people skip that decency. Sometimes we would get the ‘bio’ as the entire letter. Other times, we might get a small sentence about the story (and even an occasional word count!). However, the rare bird had a Dear Editor’s Name Here, or a “Dear Press Name Here, or even a ‘Hi!’.

It became so bad, that we made it a rule to not read any letter that didn’t at least say Hi. Maybe we missed out on some killer stories. Probably not. Either way, if you can’t muster the politeness to say “hi” before asking a stranger for money…


2. Submit only your own work that you have copyright control โ€“ NO song lyrics, poems, etc in your work that isnโ€™t 100% yours. This goes for trademarked entities (sorry, fan fic!)

How many times have you seen a cool song lyric in a Stephen King book? Answer: A lot. He pretty much did one a chapter for one of his novels.

So, break out the sick Sixx AM lyric for your short story about a rockstar overdose who comes back to life only to … wait. The hardest part is picking out which lyric, right?

Nope. The hardest part is getting the email from a publisher saying “Sorry, although we like your story, we are very competitive and please try again”. Why? I followed Jo’s rule 1! I said ‘Hi” to them! I even mentioned them by name! Man, Bowie was right in his song The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell, “Life’s a bit and then you die” <–see that would need rights to reproduce if it was attached to your short story/novel.

It usually isn’t the kiss of death if you used a single song lyric at the top of your page as ‘inspiration’. Most of my editing team would simply reply politely pointing out, ‘Hey, we like your story but there is no flipping way we are paying for rights to Metallica’s Fade to Black so you can use a verse from it…if you wan to remove that from the first line of your story, we’d love to consider publishing it’

However, if we are busy (most editors are) or in a bad mood (see previous step) or you have he bloody radio playing thirteen different songs for ‘mood’, then most likely we’d trash it and send the rejection template.

How to avoid? Easy – don’t use other people’s work as your own.

Wait? NOTHING from anyone else?! How about:

  • Lyrics? Nope.
  • Poems? Eww and No.
  • Radio/TV/Movie dialogue: Who are you,? A Netflix exec?
  • Passages from my favorite: No, no, no, no! Not even if it’s Your Favorite Martian.

So, I had to have written everything in my story?

Sorta–you can (oddly) title your story after a song. But that’s about it.


3. Read the rules/themes of the call for which you are submitting.

This should be a no-brainer, but…

Before you submit to a publisher, please read their submission guidelines. If they want 13 point serif font with every other letter in bold? Well, guess you better get that Fiverr account dusted off or it’s going to be a long day for formatting.

Every publisher is unique. Some of us have common guideline concepts (like saying Hi), but our needs and artistic directions will not always align. Some might want single space, and others might want double space. Some might want two spaces after a full-stop, and others want only one. Some want the Oxford comma, and others like being wrong.

Some might want a biography and a picture–others might get turned off if you include either (random pictures are a no-no).

If you read and follow the rules for a submission, you will be ahead of the game.

4. Word count, genre, and reading (Oh my!)

Word count matters. Word count for a novel is not the same as a short story. Whatever word count the publisher wants (usually a range) is what you send. Nobody wants the extra special version of your 3,000 word fiction on going to the supermarket when they ask for 1,200 words max. Likewise, don’t send 30,000 words to a publisher asking to see your entire novel draft. Do send 30,000 words to the publisher asking for a 30,000 word sample of your novel.

Like horror? Great! Search for horror publishers (hey, I hear might be one!). Like comedy? Great…don’t send it to the horror publisher. Publishers usually have some ideal reader in mind. This means they usually focus on a genre (or two). Don’t be the person who brings a sci-fi into the office of a rom-com publisher.ย  I’ve had to turn down more than a few stories because the genre wasn’t remotely close to what we were looking for. This leads to reading the magazine before submitting.

Read a sample before you submit your work. Yes, you can look at the submission call to see what genre the publisher wants (as most will include this), but nothing improves your chances like actually reading a previous edition/anthology/rando book from that publisher. This helps you in two ways: 1) You will. have a better idea if what you wrote will fit the publisher’s taste; and, 2) You will see if the publisher fits your tastes. In the end, a small bit of reading can spare a lot of people time and energy.

5. Be yourself

OK, I should say “Be Yourself….if yourself is a patient, kind, and personable type of being’.

Be you. Say Hi. Say Hi like you mean it. Be cognizant that an editor can read hundreds of submissions before taking a single one to the ‘maybe’ pile. Don’t overkill in your query letter. Be simple. Be sweat. Be Quick.

If you have met the person at an event–and they asked you to send them something–briefly jog our memory of when/where we met you. If we asked you to send us something in person, chances are we have already an interest in publishing your work or at least giving you personalized feedback instead of the Template Form of Doom.

Hi Jo,

My name is Marian. We met at GenCon (I was dressed as the Dark Queen from Dragonlance). You said I should send you my 12,000 word short story about a woman who gets lost on a cave expedition but finds herself in the process (and then gets found by trolls and quickly eaten in that process).

I hope you are having a great day!


Boom! In..out…done.

Also, please don’t write another query letter until 6 months or a year has passed (or whatever they say is a fair time). It just clogs things up and makes us hit that ‘deny’ hammer all the quicker.

The Wrap Up

That’s it, folks! I hope this helps ๐Ÿ™‚ Feel free to let me know of your tricks and tips and I’ll share them on our next video. And if you any of my trips were the key to your success please do drop a line and link to your work! We’d love to hear from you ๐Ÿ™‚

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