The Cardinal Sins of Submission

As I work my way through the fantastic stories and poems that have been submitted to Gallows Hill Magazine, it seemed a good time to share with you all some of my top tips for making it out of the slush pile. We all know publishing is a competitive business; there are hundreds of stories submitted to each opening, and that’s something to be celebrated. Writing is more accessible than ever, and equally, there are always new venues opening up to showcase the very best of genre fiction. But that means that if you want your story to stand out, you need to do everything you can to present yourself and your story in the best light.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure you don’t commit the cardinal sins of short story submissions.

  1. FORMATTING is vital. Seriously. I can’t stress this point enough! When an editor is reading through dozens of submissions each day, ‘quirky’ formatting will do you no favours. Presenting your work in bold font, unusual typefaces or without appropriate paragraphs and punctuation will elicit a pained groan from the weary editor, and giving them a reason to mark your story down from the start is a Bad Plan. Most publications will list the expected formatting for your submission, but when in doubt, always use Shunn standard format for your short stories. Learn it and use it.
  2. GUIDELINES are there for a reason. Don’t subvert them. It doesn’t make you clever or special; you just look like an arsehole. If an editor requests a hard limit of 5k, sending in your 7000 word story is an auto-rejection. If the guidelines request a HEA (happily ever after), then your story that culminates in a beautifully tragic murder of one of the main characters isn’t going to fit, and it’s a waste of your time and theirs to send it in. Read the guidelines, stick to them, and you’re already halfway there.
  3. SUBMITTING CORRECTLY will also stand you in good stead. If the publisher asks for a cover letter, provide one – and think about what you’re writing. They don’t need (or want) to know about the trophy you won when you were 9. But if you’re a member of the HWA or your story was recently nominated for a Stoker, then by all means let them know. Send to the correct email address, or via the submission portal if directed to do so. Don’t find the editor’s personal email to send it to them directly; it only makes you look like someone who isn’t willing to follow the process, and is therefore likely going to be difficult to work with. Address your email formally and politely, and if in doubt, address it as “Dear Editor”, NOT “Dear Sir”!
  4. And DON’T SELF-REJECT. Have confidence in your writing and in yourself. Once your story is the best it can be, get it out there! I know how hard it is for a writer to open up to criticism and send each story out there. Our writing is often intensely personal, and taking a risk on rejection is difficult. But if you’ve read the guidelines, crafted a story that fits and believe in it, then send it off! Take a chance and see what happens.

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