Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Anthology Submission Strategies that Work for Me

As I've mentioned before, all of my published fiction is in invitation-only anthologies. Now, I still haven't published huge numbers of stories, but my acceptance rate for anthologies has been very good. I'm here to tell you what I did, in case it might be helpful for you. I know for a fact that as an editor, I appreciate writers doing at least some of the following things.

First thing! If you want to improve your chances of getting invited to submit stories for anthologies, it is very helpful indeed to:

  • Go to writing conventions focused on the genre of your choice, and meet and be friendly with as many people there as possible, regardless of whether they seem like they can help you. BE NICE TO EVERYONE. Listen to them. Don't talk about yourself all the time. Ask about their work before you talk about your work (ideally, don't even talk about your work until they ask you about it). Have a cool business card and give it to them; ask if they have a card, but give them yours even if they don't.
  • Find a non-obnoxious way to let the world know that you like working with guidelines to write stories. Some writers actually hate doing that. I LOVE IT (<--see what I did there?). If you're going to be obnoxious, like me, be obnoxious in the best way you can!
  • Have a blog in which you write about things that interest you a couple of times a week. Penelope Trunk has excellent advice about that for you. Also, her career and homeschooling blogs are both outstanding, and she is hugely influential in my life right now. As she says, blogging lets people know your ideas about working in your field, and it helps them to know when and why to hire you. MAKE SURE YOUR CONTACT INFO IS ON IT. Many writers are super-cagey about their email addresses these days, presumably because of spam and trolls, or maybe because they haven't learned how to politely say no to requests, but speaking as an editor, it's hard to send you guidelines if there's no email address to send them to. I may be a weirdo, but I don't like those email forms people have on their websites.
  • Okay? So next, whether you have an invitation to submit or you're taking a whack at an open-call anthology, here are my tips.

    Crucial, In My Opinion

  • Read the guidelines at least twice before you do anything else.
  • Know how long it usually takes you to develop and write a story, and schedule time to do that work, plus a little padding to cover things like getting sick, dealing with emergencies, having story troubles, general stress, and wandering in beautiful meadows to clear your head.
  • Write the deadline down on a calendar that you will use (paper or digital). Also write a reminder on the date you need to start working on the story. Otherwise you may forget all about it and miss the opportunity and have to admit to the editor that you forgot (I'm your editorial witness to the fact that this happens).
  • The first idea you get for a story? Don't use it. The second idea? Don't use that, either. Push into the territory of three or more ideas, twisting things around as much as you can, before you pick one to develop. Make it as "you" as you possibly can within the framework of the guidelines. Find the idea that only you would think of, because those first two ideas are pretty much guaranteed to be the ideas everyone would think of.
  • Turn in your story ON TIME at the LATEST. As in, on the date of the deadline, no later. I know time is hard! But still. Really. You might get an acceptance for a late story, but you won't look good doing it.
  • It's much better for you and your chances if you turn in your story EARLY. As in, as much before the deadline as you can manage while still submitting a reasonably finished and clean manuscript that you've read over a couple of times, and edited.
  • If it's really, truly impossible to turn in your story on time, like for emergency reasons, and an editor is expecting it, then email the editor as soon as you know you're running late, and be genuinely apologetic for the inconvenience, and grateful for any extension she can give you. But really try not to be late. Don't be late because you can't miss your favorite TV shows, or whatever. Keep your commitments.
  • Write a story that's within the length range specified in the guidelines. That's provided for a reason. If the guidelines say to query about longer stories, then query. If the guidelines don't mention ways to work out exceptions, don't try to work out an exception. Give the editor what she asked for.
  • Also Helpful, Possibly

  • If you know of anthologies on a similar theme to the one you're writing for, read at least a handful of the stories in them if at all possible, and look at the titles. See what's already out there, and get a sense of which ideas might be different enough to get your story noticed.
  • If you can, take a look at the editor's previous anthologies to see what kind of stories she's accepted before. This may not be very helpful, because tastes change and you need to stay true to your own voice when writing anyway, but, for example, if you hardly ever see a first-person POV in her previous anthologies, consider not using that POV for your story. Things like that are worth considering.
  • Depending on the editor, it may be okay to ask questions to get more information. Be careful about this, because some editors don't like to be bothered. I'm happy to answer writers' questions about my opinions and preferences when I'm editing. If I were running a contest, I'd have to give everyone the same information and not give anyone an advantage. If I'm soliciting material for a book, I want to get the best possible stuff for the book, so I appreciate it when people are motivated enough to find out what will work for me. This is probably another area in which I'm a weirdo, but I will cheerfully accept that designation.
  • This is getting long! Let me know if there are other tips I've missed.

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