Updated September 2023
1. Get the look. If you want people to take you seriously, you’ve got to present yourself in a serious way. When making your submissions to agents and editors, skip the fancy fonts and multicolor lettering, the “clever” query letter intros (editors get sick of them fast), the thumbnail image of your face on the manuscript. Just be brief, straightforward, and businesslike. Also, follow industry standard formatting and have your work proofread. Interestingly enough, it’s often the veteran writers who are more inclined to appreciate proofreading than the newbies—but that’s probably why they earn veteran status to begin with.
2. Write to the right people. The first mistake of making submissions is taking the “blanket” approach: wallpapering the whole country with your query and cover letters. A few well-placed and specific queries truly mean much more than 50 that are almost well-placed. Queries that are almost well-targeted will almost get you published. Do the research (or hire someone who will) to make your submissions matter. (NOTE: We’ve found that writers who take this seriously tend to be more successful. Submitting selectively is a sign of a writer who knows what she or he is about. Selective writers put so much love into their manuscripts that they won’t submit to just anyone. Selectiveness is a very good sign because it demonstrates the right attitude for success.)
3. Be the tortoise, not the hare. Make submissions part of your writing habit. Submitting your work in dribbles and drabs is NOT a strategy; it’s a crapshoot. Sustainable and steady wins the race. To a certain extent, submissions are a numbers game. When you submit more regularly, it’s likely you’ll get published more often and more regularly. And the more you build up your bio, the more likely you’ll be well-received. Don’t give up on a story just because twenty places rejected it. Plan to submit to at least 100 markets. AND create a schedule to lock yourself into making submissions. When you create a calendar for your submissions (and deadlines for your writing so that you can make submissions) you will see your publication rate increase.
4. Organization is your friend. Some people are naturally well-organized but others are not. To truly make the most of your submissions, you need to keep track of who read what, who liked what (and why), who rejected what (and why), who wants to see more work from you, and who acquired what rights. It is a TON of work (that’s why Writer’s Relief takes on this burden for our clients). When the acceptance letters start coming in, you’ll thank yourself for the extra effort.
5. Chin up! Last but not least, work to maintain a good attitude. Negative thinking, getting glum about rejections, and believing yourself less than worthy… It’s easy to fall into those traps. Positive thinking takes real work when you’re getting bombarded by rejections (and you WILL get bombarded—it’s part of the process). Start looking at your rejection letters as proof of your dedication, devotion, and all-around awesomeness. Attitude is often the only difference between a nobody and a rising star. Every rejection brings you closer to acceptance, so submit regularly and chip away at those numbers.
If you’re not able to develop a submission strategy on your own, or you just don’t have the time and patience for it, do yourself a real favor and check out Writer’s Relief. We can take on as much or as little of the submission process as you like so that you can focus on what you love: writing.
At Writer’s Relief it’s our business to work with our clients to develop a submission strategy that 1) keeps them focused on writing, 2) eases the stress and frustration of the submission process, 3) circulates manuscripts regularly (with no spamming) to generate interest, and 4) targets the BEST literary agents and editors (those most likely to enjoy the writing in question).
QUESTION: What’s YOUR secret to getting acceptance letters from literary agents or editors of literary journals?