Do Your Research: Submission Series

It’s that time again, my friends. Time for me to sit at my desk, pull out the last month’s worth of story manuscripts, and wade through some very. . . interesting submissions. And you lovely word nerds get to benefit from my experiences.

That’s right, it’s part two of the submission series!

Today’s topic is all about doing your research. I mentioned this in my first post, Crafting Your Cover Letter. And something that you’ll notice is that a lot of these tips tie in together. I mentioned that research was important in creating a cover letter. But it’s also key in knowing where to submit and how to tweak your work.

And that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

I’ll break it into two major points.

Know the Audience

Every writer has heard the phrase “Know your audience”. And there’s a reason for that. Writing for kids is different than writing for adults. Writing for boys is different than writing for girls. Writing for parents is different than writing for singles.

You see my point?

I realize that some people writer a story and then try to sell it anywhere they can. And I admire that.

But I also can’t understand why a person would send a story about trying to have a baby (including three mentions of his wife’s uterus in two sentences) to a kids’ magazine. A conservative kids’ magazine.

Or you get a story about generosity. That’s good for a Christian audience, right? Not when half the story is about how the main character won the money at a casino.

Do you get why it’s important to consider your audience?

I know it takes longer to tailor a story to a specific publication or audience. I know it’s a big risk, because if you can’t sell it to the place you wrote it for, you might not be able to do much else with it. But editors aren’t going to want to take on your generic story and put in the effort to make it fit their publication when there are other stories that are better fits.

Know the Publication

This is a lot like knowing your audience. The two really go hand in hand. However, there are slightly different things to consider with publications.

One of the first things you want to find out is what kind of submissions publications are looking for. For example, the magazines I work for always have a ton of fiction submissions, more than we have space for. But we could always use nonfiction pieces. Knowing something as simple as that can drastically improve your chances of getting published.

Now I know what you’re thinking. It sounds easier than it really is, right?

Well, that’s not completely true.

Here are three easy steps you can take to fully research audience and publication:

1. Check for guidelines.

Most publications have a website and somewhere on that website, you can usually find writer’s guidelines. Publishers have helpfully put together lists of what sort of things they’re looking for. They list everything from the desired word count, the type of story they want, who to send it to, and everything in between.

And trust me, we can tell who’s looked at the guidelines.

2. Do some reading.

One of the best ways to get a sense of what gets published is to read the publication itself. This might require a little spending on your part. But in my opinion, it’s worth it.

For example, we’ll send out a sample of our magazine (usually the most recent issue) for just over two dollars. Now if you study the magazine and submit something, you could get paid a hundred dollars for a piece. And since we’ve published you before, we’re more likely to consider you in the future. So that two dollar investment could really pay off.

You could also check libraries or other places that collect publications. But however you do it, you want to read the publication. It will give you a better sense of what stories get selected than a list of guidelines ever will.

3. Just ask.

One of my favorite things is getting mail from authors asking for what we need. Or asking for our list of themes.

A big reason is that our needs are constantly changing. Guidelines are usually pretty vague since the types of stories publications need are changing pretty quickly. Guidelines can give you a general direction, but asking someone will give you specifics.

I really admire the authors who reach out to me (or the other editors). It shows that they’re serious about publishing with us.

Again, you can usually find a website for publications and they’ll have contact information there.

So don’t be shy. I’d rather talk to someone before they submit, even more than once, to make sure they know what they’re doing than just receive a story.

Now, that being said, be kind. Don’t overrun anyone with emails and questions. We editors are busy people.

So get out there and do your research!

Tune in next month when I talk about getting your story ready for publication.

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