Update: 6/25/20 Pig in a Poke Magazine is no longer active.
As the fiction editor for Pig in a Poke magazine, I receive a variety of e-mail formats introducing story submissions. I find this curious because our submission guidelines give specific directions for submitting. Even so, most writers do not follow the guidelines. The norm is to diverge from what we ask. Why? Why don’t writers pay attention to details that could help to get their work published?
Guidelines are not meant to make writers’ lives more difficult. Rather, each editor has his or her own process. The way they ask writers to submit work streamlines that process. Hence the need for guidelines. Editors may ask for a certain phrase in the subject, ask for attachments or not, or request certain formatting because it makes it easier to read the submission and reply more quickly.
Editors are busy, just like writers. Many of us have day jobs. We receive hundreds of submissions each month. We ask that writers submit work a certain way in order to help us. We appreciate writers that make our lives easier by submitting as we ask. And when we get our way, we are in a better mood when we read your work.
In general, I suggest fiction writers do the following when they submit their work for publication. I think these steps will at least increase a writer’s chance of receiving a reply and will likely increase their chance for publication.
- Follow submission guidelines carefully.
- Personalize your e-mail. Do not use your husband’s, wife’s or work e-mail.
- Include a cover letter with the name of the story and word count. Unless the editor states otherwise in the guidelines.
- Put your bio in the cover letter. Unless the editor states otherwise.
- Put your name and contact information on the first page of your submission and in the cover letter. Unless the editor states otherwise.
Follow submission guidelines carefully.
I ask that a story be submitted as a Word or .rtf file to email@example.com. I like attachments because I don’t want to have to scroll down an e-mail or read a story that has lost its formatting. I like to see italics and bold where they belong. I want paragraph breaks, which can be lost embedded in e-mail. Harry doesn’t mind poems embedded in e-mail. Neither of us care what font is used, so we don’t state a font choice.
Pig in a Poke asks that in the subject line writers list the genre and their last name. Example: “Poetry: Calhoun”. We ask this, not to make extra work for you, but so that we can easily match up the submission with the e-mail when we reply. About half of the fiction submissions I receive do not have the correct subject line. This means that when I am ready to reply to the writer I have to search through my e-mails to find the person’s submission. Unless it is an exceptional story that I want to accept, I may not have the patience to sort through all those e-mails in order to reject the story.
Name and contact information
It is important to put your name on the first page of the story submitted. About a quarter of the fiction submissions I receive do not have a name anywhere on the story. This makes it difficult for me to reply. Even if the writer put his or her name in the subject line of the e-mail, I still can’t quickly find the e-mail submission. I have to open every e-mail until I find the attached story in one of them. You can imagine my mood if I reply after wasting time looking through dozens of e-mails.
Cover letter and bio
I ask that in the body of the e-mail, writers introduce the story, themselves, and include a brief bio. The cover letter is for me to get to know the writer and his or her work. If the cover letter is humorous and conversational, I can expect the same of the story. It adds interest for me if the writer tells me something about themselves. For example, I received this letter recently.
I generally write in an attempt to be humorous, though most of those with whom I have shared my work inevitably ask me how drunk I was at the time of writing the story.
Although I ended up rejecting this submission, I was more excited to read it than I would have been had he sent in a standard note. And I offered ideas for revision that I might not have otherwise.
More than half of the fiction submissions I receive do not include a bio. I don’t care what publications, if any, writers have. That is not the reason for the bio. The reason we ask for a bio in the cover letter is so that we can run it with the story if we accept it. When the bio is not in the cover letter, if I accept the story I have to ask the writer to send a bio. Then, when I lay out the story in the magazine, I have two e-mails from the writer to keep track of: one containing the story and one containing the bio. This gets messy.
All in a name
Please personalize your e-mail when submitting. For example, if your name is Sally Smothers, your e-mail should be something like: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. With free yahoo and Google e-mail services, there is no excuse to submit your work with an e-mail that does not match your name.
I recently received this cover letter for a short story sent by John K:
Bio included in work
Nothing more, just that the bio is included. I did not know how long the story was or anything about the writer. This did not stop me from reading the story, although some editors might have hit the delete key. And they would be justified in that. If a writer can’t bother to follow the guidelines, we should not feel compelled to read his or her work.
The story was written by Elizabeth B, whose bio read:
… I am now a practicing attorney in Weston, Florida. I have published in The Florida Bar and the journal for the state’s lawyers, and I write regular monthly legal columns for local magazines. I am currently working on a collection of short stories.
I liked the story, but decided it wasn’t quite right for “the Pig.” When I tried to reply to Elizabeth, I realized I had no e-mail in her name. Nor had she followed the guidelines by putting her name in the subject line. So, I had to open every submission until I came to an e-mail sent by John K with simply “submission” in the subject line. If Elizabeth had personalized her e-mail with her own name or followed my guidelines by putting “Fiction: Elizabeth B” in the subject, I could have easily found her e-mail and replied.
Frustrated, I sent this note to Elizabeth:
Dear Elizabeth (or John),
Thank you for submitting “name of story” to Pig in a Poke magazine for publication. I’m afraid it does not quite work for us. I found the beginning rather long. The story did draw me in toward the middle and I liked the ending, but overall, it tended to ramble and just didn’t hook me.
I found it confusing that your e-mail lists your name as John K. And I would suggest writing a brief note introducing yourself and the story, especially when your name doesn’t match your e-mail. I had to open e-mails in my in box to find out who to reply to. This can be frustrating to editors.
John wrote back, apologized, and said that he is submitting for Elizabeth because she is busy with her law practice. Indeed. My opinion is that writers should submit their own work. Stories are personal and to pay an assistant to submit work just seems to impersonal. I was further taken aback when I received this cover letter for another of Elizabeth’s stories last week, again sent from John’s e-mail.
John K submitting for Elizabeth B. Thanks.
Did John and Elizabeth learn nothing from my note? If John is going to continue to submit for Elizabeth, he could at least open a yahoo or Google account in her name, as I suggested. And neither John or Elizabeth bothered to write a note introducing the story. If she is too busy to write a query letter, should I be bothered to read Elizabeth’s story?