The Road to Publication

The Road: Mile 4 – Format and Submit!

We’re almost to the end of the Road to Publication.  But not quite there.  Since no questions cropped up after the last “selecting a market” post, I decided to move on to formatting and submitting.

This part, in my opinion, is among the easiest of miles.  To do this right, you really just need to pay attention.  Careful attention – and maybe don’t format and submit at three in the morning.  Though, I must admit I have definitely submitted so late in the night.

Format Your Submission

The market you submit to will request a certain format for your story.  Sometimes this involves copy/pasting the story into the body of an email (rare) and sometimes it involves sending a particular type of file (usually .doc and .rtf) as an attachment and making sure the story within that file is just how the publisher wants it.

If you think this isn’t a big step, you might want to rethink that.  You can and will get rejected for not following the submission guidelines when it comes to formatting.  Not at every market, mind you.  Some are more lax than others.  You just don’t want to take that chance.  Plus, it’s never a good idea to tick off a publisher.  The majority of complaints I’ve seen from publishers (on Twitter, Facebook, etc) is that people don’t follow the guidelines.  So, let’s go through a few steps for formatting and submitting.

1.) Read the Guidelines

…and then read them again.  Open up your story file and the submission guidelines simultaneously and check every element.  Publications like Takahe Magazine will have a list of formatting guidelines that often include things like whether to double space or single space your story, whether to indent paragraphs or not, and what font type and size they prefer.  Typically, most publications request either Times New Roman (12 point) or Courier (12 point).

A common trend in a lot of markets I’ve submitted to is a reference to “standard manuscript formatting”, which usually links to William Shunn’s example, here.  Shadows & Tall Trees is one market that requests this standard formatting.

There are a few markets that are not clear on how they want their stories formatted or what file type they prefer.  In these cases, my recommendation is to stick with William Shunn’s standard formatting (double spaced, indented paragraphs, 12 point Times New Roman or Courier, etc).  If the market does not list which sort of attachments they accepted, I often send two or three common file types (generally .doc and .rtf).  If you’re not familiar with how to save these different file types – all you have to do is hit “save as” in your word processor (most processors anyway) and then in the drop down box under where you title the work, select either Word 97-2003 Document or Rich Text Format.

Watch out for the tricky publications that list odd requirements just to check if you’re reading their guidelines thoroughly.  I don’t blame them for the ‘trick’, because I can see how it would be incredibly annoying to consistently get submissions in the wrong format.  One publisher I’ve submitted to asks you to list in your cover letter (body of email) who your favorite author is and why.  Quite clever.  I missed it the first time I submitted – and you can bet I didn’t miss it the next couple times I sent a story in.

2.) Write a Cover Letter

Cover letters aren’t actually that difficult, though they might seem daunting at first.  Some publishers specifically say they don’t care about cover letters.  Some request them, saying they don’t like receiving attachments when there’s no message along with it – it makes the email seems odd and a bit iffy.

If you’re nervous about writing your cover letter, don’t be.  It’s just an email.  Generally speaking, publishers don’t want anything funny or clever.  They want a brief, professional communication that gives them details without slowing them down.  Below I’ve included a pretty standard cover letter you can use as a shell.

Dear Editor,

Attached you will find my submission, entitled “___________”.  Thank you in advance for taking the time to read and consider it.  

I look forward to hearing back from you at your convenience.

Warmest Regards,

(Your name here)

Again, read the guidelines carefully.  Sometimes a publisher will request a list of recent credits.  If they do, keep it brief.  List three or four most recent or most impressive credits.  Don’t have any?  That’s fine – just say something like “As of now, I have no publishing credits”.  Don’t apologize for it, don’t go into detail about it, don’t tell them you’ve been rejected eighteen times and you really need this one.  Just say it, and move on.

Sometimes publishers will request a tiny bit of detail about your story.  Usually, this includes genre and word count.  At most, I’ve been asked for a one line description of the story — however, that is rare and I’ve seen many more publishers who specifically said not to describe the story.

A third thing publishers sometimes request is your author’s biography.  This can be difficult to write, but don’t let it scare you.  I currently have about five or six different versions I use, depending on where I’m submitting.  The key to writing one of these is to write it in third person, mention a way to look you up (these bios are usually listed after your story) and either add something witty or include a note about two or three recent credits.  Also, don’t make the bio longer than 50 words as a general rule, unless more is requested.  Just for fun, I’ll show you the first bio I ever used and I’ll show you the one I use today.

First Bio:

Alexis A. Hunter is a freelance writer, specializing in short stories and flash fiction.  A lifelong fan of the Fantasy genre, she has a passion for all things mythical, ethereal and out of this world.  She currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia with her husband, Bo, and cat Ripley. 

Current Bio:

A lifelong fan of speculative fiction, Alexis A. Hunter specializes in all things mythical, ethereal and out of this world.  Her work has appeared most recently in The Ghost IS the Machine (a Post Mortem Press anthology), Title Goes Here: Web Edition and Interstellar Fiction.  To learn more about Alexis visit 

3.) Submit Your Story!

Got your cover letter in place?  Have you properly formatted your story?  Double check the guidelines again. Make sure the bio is included in your email (I put it below my ‘signature’ usually).  Double check to make sure you’ve actually attached your story to the email.

Click send.

You’ve done it.  Now you can go to Duotrope, report your submission and wait for a response.

Some publishers do use a service called Submittable which allows you, the writer, to create an account and then just fill in a form to submit instead of sending an email.  You can still include a cover letter and you will still receiver an email response.  It’s actually a pretty hand system as it will show you the status of a story (received, in progress, rejected or accepted).

But that’s it.  Once you’ve clicked send and reported your submission to Duotrope, you get to sit back and relax.  Or check your email compulsively like I do.  Don’t worry, we all do it.

That’s all I have for you today.  The series isn’t quite over yet, however, as next week I’d like to spend a minute or two discussing what happens when you do get your response from the publisher.

Until then, if you have any questions about formatting and submitting, or heck any questions/comments at all, please feel free to email me or comment here on the post!

Thanks for reading,


P.S: Be on the look out as in the middle of the week, I’ll probably be back with a post about my experience at Context 25 — a speculative writing convention I attended this past weekend.


2 thoughts on “The Road: Mile 4 – Format and Submit!

  1. I really appreciate this installment. Oh ye gods, formatting! Just when I thought writing and editing were hard enough:) This really cleared up a few things for me–though why anyone would want to read anything in courier is beyond me!
    Okay, I’ve got a question. Gosh, I’m like that kid in class who is always asking all the questions, lol. Anyway, it’s minutia but possibly important: is it better to use two spaces after a period, or one? I, compulsively, do two.

    1. I do the same thing! I can’t stop myself from doing two spaces after a period.

      Things do seem to be switching over to a single space after a period.

      However, don’t trip yourself up while writing by trying to make yourself do so. If you’re using word or most other processors, you should be able to just “find & replace” by just hitting two spaces in the “find” field and one space in the “replace” field. Quick fix! 🙂

      If a market says to follow the standard formatting guidelines like Shunn’s — fix it to one space as listed in the document. If it doesn’t say anything at all about the spaces, you can just send it with two. 🙂

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