A Written View – Submitting a Story

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By Doug OwenDougHeader-web

Okay, so you have written a story and want to submit it to a magazine or publisher. Before you scour your records for the email address and send in the work, take a deep breath and read this.

Besides the obvious, there are some things to look for. Let’s start with the first few things and move forward.

File Type

How do they want that story submitted? You need to know this right away. Do they want the story in a .DOC or .DOCX? Maybe they say .RTF. You have to verify which one, because if you submit an .RTF and they want it in .DOC, the story will go right to the recycle bin. Why? Because you didn’t follow the instructions. Believe it or not, they can be that petty. But from their standpoint, if you don’t follow one simple request, what else will be wrong? Why should they continue? So look for that required format.

Submit With

So, they say to attach the story and a letter that includes a synopsis of the work and a short bio. You put it all in one. So why did you not hear from them? Your story was amazing. But you forgot to follow the instructions. They only saw one attachment and off to the recycling bin it went. Remember, they asked for two attachments: the story and a letter of introduction. You didn’t submit two, so they deleted your submission.

The Introduction


This is a test. It is the first thing they open in order to see if they should delete your story. Is there a bio that makes sense or did the writer make a funny story? If it’s a funny story with, say, a disclaimer stating that some of the bio may be fictitious, then into the recycling bin it goes. Make sure when you submit a bio that it is real and not a “smartass” response. Your ego may land you in the recycling bin.


See what they want. One paragraph? Then make sure you only submit one paragraph. Any more than that and they story is in the bin. Make sure it is a synopsis, for if it is not, into the bin it goes. Make sure you deliver what they want.


Yes, here you make sure everything is real. This is where you brag about publications and awards you have won. No publications? Don’t list any. No awards? Leave it blank. Are you really a writer? Make sure you write. Find a magazine that is looking for writers, even if it is free. Having that on your brag will make you look better than the one with nothing. Even a short list is better than nothing.

Okay, so everything is done correctly now, but the story needs to be adjusted. Why? Because you want to follow the submission instructions. Even if they say the font does not matter, you still want to revisit it. Your favourite font makes you happy, but not everyone likes Goudy Stout. So stick with the standards: New Roman, Cambria, or Garamond. Want some advice? If the editor is older, use Garamond; it is the old standard that we old guys love.

Oh, don’t forget to stay within their word count.

But did you make one of the big mistakes? If you’re not sure, here are the ones to look out for.

  • The Far Hook

You sink the hook in the first paragraph, so why does it take you until the hundredth page to show a dead body? It is now far too late. Time to cut out a lot of words to get to the point.

  • Tags Ahoy and No Substance

Is every line of dialogue tagged in your work? “He said… She said… John said… Bill said…” Oh, please, break it up and do something else. Have someone move or pick their nose. Give me something other than a tag. And make sure you describe things correctly. “He looked about the living room, powder blue and green, landscapes framed in oak, a porch through double doors…” Ready to eat a bullet for just a little excitement?

  • Name Dropper

Don’t have a lot of names in your story, especially not in one scene. If you do, don’t have them talking at the same time, for it will confuse the reader. Three, maybe four talkers at the same time, maximum.

Remember the golden rules: Introduce no more than three named characters per scene. If a character is not important, don’t name them. Period. Give each character a name that starts with a different letter.

  • Verbal Pyrotechnics

 Please don’t do this in your narrative. Martin Amis from the UK does it and for some reason he has a following. Tell me what you think?

“But I go to Hollywood but I go to hospital, but you are first but you are last, but he is tall but she is small, but you stay up but you go down, but we are rich but we are poor, but they find peace but they …” (The start of Yellow Dog)

I don’t know about you, but I would not read on. The book would land back on the shelf.

  • Protagonist Hate

If your protagonist is not lovable, then why would anyone care for them? And why would anyone read a story about someone they cannot connect with? Make your protagonist lovable in some way.

  • Dangling Modifier

Starting a sentence with a word ending in “ing” is frowned upon. Why? Because it is, potentially, a fragmented sentence. Don’t do it.

If you are going to take away anything from this article, it is to read what is needed when submitting, and always polish your work before you do.

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