As is the case for so many of us, my writing time is restricted and haphazard (in my case due to having three small, loud children), so I use submission opportunities to force me to make the most of what time I do have. The deadlines given by competitions and magazine reading periods help me to structure and prioritise what time I do have, and make me put stuff out there in the big wide world, vital if I’m going to get better at this writing business. Successes are always great, but I’ve got reasonably thick-skinned about the far more numerous rejections, and have benefited hugely from the nuggets of feedback thrown my way.
You’ll see on my Links page that there are a number of websites I often use as resources for up-to-date lists of competitions and other opportunities. Most frequently, I use the Submissions Calls page from the Thresholds forum, which has a brilliant list of competition and submission deadlines by month, and Paul McVeigh’s brilliant blog, which catches all sorts of opportunities. Writing.ie is also great – many UK and international opportunities as well as Irish ones. I also like Christopher Fielden’s blog for its competition listings – he splits annual and one-off competitions, which can be helpful, and I like the way he notes his own experiences with the various organisations. But there are plenty more.
I also spend a fair bit of time on Twitter (@Turnerpen2paper), which has opened up all sorts of opportunities for me. @Submittable is a good one to follow if you don’t already – they retweet submission calls from the magazines and competitions that use the platform for entries. By following the magazines I’ve liked the sound of, I’ve built up a big data bank of literary magazines on Twitter so I see their updates directly, and if I’ve got something to submit without a particular market in mind, I can look them up to see what reading periods are open. @Submittable is international, of course, so has brought to my attention a far wider selection of possible markets than I’d otherwise be aware of.
Incidentally, and more about this another day, but I’ve found Twitter to be a great resource for finding out about other writing-related stuff: a huge raft of free reading material (about writing but also the chance to read other people’s stories), local writing courses and workshops, local live lit events (eg Stroud Short Stories or Bristol’s Novel Nights, where writers read their stories aloud for an audience to enjoy, a great way to get your writing heard), and mentorship opportunities (eg HISSAC and Womentoring). I’ve made some new writing friends and connections via Twitter, and found many new outlets for my work. I’ve even been contacted via Twitter and been invited to make submissions, and on one occasion this resulted in Long-gone Mary, the story I sent to In Short Publishing, which will shortly be published as a single-story chapbook.
I use a simple spreadsheet to manage my submissions. This appeals because i) I’m a former accountant, and thus an Excel loser, and ii) you can hide rows if you need the whole thing to look a bit less ‘red’ and more ‘green’ on a bad day. I heard Kit de Waal, highly successful short fiction writer and now novelist, speak earlier this year – it may have been a ploy to keep the rookie audience happy, but she maintained that even she has many more reds than greens, so we shouldn’t let it get us down!
In the spreadsheet I just record the competition/magazine, date of submission, any fee, any rules around simultaneous submissions, and – if indicated – when I should hear back. I have a limited budget for this stuff, so I tend to submit to a mix of magazines (which are usually free, at least in this country) and then a spread of very local (usually low fee, entry numbers & prize), regional and national competitions (which tend to have the highest fees and entry numbers, but obviously would be a big break to win). I try not to look at the cell where the fees are totalled – maybe I’ll break even one day!
And that’s about it. What’s your strategy? Anything I’ve missed?