First-Time Submission Success Guide

I shared this advice a couple of years ago as a guest post for Wine, Women & Well=being, for writers preparing to submit to their anthologies. So I thought I’d share it again here for anyone who wants to submit articles or guest posts for websites, journals, or anthologies.

Hope you find it useful!

Preparing for submission success

So, you want to write a story and get published. You know that you don’t have to have writing experience – but also that your work ‘has to’should be ‘polished’.

But what does that mean? What does polished writing look like? Read on for my step-by-step guide.

But first of all: don’t get hung up on perfection! If your story can resonate with readers, the editors will help you finesse it. Your job is to make your story shine through in the first place. Here’s how to make their selection process easier.

Before Writing

A little bit of planning and preparation goes a long way.

  • Find the story in what you’re writing: plan a beginning, middle, and end, and especially look for some kind of transformation. Readers want to know what you learned, how you changed, the flaw you had to overcome, or how your actions earned your outcome.
  • Decide from what point of view to write: the perspective you had then? Or the perspective you have now, with the benefit of hindsight?
  • Consider the reader, and which details of your story are most relevant to them. Do you want to write informally, as if having a chat with the reader? Or to be descriptive, to paint a vivid picture and set the scene? Be careful of any assumptions that the reader sees the world the same way as you. You are expressing your own truth, your own experience and perspective – frame it that way.
  • Pay attention to the word limit. Submitting something too long or too short makes for easy deselection if the editor has a lot to choose from. There’s a good chance you’ll exceed the maximum word count on the first draft – that’s fine, you’ll find enough to edit out later. But if you start the next stage with something twice as long as it should be, it’s much harder to work out what stays.

As you write, get ready to tell your story honestly and truthfully – don’t worry about ‘being’ a writer. Be authentic, and your story will hit its mark.

After Writing

Now you can think about being a writer!

  • Ideally, leave your piece aside for a couple of days before reading it through. Then, read it, with a bit of distance, and a fresh perspective. Don’t skip this – this is when you get to craft the raw material into a polished submission. (And you will find errors – everyone does!)
  • Look at the opening and closing paragraphs: does the first paragraph have a good hook, something that will grab the reader’s attention? Does the last paragraph lead the reader to a satisfying conclusion? (Perhaps by providing an answer to that original hook?)
  • Look at paragraph length: break down paragraphs that are too long (perhaps more than eight-ten lines), and use them to help guide the reader through events or ideas.
  • Look at sentence length: variety is most interesting to the reader. Avoid overlong sentences – have a look at any that run through three lines or more, and see if they need to be broken down.
  • Pay attention to verb tenses. Whether you choose to write in past tense or present tense, keep it consistent.
  • Don’t be scared of apostrophes: if in doubt, leave it out.
  • Don’t be scared of commas: if in doubt, put it in!
  • Don’t ignore the spell check tool in your word processor! You can even run your text through an online proofreading tool like Grammarly. And whichever spelling convention you choose (American, British, Canadian…), use it consistently.
  • For a final proofread, change your view: a different font or format shows your words in a different light. And always read your text aloud to yourself, behind a closed door if it helps!
  • Finally, check the formatting requirements before you submit. It’s easier for editors to work with documents that look the same. A common standard is a Word document, in 12 pt Times New Roman, with 1.5 line spacing, and fully justified.

But none of this matters until you get the words on the page…so don’t hold back! I’m a writer too, and the lesson I learn time and again is that you have to write through some bad paragraphs to get to the really good stuff. Remind yourself that no one has to read it until you’re ready, and then…get writing!

Comment below if you have any questions. And if you get bitten by the writing bug, follow The Word Bothy on Instagram, and check out my advice and services at

Good luck!

If you found this post useful, look out for Sentence Lessons coming soon: short, laser-focused tutorials to help you level up your sentences, whether you’re a seasoned writer, new to the page, or just want the words you work with every day to be more polished. Sign up here to get them straight to your inbox, and you’ll also get my free, very practical, Indie Author Proofreading Checklist.

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