Okay, you've written an absolute gem of a story. You're certain it will sell, it's got to! Now what do you do? Well, we've all been there. You're never going to sell your story without submitting it. That's all there is to it. Publishing is a business and the more business-like that you are in your dealings with editors, the better you will do. That's what this essay is intended to help you with.
There are several steps to submitting, several points that I wish to touch on. They include:
Someday, if you ever get the chance, sit down at the offices of a fiction magazine and read the slush. You will quickly find out why the format of your manuscript is important. You may think I am pulling your leg when I say that you shouldn't submit your vampire story on blood red paper in black ink with a spooky typeface (don't laugh, there are people who do things like that). There's the occasional gem that is handwritten on the back of bar coasters and all 94 of them are jumbled up in a box. Enjoy that puzzle. Stories will fly from your hands to the return pile at a frightening pace.
You, as a writer, do not want to give the first readers or editors of these magazines any reason to reject your story before reading it thoroughly. What's that? I heard a gasp. Yes, a distinct gasp. You say that you can't believe editors would reject your story before giving it hours and hours of attention, agonizing over whether or not it is perfect for their magazine? Yep, that's exactly what I am telling you. They don't have the time to spend on stories like that. When you have 1000 stories to go through every month, each gets only a very small portion of the editor's time.
So how do you avoid being chucked before they've given your story a chance? Well, first you write the best story that you possibly can. Remember to engage the reader's interest in the first page. Second, make your manuscript format easy to read and follow the conventions. That part I can help you with.
Word count deserves a few moments of our time. There are as many ways of counting how many 'words' your story is as there are writers. I recommend the following formula, something that an editor friend of mine likes. Editors are more interested in how much SPACE a story will take up, rather than how many individual words it is. To that end, count the total number of characters in a line of your manuscript (include spaces) and divide by six. That will give you a number of 'words' per line. Now simply multiply that number (round it up or down first) by the number of lines on each page. If you are following instructions, that will be 26 or 27 since you double spaced your manuscript. Your first page will be 13 because it's only half a page. Your last page will also vary.
For our purposes, cover letters are simple. There are numerous books out there on cover letters, but you don't need that much. In SF and Fantasy, it is enough to use a standard business letter addressing and a very short note to the editor.
Something along the lines of: 'Dear Ms. Rusch, enclosed please find my story, "Shouting Down The Whales." I hope that you find it to your needs. I look forward to hearing from you. Best Regards, Greg Vose'
Quite honestly, that's all the more complicated it needs to be. Do make absolutely certain that you get the current editor's name and spell it correctly.
Yes, you do need one. That is all there is to it. For those who don't know what a SASE is, it's a Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope. If you do not include one, the editor will not reply to you when rejecting your story (nor will they ask for rewrites or anything like that).
Okay. It may seem that if you send your story out to everyone at once that you will save time. While this may be so, what do you do when two editors decide to buy it, cut you checks and plan on putting it in as the cover story (yes, they've already commissioned artwork for it). Well, if you've simulsubbed, you're in trouble. Those editors will remember you and they will talk to other editors. So don't do it. Even if an editor says that they don't mind simulsubs, be leery of it.
Editors take a long time to get around to reading slush (unless the editor is named Scott Edelman, but that's a different story). If, in their guidelines, you see that they reply in a couple months' time, give them at least four before querying to ask about your story. When you do so, be polite. Do not threaten to send them letter bombs, call the IRS on them, level charges of fraud or anything else unprofessional. They are busy people, it takes time, life gets in the way and a whole host of other reasons abound as to why they haven't gotten your story back to you.
If you have sent three query letters (space them out properly, a couple months apart), then you may send a retraction letter, politely telling the editor that you are retracting the story from consideration and your reason, which is that they've not gotten around to it as yet and you need to get it on to the next market. Your retraction letter shouldn't come before at least nine months have passed and only if the editor hasn't replied to earlier query letters etc.
A word about editors here. Editors are not the enemy. They are business people. They have a job to do and an obligation. That obligation is to bring their readership the best possible stories. They may not always be right in their choices, they may overlook your gem. That's fine, send it on to the next editor, who may notice its beauty. Above all, act professionally towards them. They aren't going to steal your story. It would get around if they did act in this manner and that would be bad for business. Treat them well and it will come back to you.
Well, I've done what I can to help you out with submitting your stories. From here on out, you have to do everything. I can't make you submit it. There will be rocky roads ahead. You'll get rejection slips. You may paper whole walls with them. But, if you persevere, if you work hard at it, if you listen and learn from your mistakes, and if you act professionally, there is a good chance that you'll get a check from your writing someday.
Good luck and keep writing,