All The Small Things

There’s a lot you have to get your head round as an aspiring writer: rules for structure, characterisation, style, voice, language, how to keep up motivation, how to get things done and on how not to get things done. I could go on. And on. In fact, I have. I’ve been posting on The Path weekly for over a year and still haven’t run out of things to say.

And, yes, that’s just the writing part. After you’ve actually written something, (book, script, poety collection) there’s a whole new ballgame to learn the rules to: do I go straight to a publisher? If so, which one? Do I need an agent? Should I do it myself? If so, how do I get an audience, edit to professional standards, get cover art sorted, promote, market, cover printing costs?

No, don’t cry. It’s going to be ok. It will. I promise. Why? Because, if you love it, you just do it. You attend workshops and reading groups, you read books about writing, you do courses or even a degree (or two, if you’re me). Then you spend your lunch breaks and your evenings trawling through tweets, articles, websites and the Artists’ and Writers’ Yearbook for advice on how to get your work into the world.

These are the Big Things and they will sort themselves out if you are determined. There’s a lot of work involved and it’s not always fun, but if you love your work and want it enough, it will happen.

But beware. Whilst the Big Things are coming together, don’t forget the Small Things that are important in the short term. Too often have I been scuppered by investing all my time and effort into the Big Things and not paid attention to the simple things on ground level  that can make or break your success with a piece of writing getting out there.

See below for a list of Little Things that I have neglected in the past to my cost.

Read the Submission Guidelines

Seriously. No, seriously. Do it. It’s amazing how often this has caught me out. When I get to the end of editing a piece of writing, I’m buzzing and I just want it fired off to the magazine/competition/anthology. I convince myself that there probably isn’t anything in submission rules I don’t already know, or that isn’t standard, or that matters really.


Every magazine/competition/call for submissions has its own little catalogue of needs. Some are after specific sorts of subject matter. Some are geared towards family audiences and therefore don’t like too much blood or swearing. Some won’t look at your submission without blood and swearing. Some want a certain type of formatting or a bio of 250 words or 100 words or no bio at all.

Even if you’ve written the story specifically for the competition, read the guidelines again before submitting, I beg you. Ability counts for nothing if you haven’t included the right details on your cover page which automatically places your piece in the ‘sorry, not what I was after’ pile. It is the easiest part to get right and is well worth it.

Format your Script Correctly

You wouldn’t think format would be as much of an issue these days, what with increasing numbers of competitions etc allowing online submissions. Back when you used to post (remember post? So many stamps! It’s been a while.) hard copy manuscripts to publishers/competitions/magazines they would then traditionally paperclip (NOT staple) in the left hand corner and scribble all over in red marker, hence the need for a specific layout. But even with the advance in technology, a lot of calls for submissions still demand that your script be formatted correctly.

It may seem like just another uninspiring hoop to jump through but it is another one that requires no talent and hardly any time. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting it right.

If you are unfamiliar with formatting manuscripts, here is a very handy link demonstrating ‘Standard Formatting’ for short story manuscripts. I always submit my stories in this format when no alternative formatting specifications are detailed. But check the guidelines of whatever your submitting to. Standard Formatting is not what everyone wants.

Take It Down

Lots of us like to share our fiction on our blogs. I know I do. I have had do divide mine into flash and short fiction because my catalogue is growing all the time. I also like to sample other writers’ fiction on their own blogs too so I’m all for self-publishing this way.

However, if you have other plans for the story, be canny. If it’s on your blog it means people can get it for free. I’m all for sharing the love and I love sharing my work, but if I’m hoping a piece will make it into an anthology or win a competition, I take it down. It’s not about money or stifling expression. It’s simply because if someone is taking time and expense to put an anthology or prize together, there is little incentive for them to consider your work if the world can already get it for free elsewhere.

Post teasers and excerpts, by all means. And some competition or calls for submissions  will welcome previously published submissions (if it is on your blog, it is published). But a lot won’t. Either way, it is usually in the submission guidelines whether they will accept preciously posted work. Read them and check. If it’s not there, do yourself a favour and don’t take the risk. It will only take a three second Google search to find out if the piece is available elsewhere and there’s nothing to stop you putting it back up again if you aren’t successful.

These are hoops, it’s true. They may seem restrictive, frustrating or at the very least boring as sin. But the fact is, there’s a hell of a lot of us writers out there, all trying to get into the same anthologies and competitions. I still have faith that talent will ultimately win out but it doesn’t have a chance to even enter the ring if the judges/editor have an excuse to put your manuscript aside unread. And when you’re objective about the amount of scripts these calls must get, you’ll see it makes sense.

The Little Things take a very little effort and can add up to a whole lot, so give them a good amount of thought.

And, in other news, Blink 182. Enjoy and happy submitting!

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9 Responses to All The Small Things

  1. Helena Hann-Basquiat says:

    My goodness, it’s like you’re a writing guru, Jex. We ‘be talked about this a bunch, and you ‘be really got done helpful stuff here, especially in terms of The Little Stuff. Who knew, right? You know if fiction doesn’t pan out for you, you write a hell of an article.

    • Thanks so much, lovely lady! We had discussed some of this recently and it was this as well as the little flurry if submissions I’ve done recently that really consolidated it all – I’ve entered three or four different things these lady couple of weeks and made myself read the guidelines properly rather than skimming and it made me realise there really are avoidable pitfalls that could have scuppered me many times in the past because I’ve rushed the submission.

  2. M. C. Dulac says:

    Good to know someone else is squinting their way through the “Artists and Writers Yearbook”! I used to pop by the city library on the way home and furiously stare at the publishing listings. A very timely post, as I am about to submit (actually I have to write it first), a short story for an anthology!

    • Fantastic news, MC!! Best of luck!! Though knowing the quality of your work I don’t think you’ll need it 🙂

      • M. C. Dulac says:

        Thanks J.S! I’ve just run out of energy and ideas (see it’s taking me days to reply to comments!) It must be a seasonal thing. This summer has gone on too long 😉

        Check out the “Unfettered” project anthology guidelines! You have such a wonderful imagination I’m sure you will be inspired by the pictures too 🙂

  3. 1WriteWay says:

    What an excellent post! Such great (and often overlooked) advice. The devil is in the details (or the small things) 🙂

  4. 1WriteWay says:

    Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    The “devil is in the details” when it comes to submitting your work. Read on for some great advice by the even greater J.S. Collyer 🙂

  5. Great advice that we need to be constantly reminded of! I came here through the lovely Marie at 1Writeway…she rules!

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