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Seven Tips for Submitting

January 26, 2011

By Nick Daws
Recently I volunteered to help edit two fundraising anthologies being organized to assist victims of the flooding: one in Pakistan and one in Queensland.

Hopefully, you may have seen messages on Twitter, FaceBook about 50 Stories for Pakistan and 100 Stories for Queensland, and perhaps even submitted a story.

Helping choose and edit the stories was an enjoyable and somewhat eye-opening experience. In particular, it suggested to me certain guidelines writers might like to follow to maximize their chances of success with any similar anthologies or competitions in future.

Here then are seven tips based on my experience…

1. Submit early

For both anthologies, the editorial team voted on every story, giving a ‘Like’ to those they thought should be included. Quite simply, the stories that were up for the longest time had the best chance of achieving a lot of Likes.

2. Submit according to the rules

These plainly stated how the stories were to be submitted. For 50 Stories for Pakistan, the stories were to be within the body of an email and not as attachments. And yet, astonishingly, nearly HALF of all the stories were submitted as attachments, mostly as Word or PDF files. The editing team took the decision not to disqualify all such stories, though it could easily have been done. Many didn’t display properly on the editing site, however, or else had to be saved as attachments, which some members of the editing team couldn’t open. Again, that made it difficult for such stories to achieve the requisite number of ‘Likes’.

3. Think about the context

Both of the anthologies are in aid of flood victims, and the editing team specifically asked writers to avoid submitting stories featuring violence, death or destruction. And yet a surprising number of stories broke this rule, some even featuring floods and other natural disasters. When submitting for an anthology of this nature, good taste (quite apart from the rules) really dictates that you should avoid such downbeat themes. All such stories were swiftly rejected, I’m afraid.

4. Understand what a short story is

That may sound a little harsh. And yet, quite a few of the entries weren’t really short stories at all. Some read like extracts from a novel, while others resembled a book summarized in a few hundred words. Neither of these really makes for a successful short story.

It’s not easy to define exactly what makes a good short story, but in my view it should have a clear beginning, middle and an end, and there should be some sense of purpose to it. Many of the rejected stories were competently written, but it was hard to see any real ‘point’ to them.

5. Don’t submit children’s stories to anthologies for adults

Stories with talking animals and Harry Potter-style academies for wizards and witches were never likely to make the cut for 50 Stories for Pakistan, I’m afraid. Although there is nothing wrong with a bit of quirkiness, anything that is too obviously a children’s story is unlikely to be accepted for an adult project. Better to save such stories for contests and anthologies specifically aimed at children’s writers.

100 Stories for Queensland, incidentally, is a bit unusual in that children’s stories are being accepted for it. They will go into a separate section near the end.

6. Beware of being too obscure

Some entries were simply incomprehensible (to me, at least). They might have been good in other ways, but if I didn’t understand a story, I couldn’t in all conscience give it my vote.

I’m not saying every story has to reveal its full meaning on one reading, but if it leaves the reader totally baffled, it’s unlikely to get many votes. A good story can work on a number of levels, of course, some of which may only become apparent on re-reading. For an anthology aimed at a wide general readership, however, I think a story should provide a satisfying experience on first reading as well.

7. Consider humor

As a short story judge for other contests as well, I’ve often found humor to be in short supply. Many writers seem to think that stories must be filled with gloom and doom, which as a judge can get depressing after a while. Certainly, in the case of fundraising anthologies for terrible natural disasters, a bit of light relief is always welcomed by the judges. In both 50 Stories for Pakistan and 100 Stories for Queensland, some stories which were perhaps a little ‘slight’ in other respects got the nod due to the humor in them.

Congratulations, then, to the fifty writers whose stories were chosen for 50 Stories , and commiserations to those who missed out – some of whom were genuinely very unlucky.

Personal tastes do play a part in the judging too, so don’t be afraid to resubmit your work elsewhere (after reading my guidelines and giving your story another polish, of course!).

100 Stories for Queensland is still accepting submissions until Friday 28th January, so do brush off those upbeat, entertaining stories and send them in.

50 Stories for Pakistan has been published  and 100 Stories for Queensland is due to be published in early March. Watch this blog for further announcements!

And please consider buying copies of both anthologies, as they are (or will be) genuinely good reads, and all profits will be going to very worthy causes.

Photo credit: Kim Piper Werker on Flickr.

Nick Daws is a professional freelance writer, editor and writing teacher, living in Staffordshire, England. He has a blog at and a homepage at He is currently working as a volunteer reader/editor on the fundraising anthology, 100 Stories for Queensland.

  1. January 26, 2011 2:09 am

    thanks Nick for being our Guest writer today and ‘lifting the bonnet’ on the submission process.

  2. January 26, 2011 3:09 am

    Thanks, Annie. Delighted to be here!

  3. January 26, 2011 9:33 am

    Excellent advice. I’m someone who always reads the submission guidelines – the last thing I want is for my work to get rejected without even being read.

  4. January 26, 2011 9:47 am

    Following the format is a problem everywhere. Literary agent Krista Goering says that only six of ten submissions to her have the proper format

  5. January 26, 2011 1:28 pm

    Very good advice all round. I’ve had the opportunity to judge several competitions and am always surprised how often writers don’t keep to the rules.

    Conversely, as someone who submits a lot of short stories I find there are many different formatting requirements, some quite archaic or obscure. This can be frustrating, not to mention time-consuming if you have a piece already written which needs to ‘fit’.

  6. January 26, 2011 2:25 pm

    Great post.

    I think the first one “Submit early” is very important for anthologies. Don’t wait till the last day. Anthos fill up. : )

    I wish you guys great luck with your anthology.

  7. January 27, 2011 4:52 pm

    I like your advice. I think it’s important to brainstorm to see the full expressive potential you have on a subject. This is especially useful in a collaborative environment.

  8. January 30, 2011 2:23 pm

    Thanks for the great advice – really useful to know about getting in there early and humour being a postive… just a shame I missed the bloomin’ deadline for the Queensland one, but will bear in mind for future!

  9. February 24, 2011 4:45 am

    Really nice advices! May I add some more: like never trust literary agents who want to charge you for editing of your manuscript! They are cheaters, their job is to find a publisher and to receive a percentage of the sold books after that!
    Ang I guess every author of fantasy/sci-fy stories should strive to create new creatures, the classical, öld like vampires, elves, dwarfs, wizards with sharp hats, fairies, etc. are too ordinary already? That’s why I try some new in some of my books (Tale Of The Rock Pieces, The Opposite Of Magic, Kids’Funny Business, etc (weightless korks, glowing, living balls, Brown faces, fiery men, one-eyeds, night fruit, rock pieces, fish-keepers, etc…), I guess anyone would agree with me?
    Best wishes to all writers! We all have to be very proud of our “job”, the best one we could have, the one that’s connected with everything else one could imagine or think of! Let the wonderful noise of the sea always sounds in your ears! (a greeting of the water dragons’ hunters – my Tale Of The Rock Pieces).

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