Where Do I Submit My Writing? The Manuscript Submission Process, Part III
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First of all, pat yourself on the back. Most people who want to write (or say they want to write) never get this far. Good job!
What you do next depends on your publication goals and what kind of manuscript you've written. I've broken these out by categories below.
NovelsIf you've only revised your manuscript once or twice, you probably shouldn't be submitting yet. If you've been through rigorous revisions and had beta readers read it, you probably can submit. So who do you submit to?
AgentsAgents represent you and your interests through the publishing process. They are your first option for publishing a novel through a traditional route. Research the agencies, their agents, and their submission guidelines. Some of the guidelines are very specific; some aren't. I once submitted to an agency that weeded out the less-than-dedicated writers by asking them to watch three (yes 3!) videos. If you didn't watch the videos, you wouldn't submit your manuscript in the prescribed way. They dangled bits of the process within each video. Skipping them guaranteed your submission's automatic rejection.
The key to submitting to agents is reading their profiles to make sure you fit what they want and ensuring you follow the proper submission guidelines listed on their site. It will not be the same from agent to agent.
Where can I find agents?
PublishersIf you decide to skip the agent pursuit, some publishers do accept unsolicited manuscripts without an agent's representation. As mentioned above, read the guidelines to ensure you submit your work the right way.
Unfortunately, there are scammers in this market. Some self-publishing companies imply they are presses on their websites. If you submit to a self-publishing company that represents itself as a publisher, they will accept your manuscript, but you will pay to have it published. Don't be fooled. If you're not sure about a publisher, find everything you can to ensure the press is legit and not a scam. A great resource for this is the Writer Beware blog sponsored by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They do a great job identifying scammers and explaining how to spot them.
Short Stories and EssaysYour options include contests and journals for the most part. A few publishers will print your short story or essay collections, but most don't.
Before you submit, it's a good idea to read some of the past publications. This will tell you if your work fits the publisher's area of interest. I've saved myself a lot of time by doing this. Also, decide whether you want to submit for pure publication or submit through a contest, which may or may not include publication. There are pros and cons to each approach.
If you choose to submit to a contest, check out the judges' bio and any other accessible information. If they appear to write or publish works similar to yours, it can help. If they write deep, dark, heavy prose, and you're submitting something light and fun, they probably won't choose your submission.
Not sure where to find contests and journals? Here are three sources I use regularly:
Self-PublishingAs mentioned above, be careful of scammers in this market. Not all small publishers offer the same services. With self-publishing, you will need to do all, if not most, of the work yourself. What's entailed? Editing, formatting, and cover art are the big ones. And self-publishing can get expensive. Please don't take short cuts by not getting your work professionally edited, first.
Self-publishing means you will market your work by yourself (not that traditional publishers do a lot of marketing these days).
Make sure you research any self-publishing company that you consider. I tend to be cautious if the company is new or less than three years old. Self-publishing companies sometimes disappear over night. Also, reading the Writer Beware blog mentioned above will help you identify some of the warning signs in contracts.
Not EverythingThis is not an in-depth overview, but I hope I've given you helpful information and access to sites that will help you.
Good luck on your submission process journey!