Top tips for submitting your writing to publications
Submitting your stories to competitions and publications can be exciting, time-consuming and nerve-wracking. In this article, writer and NCW Academy tutor Benjamin Johncock shares his top tips to help your work stand the best chance of success.

Submit your work in the requested file format

If you’ve been told to submit a Word document, don’t send in a PDF. If you upload a cropped PNG screengrab of your story instead of the Plain Text file as requested, you’re likely to be automatically rejected. There’s nothing sexy about file formats, but these simple three-letter suffixes can make the difference between nibbling the sweet strawberry of success and sucking the bitter lemon of rejection.


Do not ever go over the word count

Even by one! You think people won’t notice? They will! You stand a good chance of disqualification before anyone’s even read your work. You’re not respecting the competition, or the reader’s time, and it looks like you’re not taking the work seriously. This is basic editing! Your story will be stronger for it too.


Include the requested information in the filename

If no request is made, for the love of all that is good and holy make sure that your name is on your work, both in the filename and on the document itself, unless it has to be anonymous. DO NOT INCLUDE YOUR NAME ON AN ANONYMOUS ENTRY.


Do not get creative with your choice of typeface

Publishing runs on Times New Roman, but any similar Serif will do the trick. Try and avoid a Sans Serif, as they make fiction harder to read. Keep your Papyrus and Comic Sans and whatever God-awful default typeface that Microsoft is currently polluting the world with to your missing cat posters, or face the wrath of your reader.


Number your pages

Printers spit; pages fall. (Yes, some people still prefer to read on paper.)


Size matters

Make sure your paper size is set to A4, not US Letter. Why is this important? Printers are like grumpy local council bureaucrats and will absolutely refuse any task that deviates from the parameters of their job. If a judge or reader attempts to print your work on a printer configured to UK settings, the printer will stubbornly refuse to print, claiming that it’s “out of paper”. We know this is a lie! The tray is full of the thinnest, cheapest A4 that Amazon had to offer! But we also know that the printer is technically correct: it is out of US Letter paper. So the job must be manually over-ridden, or cancelled and re-sent after hunting around for the correct setting in the writer’s document. Either way, you’ve annoyed your reader and put them in a bad mood before they’ve even looked at your work.


Horses for courses

Don’t submit poetry into a prose competition. Don’t submit prose into a poetry competition. Don’t submit The Tales of Gerry the Gerbil into an adult fiction competition. Don’t submit 50 Shades of Ray: An Erotic Sci-fi Thriller to a children’s picture book competition.


Bullet-proof your work

Remember to proof-read your work—and your submission email!—before submission. Mistakes reflect badly on you and make your work harder to read and understand. A spell-check alone is not enough, as a spell-check won’t pick up a multitude of other potential potential mistakes (see what I did there?). Instead, read your words aloud, to yourself, or have your computer read them back to you.


You may have written the most beautiful and profound story, but it’s all for nothing if no one gets to read it—and that would be a waste of your time and your talents.

Benjamin Johncock is an award-winning novelist, short story writer and journalist. His debut novel, The Last Pilot, was published in the U.S. and U.K. to widespread critical acclaim. It won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, was shortlisted for the East Anglian Book of the Year, selected for Brave New Reads, and was one of The Observer’s Hidden Gems of 2016. His award-winning short stories have been published by The Fiction Desk, The Junket, Comma Press and Storgy. His journalism has appeared in the GuardianThe Spectator, and many others, and he has worked as an editor and copywriter. He’s on the editorial board of The Letters Page, a literary journal edited by Jon McGregor at the University of Nottingham, and for two years was a mentor for the National Centre for Writing’s Escalator writing programme. He is also a recipient of two Arts Council England grants. He lives in Norwich with his wife, his daughter, and his son.


Ben is also an NCW Academy online course tutor, and will be leading our upcoming beginners’ fiction course. Find out more →

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