by Kelly Lynn Colby

After hitting send on your short story, that little piece of hard work gets tossed into the virtual slush pile along with a plethora of other stories from writers eager to see their name in print—and maybe even cash that check. We do need to eat.

I’m going to tell you a little secret. Editors have so many submissions to sift through they’re not searching for reasons to love a piece. They’ll reject as many as possible as quickly as possible so they can find the nuggets of treasure hidden among the rest. If you want to make it into the vault of awesomeness soon to be printed within a dust jacket, you’ve got to make it difficult for the editor to say no by avoiding the most common mistakes.

  1. Follow the Submission Guidelines

Carefully read the guidelines and follow them precisely. Writing might be an art, but submitting is a science. Check everything twice before hitting that send button. It’s super easy for an editor to reject a submission because the writer sent a .pdf file when a .doc was requested. Side Note: If they don’t specify how to format your manuscript, use this handy guide. You’ll look professional and the editor will appreciate the effort.

  1. Match the Publication’s Preferences

Every anthology or magazine has a specific flavor they prefer. It’s your job to mirror their tastes. If it’s a clean PG-13 publication, don’t send them erotica. If they like quick-moving plots, don’t send them a long diatribe about what you had for breakfast. The best way to familiarize yourself with their preferences is to read a sample of the stories they’ve published in the past.

  1. A Story Needs a Beginning, a Middle, and an End

This might seem like common sense, but I’ve personally rejected more stories than I can count that only describe a scene or leave off in the middle of the telling without any sort of satisfying ending. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s true whether it’s 100K words or 2000.

  1. One Character in One Pivotal Moment

This is a short story—sometimes even flash fiction—we’re talking about here. There isn’t a ton of space to speculate or dump a bunch of back story. Concentrate on one character during one pivotal moment in their life and bring us along for the ride. On a side note: name your characters. Few things will have me reject a story faster than if it starts with something like “the girl.” Nope. Next story.

  1. Reject Your First Two Ideas

You’d think we’re a big world and no one could come up with the same idea. But you’d be wrong. There is such a thing as zeitgeist and many writers can be tuned into certain frequencies that look remarkably the same when formulating a story for a themed call out. When an editor for an anthology is reading the same idea for the fifth time, it’s really easy to reject it so they can move on to something else. So don’t write the first thing that enters your mind. Think on it a bit until something truly awesome makes itself known. Then write that.

Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid common rookie mistakes when submitting to an anthology. There’s nothing like getting that acceptance letter.

If you want to know another secret, editors are just as happy to send them. Every letter means we were lucky enough to find a golden nugget that, for just a moment, warmed our cold little hearts and reminded us why we do this job. Because we love to read as much as you love to write.

Now that you have a few more tricks up your sleeve, slip on those muck boots and get to climbing.

As publisher and editorial director at Cursed Dragon Ship Publishing, Kelly Lynn Colby gets to combine her two favorite things—authors and reading—into a career full of mischief, adventure, and inspiration. She even finds the time to create some worlds of her own. To find out more about Kelly and her publishing company, check out

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