writing

How to Submit to an Anthology

The call for submissions for Spoon Knife 7: Transitions dropped today.

I have submitted to, and been published in, every volume of the Spoon Knife anthology published to date – including Spoon Knife 5, which is currently available for pre-order. I also edited Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber.

Here’s what I’ve learned from being on both sides of the Spoon Knife submission process – and how you can apply it to submit works to this anthology or any other outlet you may come across.

Step One: Read the Call for Submissions

The first step to submitting anything to any outlet, ever, is to read the call for submissions and/or the general submission guidelines.

I don’t just mean skim them, or read them once over casually. I mean a close reading – the kind you did in school when you knew you were going to be quizzed on the material.

Because you’re going to be quizzed on the material. “Did you read the call for submissions?” is a pass-fail test. If your submission doesn’t follow the instructions in the submission guidelines, you fail the quiz, and your piece is rejected as a result.

Here’s the entire text of the Spoon Knife 7 call for submissions. I have bolded the parts I always look for in any call for submissions, and to which I think authors should pay particular attention. I’ll discuss why below.

Autonomous Press is now accepting submissions of short fiction, short memoir, and poetry for the seventh volume of Spoon Knife, our annual multi-genre neuroqueer lit anthology.

In these two sentences, two things stand out: (1) the call is for “short fiction, short memoir, and poetry,” and (2) Spoon Knife is “our annual multi-genre neuroqueer lit anthology.”

Right away, I as a writer know what types of writing I can submit and can’t. Short stories, poetry, and memoir are in; how-to articles and book reviews are out.

I also know that Spoon Knife has a history. There are previous volumes, which I can and should go read if I’m not already familiar with the kind of work that gets published in them.

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: Nick Walker, one of the two editors on this volume, has also edited a previous volume, Spoon Knife 3: Incursions. Checking out that volume in particular will give you an idea of the kind of work Nick, specifically, is likely to want. Nick has also published stories in previous Spoon Knife volumes, so you can even see how she interprets things like “neuroqueer” and a volume’s theme as a writer.)

The theme for Spoon Knife 7 is transitions. All submissions should deal in some way or another with this theme, interpreted however you choose: transitions from one way of being to another, one stage of life to another, one perspective to another, one world to another…

This information further narrows down what I should or should not submit. It even provides some examples of what the editors are picturing when they use the word “transitions.”

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: Spoon Knife is a particularly good place to interpret the theme/prompt broadly. Not all outlets are, but here, you can take the idea of “transitions” just about as far as your imagination will ride it.)

Preference will be given to submissions that are in some way flavored with queerness and/or neuroqueerness. These elements need not be central or explicit––we’ll consider submissions in which queerness and/or neuroqueerness are explicit themes; we’ll just as happily consider submissions in which queerness or neuroqueerness don’t show up directly at all, but subtly inform the author’s voice or aesthetic.

If the mention of Spoon Knife as a “neuroqueer” lit anthology didn’t tip me off that my submission should be somehow (neuro)queer, this section makes that very clear. It’s another clarification as to what exactly the resulting work should look like – and, once again, it points to “read a previous volume” as an excellent way to understand what kind of work is more likely to be accepted here.

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: One imprint of Autonomous Press, the publisher of Spoon Knife, is Neuroqueer Books – where all the titles are in some way neuroqueer. Full disclosure: This includes my novels.)

Spoon Knife 7 will be co-edited by Nick Walker (co-founder and Managing Editor of Autonomous Press) and Mike Jung (author of Unidentified Suburban Object and The Boys in the Back Row), and will be published in Fall 2022.

Sometimes, knowing who the editors are helps. Among other things, you can go look up their work. You shouldn’t try to imitate their work, necessarily, but knowing where they’re coming from may give you some ideas to work with while writing a piece or deciding which of your existing works has the best chance of being published.

We are accepting submissions until January 31st, 2022.

All submissions must be sent as Word documents (.doc or .docx files). Prose submissions (fiction and memoir) must meet the following criteria:

12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced.

First line of each paragraph indented.

No extra whitespace between paragraphs.

Consistent use of Oxford commas.

Thoroughly proofread and spell-checked.

Possibly the most important part of the entire call for submissions. Here’s the stuff you’re going to be quizzed on. If your work doesn’t look like this when you submit it, expect to be rejected – no matter how brilliant your writing is.

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: There isn’t one. Follow these instructions.)

If you’re submitting poetry, you may send up to 5 poems (please put them all in a single document). Poems should also be in 12-point Times New Roman font, but do not need to be double-spaced.

Note the special rules that apply to poetry, especially if you are submitting poetry.

Maximum length for submissions is 10k words. Exception: you can assume this limit to be as flexible as you need it to be if you’re an author whom we’ve previously published or whose submission the editors have actively solicited.

Another rule with which your submission will need to conform. Or not. You’ll know if you’re one of the exceptions (and if you are, you probably aren’t reading this guide).

Authors will be notified of acceptance or rejection by the end of June 2022. Payment for accepted submissions will be 1 cent per word, to be sent by check near the time of the book’s release.

I cannot stress how important this line about payment is, nor how disturbingly many calls for submissions do not mention whether, how much, how, or when the writers will be paid.

Look for this line. Insist on it. Don’t be afraid to email the outlet to ask about payment if the call does not mention it. If the outlet has a problem with that, it was never one that deserved your work in the first place.

Email all submissions to nick@autpress.com. The title of your email should be “Spoon Knife 7 Submission.” The body of your email must include a 3–4 sentence bio written in the third person, with the exact name under which you wish to be credited in the book.

There are so many final rules here that they can be easy to skip over, but don’t. This part of the call is a case study in why it’s important to read the entire call for submissions and read it carefully.

(Secret Spoon Knife Hack: We copy-paste your bio out of the email and into the book – or at least I did. That’s why you need to make extra-sure your name is spelled correctly.)

Step Two: Ideas Are Cheap As Free

Now that I’ve read the call for submissions pretty closely, my next step as a writer is either to identify something I’ve already written that might fit the theme, or to find something I can write that might fit the theme.

Some writers write ideas as they come, then let the resulting story sit around until they find a home for it. I don’t. I rarely have finished stories (or anything else) that don’t have a home. For me, then, this step is about exploring my list of ideas that could make a cool story until I find one I think I can run with.

For example, here’s a quick stream of consciousness on the Spoon Knife 7 topic, Transitions:

Transitions…the first thing I think of is marching band season and winterguard, the trouble we have with what we call transitions there – moving the ensemble from one staging point to the next, meshing that with the music in some meaningful way. A lot of us struggle to write them; I remember Ibe (Sodawalla, director of Legends) once saying that he worked extra-hard on writing transitions precisely because he was aware of how much he struggled with them. Same in synchronized skating. What is it that’s hard about those transitions – timing, coordination, knowing when to hang on and when to let go, dropping the performer face as if you’re not still being watched, maintaining the energy from there to here even though you are neither here nor there…okay, that sounds like my gender performance, lol.

This is one of probably a dozen things my brain will ruminate on before I decide on what it is I’m actually going to write. Fortunately, I have over a year to play with ideas before the deadline.

Step Three: Write Something (and Edit)

This stage is, to some extent, unique to every writer. Eventually I’ll hit on an idea that won’t let me go, and I’ll sit down and write a rough draft, probably in one go. I’ll sit on it for a few weeks, edit it, pass it around to my beta readers (my spouse and best friend), edit it again, and eventually submit it.

Because the process of writing is so personal, I don’t have advice for the writing stage itself. I do, however, highly recommend referring to the call for submissions again before you start to write. Set up your document so that it automatically meets as many of the submission guidelines as possible: auto-indents, font style and size, margins, spacing and so on. This frees you up to write without having to think about going back and fixing things after the fact.

Step Four: Triple-Check and Submit

Here’s where you get the call for submissions out, read it again, and make sure everything lines up. This is the part where your goal is not to fail the quiz on “Did you actually read the call for submissions?”

For Spoon Knife, this means sending a piece to the right email address, with the right subject line (please – it really does make the editors’ lives so much easier), and that 3-4 sentence author bio in the body of the email.

If you’re not sure what to put in your author bio, think about what’s relevant either to your writing career or to the story itself. For example, if I do end up sending in some memoir piece about marching band, I’ll probably mention in my bio that I’m a colorguard/winterguard director and avid DCI fan.

Here’s my bio from The Spoon Knife Anthology, the last volume in which I wrote memoir:

Dani Alexis Ryskamp

Dani Alexis is a Michigan-based writer and Autonomous Press editor. In between freelance writing projects, she enjoys reading our submissions pile, writing science fiction, and ignoring requests for contributor bios. Next year, she will be the lead editor on Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber.

One of the things I love about Spoon Knife, and about publishing with Neuroqueer Books, is the opportunity to try things I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do with most publishers – like weave a nexus between my pseudonymous persona and my novel universe such that my author bios become part of that universe. To that end, here are my bios from 2, 3, and 4, all of which contain short fiction in my Non-Compliant Space series universe:

S. Verity Reynolds writes science fiction and changes addresses every six months. She is a co-founder of the Non-Compliant Space Project. Her first novel, Nantais, will be published by Neuroqueer Books in 2017, or you can read her short story here for an introduction to its universe.

S. Verity Reynolds is an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald. Verity is the author of Nantais, Book 1 of the Non-Compliant Space series. The Non-Compliant Space expanded universe resides at danialexis.net. Book 2, Nahara, will appear in 2021 from Neuroqueer Books.

S. Verity Reynolds is 30-50 feral hogs in a writer suit. The author of the Non-Compliant Space series, she blogs under a stolen identity at danialexis.net.

If you’re not sure whether an outlet will grant you creative license in your author bio, you can of course write a straightforward one.

Step Five: Edits

Once you submit, you may or may not be asked for edits, depending on the outlet and the editors involved.

Do whatever the editors’ notes suggest, or explain why you cannot/will not make such changes, and send them back. If you do this enough times, eventually the editors stop sending you notes. Instead, they send the piece to someone who isn’t you, and you get to go write other things and wait for your big fat writer paycheck* to show up.

*fatness of paycheck is relative to thinness of wallet


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