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Submitting to Gut Instinct

Tweeted last week:

It’s the sort of tweet I see quite often and its always heartening. Rejections are, of course, part and parcel of being a writer, an inevitable bedfellow that always hogs the duvet. It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve become quite good at absorbing them and shrugging them off. But after a run of quite a few in a row, its never not disheartening - especially when there’s one story that you really have faith in but, no matter where you fling it, it just will not stick. There’s only one piece of real advice: Keep flinging it. Trust your faith.

It’s hard to pin down the gut feeling that develops with the craft, but there is one. It’s there, somewhere, dancing through the shadows of your insides as you piece together a vague hunch into a full story. It’s the thing that nips out of your fingers and shoots your words off into strange and sudden directions that you weren’t expecting; sometimes delightful, sometimes deviant. I let it slip out when I need a title so that I’m never ruminating too long over one: let titles be instinctual (and character names). It returns later, glasses on the end of its nose, as your editorial aid. It listens for discrepancies and tuts as if they were always your fault. Of course, it isn’t always correct, but it is usually very wise and tends to have a good hit ratio. And it often knows, eventually, if the end result is worth sticking with or throwing away.

I have stacks of stories I spent hours on which I’ve consigned to the dusty hellscape of the old folders and long-lost thumbdrives. I tend not to return to them, not even to mine out any meagre riches that might still be in there. They’re gone and they’ve taken their ideas with them. The gut instinct banishes them and makes damn sure they stay away. Perhaps that’s where it draws its energies. Perhaps it feeds on the souls of dead stories.

A new friend replied to the above tweet and asked for advice on where to submit. I sent back this:

Acceptances or rejections, I hope he cultivates his own gut instinct because, without it, something worse happens. Think of the countless people out there who have written masterpieces and pushed them too soon into the dusty hellscape. Submitting can be forbidding, unforgiving, nerve-wracking, but it is never not worth it. And so: some advice from the lair of my merry old trickster, gut instinct:

  • Get into the habit of submitting. Do it, regularly. Treat it like a chore. Just get it done.

  • There are endless places, online and in print, to submit to. It won’t take long to find them. Start here on Short Stops, then follow a load on Twitter and the algorithms will make sure you find the rest.

  • Make the process of submitting quick and easy for yourself. Don’t ruminate. Read the rules, format your story as they want it and send it, no messing.

  • This is Standard Manuscript Format, but a lot of the time 12pt, Times New Roman, double spaced will do (but check the rules). Remember: page numbers. And triple check if they want the manuscript to be anonymous or named.

  • Cover letters: don’t spend an age on them. 90% of my cover letters go like this:

"Dear Editors,

Please find attached my story ‘The Demon Gut Instinct’ for consideration with Fabulous Words Magazine. It is 2,300 words long and has not been previously published.

I hope you enjoy the story


  • They will ask you if they want to know anything more. If they want to know more its usually just a quick bit of background:

"I have had stories published in Delightful Magazine, Wondrous Journal and Awesome Stuff and many others. To see more about me and my writing visit"

  • Most of the time, you won’t need to pay to submit, unless it’s a competition. A few magazines do charge (generally quite cheap) reading fees, but if you don’t want to pay or can’t, there are a shed-load that don’t ask for anything. Never pay more than, like, a fiver.

  • Responses can take ages, sometimes months. Just forget about the submission, put it out of your mind, don’t sit there continually refreshing your email. If it has taken a long time, there’s no harm in chasing but be ultra-polite about it.

  • Don’t respond badly to rejections, seriously. You usually don’t need to respond at all. Just delete the email. Sometimes you can ask for feedback, but most places don’t offer this service so, generally speaking, I don’t tend to ask.

  • The best response to a rejection is just to immediately find somewhere else to send it off again. Don't let your story languish licking its wounds because that's the last thing that'll get it out there.

  • Don’t get too anxious about simultaneous submissions. This is when a magazine or website doesn’t want you to send off the same piece to another magazine until they’ve had chance to accept or reject it. Some say: don’t do it and then keep hold of your story for like months, which I think is a bit cheeky. Let’s put it like this: it’s the rule I flaunt the most and I’ve never fallen foul of it yet.Just remember to withdraw your story if it gets accepted somewhere else.

  • If you’re a writer of sci-fi/fantasy like me, immediately veto all the ‘literary’ magazines who explicitly say they don’t want submissions of sci-fi and fantasy and then vow never to buy their magazines unless you want to check if they have published some ‘magical realism’ which they invariably have.

Ooh, sorry, my gut instinct is getting devilish again. Better stop there before I’m blacklisted. Above all: do it. Seriously. It feels kinda great to do, like you are taking pride in your own work for once. And don't get bogged down by rejections; I literally have hundreds by now. They're all obliterated once you get a sweet acceptance. Keep going. Trust that gut.


My pal Thom Hammersley has a.k.a-ed himself into the one-man post punk song-ghoul Geisterhaus and released an itchy, scratchy, catchy and colourful album called Bones on Record. And if you don’t believe me about the catchiness, just listen once to this track and tell me you don’t get caught in its rhythmic web:

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