How to not get mixed up when submitting stories to multiple publications

If you’ve ever submitted stories to a number of different publications, you know how frustrating it is to keep track of which stories you’ve sent where, and when.

To make matters worse, different publications have different formatting requirements (some demand the Courier font, others loathe it), and they tend to take them very seriously too. In fact, if you submit your story using the wrong format, there’s the very real risk that the editor will just throw it into the trash can without as much as giving it a glance.

But don’t despair!

In this post, I want to share with you a simple method that you can use to keep track of all of these little odds and ends, to make sure you never get confused or make mistakes again. It will take some prep work, but once the preliminaries are done, it’ll save you a ton of hassle and heartache.

NOTE: This method uses Google Drive. I like it because it is simple to use and very flexible. Additionally, everything is stored in the cloud.

If you’re already familiar with how Google Drive works, please skip Steps 1 and 2.

Now, let’s get started.


Step 1 – Setting up Google Drive

To use this method, you’ll need Google Drive. If you don’t have it, don’t worry. It’s very simple to set up an account and you DO NOT need to install anything on your computer because it is all web-based.

Go to https://www.google.com/drive/

If you’re already signed in to Gmail or Chrome, you will be automatically signed into Google Drive. If not, use your Gmail address and password.

If you don’t have a Gmail account, just create one (and don’t lose the password). It’s free and very convenient to have. And don’t worry, the signup procedure is a no-brainer.

Step 2 – Creating the folders and template files

In this step, you’ll be creating a folder for each of the publications to which you are submitting your stories.

  1. In Google Drive, click «NEW». It’s a blue button at the top left of the interface.
  2. Select «New Folder…»

    Step 2.2
  3. In the popup window, give your new folder a name. Let’s call it “Stories.”
  4. Double click on the new “Stories” folder.
  5. Inside your “Stories” folder, click once again the blue «NEW» button and follow the same procedure to create a new folder with the name of the publication to which you are submitting your story. Let’s say you want to submit a story to Flash Fiction Online, just name your folder “Flash Fiction Online.”
  6. Double click on the folder you’ve just created. For this tutorial, I’ll stick to “Flash Fiction Online.”
  7. At the top you should now see «My Drive > Stories > Flash Fiction Online», which tells you that you’re in the folder called “Flash Fiction Online”.

    Step 2.7
  8. Once again, click on the blue «NEW» button at the top right, but this time choose the «Google Docs» option. This will create the Google Document that you will be using as your template for all submissions to Flash Fiction Online.

    Step 2.8

Step 3 – Creating the the template files

At this point, you should have:

  • a Google Drive folder named “Stories”
  • a sub-folder inside it called “Flash Fiction Online” (which is the name of the publication I’m using for this example)
  • a brand new Google Doc inside the “Flash Fiction Online” folder

In this part, you’ll be creating templates that you can replicate every time you want to submit a story to the same publication.

  1. You should now be in the Google Document that you’ve just created. At the top right you should be able to see «Untitled Document». Click on it, and write “YYYY-MM-DD STORY NAME YYYY-MM-DD”

    Step 3.1
  2. Next, paste some random text into the document. You can use a Lorem Ipsum Generator to generate a few paragraphs.
  3. Now, you’ll need to format the text according to the submission guidelines specified by the publication. If we stick to the example of Flash Fiction Online, you can find their submission guidelines here. I’ve pasted the most important parts below, to make things easier for you (but if you want to submit to FFO, you should read the WHOLE submission guidelines page — once again, it is here):
    • FORMAT: doc., docx., rtf., or txt. files only.
      ***WE MUCH prefer Times New Roman or a similar font.  Please do not use Courier.  Suzanne hates it.
      Indicated scene breaks are REQUIRED!  Please denote scene breaks with # or *.
    • Please do not use Courier.  I hate it. Submitting in Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, left-aligned, indicated scene breaks (use # or *), auto-formatted paragraph indents, and one-inch margins will make the editor happy.
    • Omit ALL author information (name, address, phone, email, etc.) from the text body, headers, and text file name. Include author information in the cover letter only. This allows for anonymity in our selection process, and ensures that stories are selected entirely on merit – not previous publication credits.
  4. Google Docs works pretty much like a regular word processor. So, just highlight all of the text (use the shortcut Ctrl+a) and format the text according to the guidelines I gave you above. Font and size should be self-explanatory.

    Step 3.4
  5. You can set the margins by going to «File > Page Setup…».

    Step 3.5
  6. The button for spacing is at the top towards the right. It is usually next to the alignment buttons. Click on it and select the line spacing you want to use.

    Step 3.6
  7. Now that the text is all formatted to spec, we need to do one last thing. With all your text still highlighted, go to «Format > Paragraph Styles > Normal Text > Update ‘Normal Text’ to match». This tells Google Docs that for THIS document, anything written in the ‘Normal Text’ paragraph style should automatically by formatted in this way. Paragraph styles are a very powerful tool that will save you a ton of time once you learn how to use them.

    Step 3.7

Step 4 – Using the template file

At this point, you should have a dedicated folder for the publication where you want to submit your story, and a template file that is preset with the formatting and criteria required by that publication.

Now, we’ll be using that template file to submit our story to the publication.

  1. Go to the folder called “Flash Fiction Online” (or whatever you have chose to call it).
  2. Right-click on your template file (the one called “YYYY-MM-DD STORY NAME YYYY-MM-DD” and click on «Make a copy». This will create an exact replica of the file, which will be called “Copy of YYYY-MM-DD STORY NAME YYYY-MM-DD”.

    Step 4.2
  3. Right-click on the copy and click «Rename…»

    Step 4.3
  4. Now, remove the “Copy of” part and change the first set of YYYY-MM-DD to the date when you’ll be submitting the story, starting with the full year, the month number in two digits, and the day number, also in two digits. Also, replace the words “STORY NAME” with the name of your story. The end result should look something like this: 2017-02-22 Little Red Riding Hood YYYY-MM-DD

    Step 4.4
  5. Leave the latter set of YYYY-MM-DD alone for now. Once your story is published, you’ll change those to the date when when it is published. If it is not published, you’ll leave them as is. This will help you keep track of your story’s status.
  6. Now that you’ve renamed your document properly, double-click on it to open it.
  7. Paste your story inside the document.
  8. Highlight all of the text (use the shortcut Ctrl+a).
  9. Click on «Format > Paragraph Styles > Normal Text > Apply ‘Normal Text’».

    Step 4.9
  10. Since this file is a replica of the template file, applying the “Normal Text” paragraph style will format your text according to the settings you had applied in the template document. What’s more, all the margins and other settings will also have been carried over.

Step 5 – Exporting your document

This is the final step of the process, where you’ll be exporting the document to the format that the publication requested in its submission guidelines.

  1. In your story document (not the template document), «File > Download as».
  2. Here you can see a number of options including PDF, DOCX, RTF, TXT and even EPUB. Looking at the submission guidelines that I shared above (step 3.3) from Flash Fiction Online, you should see that the publication requests “doc., docx., rtf., or txt. files only,” so pick one of those formats. Google Docs will generate the file and download it to your hard drive in the format you requested.

    Step 5.2
  3. All you need to do now is locate the file in your downloads folder, and send it to the publication in question. Make sure you double check that you’ve followed the submission guidelines to the letter!

Step 6 – Replicating the process

From this point onward, it’s just a question of replicating the whole process. If you’re submitting to a publication for the first time, start from Step 3, creating a folder for the publication, creating a template file according to spec, and making a duplicate of it so that you can paste your story inside and send it out to the publication.

If you’re submitting to a publication where you’ve previously sent stories, you should already have a folder and template file, so you can start from Step 4.