Tips for Submitting to an Anthology

For the curators of, The Final Summons we encountered a lot of firsts. While none of us are slouches when it comes to publishing and the written word, taking on a leadership role provided a unique insight into the world of submissions. We received more submissions than we originally anticipated and the caliber of writing ranged from poetically perfect to rough draft at best. However, we poured through them, discussing the merits of each story and how it would combine into a cohesive anthology. We fought passionately for the stories we loved and had to make tough decisions. There were victories, many of them, but there were also a series of eye rolls that had us asking, “What were they thinking?” We wanted to provide some insight into this newly discovered world that we think will help authors in submitting short stories for anthologies.

Follow the Guidelines.

It sounds simple, but we were shocked by how many people didn’t follow the guidelines. We clearly stated you must be a member of the New England Speculative Writers and located in New England, yet we received submissions from across the United States. We asked authors to include some basic information such as word counts and a tag line. While we were able to fill in the gaps as necessary, the extra work made us move these titles to the bottom of the slush pile. Imagine a publisher receiving hundreds of entries? The fastest way to get rid of the muck (even the best written muck in existence) is to see if an author did these basic steps. If they haven’t, it’s a way to be stricken before you’re even read.

It gets trickier when it comes to “theme” or the anthology “vision.” We left our topic extremely broad to give writers the most latitude possible. However, some of the stories were so off topic it was obvious they were written for another anthology. Some of the stories never even came close to reaching the theme. We got aggravated when an author wasted our time with a story that had no business being submitted. Now unfortunately, those authors’ names are associated with that aggravation. It means the next time they submit, they walk in with a strike against them. So when submitting, make sure it hits the theme squarely enough that you leave a good impression. Previously submitted stories are welcome, even encouraged, but they need to be on “brand.” This might require a little bit of rewriting or tidying up a plot. The extra effort shows.

Short vs. Epic.

The most common thing we said while reading the submissions was, “This isn’t a short story, it’s a condensed novel.” There were some great stories to be had, but some of them weren’t short stories, not even by a long shot. Epic tales are amazing, but they need the room to breathe, develop, and flush out an intense plot. We sent several stories back with notes suggesting that the author take the story and use it as a building block for a lengthy epic tale. The stories were good, some even compelling and wonderful, but they need more than 7,000 words.

With such a tiny word allotment (and let’s be honest, some of us write 100,000 novels that only touch the tip of the iceberg) these epic tales won’t work. In a short story, the world building has to be done in a manner that works alongside the story and not a heap of information at the start. Submissions that started with an uncanny amount of “info dumping” put us on alert. We didn’t need to know the background of the world, how it came to be, or why magic/technology was at its current incarnation. Sometimes the mystery of not knowing is even more alluring. We need a single character (or perhaps two) to exist in a world that we experienced through them. If they don’t meet elves along their journey, there’s almost no point in mentioning them (even if you know they exist in this world.)

Listen & Digest.

We decided at the start that no matter what we read, we’d provide positive feedback to the author. We believed this to be an essential part of the process with New England Speculative Writers. Sometimes we focused on mechanics, sometimes it was centered around plot, it all depended on the author and what their work needed. Never once did we feel that a story was unsalvageable.

We understand that veteran authors have resources, such as beta readers, critique groups, even editors working with them when they prepare to submit short stories. We are not them. We are a set of virgin eyes, exploring your world (and often your writing) for the first time. We come in without bias wanting the very best of your characters and your plot. We aren’t on the hunt for perfection (not a single story was accepted without feedback) we are on the hunt for potential. With work, passion, and an open mind, even the flattest characters can be rounded and rocky stories can be smoothed. When an author criticizes our feedback, it says two things instantly: 1) I’m difficult to work with or 2) I’m incapable of being a team player.

Having submitted to dozens of anthologies, we know that most often, you receive a form letter. This goes for agents and publishers as well. So when an agent/editor/publisher gives you advice, you don’t have to take it, but you do have to stop and consider it. Are they speaking accurately? Truthfully? Are they offering words to uplift your story? Many people wrote back when they resubmitted saying, “I liked your first two points, but I tried your third and it just didn’t work.” We’re not perfect either, but when we get responses saying somebody has attempted our suggestion we see “TEAM PLAYER” and it excites us to build a relationship. Don’t burn your bridges.

Ask Questions.

This is a double edge sword. You need information, but you don’t want to pester. We found both sides of this happened while we were open for submissions. We had forthright questions, “Do you see any gaps in your submissions?” all the way to, “I have a pitch, can I get feedback?” We responded to as many as we could with as much information as we could. But there came a point when some of the questions stopped being about needing information and turned into needing validation.

Ask a question if you must. But remember you are one of dozens of emails each day. When it became obvious some of the emails were essentially asking us for a plot so they could write the story, we ceased communication. Needing facts is very different from needing creative energy. Ask facts. Be specific, be clear, and be concise. If time allows, you’ll receive a similar answer. However, if your answer requires time, energy, and especially creative energy, you might be overstepping boundaries.

Ask questions through the proper channels. Yes, we have twitter and Facebook which allow us instant access. Some of the authors even have our cell phone numbers. Text and you’re dead to us. Shoot a fast message on Facebook, we’ll try to respond. Put it in the official email, then it feels like business and we want to foster professional relationships, so that gets the fastest (and most thorough) answers. Seeking out on social media is okay if you’re tight with the editor, but don’t abuse it. Some of us only use Facebook to swap recipes with our moms. Social media is still not considered a professional line of communication (your mileage may vary with this statement.)

Patience is a Must.

In the fast paced world of self-publishing, an author can finish writing a book and have it published in days. Even micro publishers move within months where the old model of traditional publishing can take years. Times are changing and with deadlines and quick production, there is a sense of urgency. “Did I get in?” “Any word?” “When will the decision be made?” The more these questions are asked, the more stress/pressure goes on the publisher. We’re not saying don’t ask, it’s important to your livelihood to know these things, but give it time. Even with forty submissions, it took us nearly two months to read and provide feedback. As each of us have full-time jobs, as do many small presses and free lance editors. We spent every available moment reading and making comments. The editorial process takes time.

With many self published authors simply putting their book online and wondering why sales aren’t taking off, it needs to be a constant reminder that success takes time as well. Curating and providing feedback is only half the job. We spent countless hours preparing a marketing plan on how to fund, produce, and market our anthology. We set the publish date a year into the future to allow time for editing, cover production and pre-orders. Always feel free to ask what the “plan” is, but be aware, the time-table might not be a mad dash to the finish line.


We debated on what should go onto this list. We had many other thoughts and considerations, but these we felt were a universal truth with our anthology and beyond. As always, we want to watch our authors flourish, so we hope this bit of insight behind the scenes of The Final Summons, helps guide your hand in future anthology submissions!

The Final Summons Artist Open Call

Accepting Cover Submissions
“The Final Summons” Anthology!

Theme The Final Summons

A final call to action for our characters.

What does the “Final Summons” mean? Is it the end of a world? The end of a long war? The changing hands of a political hierarchy? The promise of only one more spell? The handing down of a death sentence or banishment? The possibilities are endless.

Whether by magic or science and anything in-between, we want to see artwork that tells its own narrative that bridges the gap between science fiction and fantasy. We are open to styles ranging from oil paintings and illustration to photo manipulation and everything in between. Ultimately, we want original artwork that acts as an attention getting representation of the theme “The Final Summons” while telling its own story.

That Inspire Us
What We Don’t Want We will not accept artwork that promotes racism, sexism, or imagery of hate. We will not accept Fan Fiction. In fact, we strongly urge bold representations of diversity.
Deadline March 27, 2018, 11:59PM EST
Restrictions Must be a resident of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont.
Pay $300 (USD), 1 Physical Copy, 1 Digital File
Rights Accepted work will grant New England Speculative Writers first exclusive  rights for one (1) year and non-exclusive rights in perpetuity for digital, print, and audio formats. The artist will retain the copyright to their respective work.
Multiple Submissions No multiple submissions.
Publication Date February 2019
How to Submit We understand that art takes time and that submitting spec work is daunting. To save you time we are asking for the following:

  • A comp sketch (near completed rough) so that we can see the narrative and approach the artist is going to use in their work. These do not need to be completed works. Sketch must be scanned or photograph as a High-Res .JPG/.PDF.
  • A link to your existing portfolio. If your style varies wildly from project to project, please indicate pieces similar to what you are intending to do for the final draft.
  • Email to

Cristina Alden: Curator of “The Final Summons”

The New England Speculative Writers is putting together its first anthology. The theme, “The Final Summons.” Submissions by members are due January 31st. More details about the submission can be found here. Three curators will be reading through the slush and putting together the best stories. We thought it’d be good to interview each of the curators and give a little background about who they are and what they’re looking for in this anthology. Cristina is one of the co-founders of NESW.

What is your background in literature?

I’ve always loved writing stories, and have kept a journal on and off since I was a kid. I have a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. In college I concentrated mainly on fiction writing, and dabbled in screenwriting and playwriting, all of which I really enjoyed. I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2012 and published my first novel in January 2017. The genre of the story is “rural” urban fantasy with paranormal elements. My writing has always leaned toward fantasy and science fiction.

What are some of your favorite fantasy & sci-fi novels?

I’m an omnivore when it comes to reading. I enjoy science fiction, fantasy, historical novels, adventure stories… I’ve enjoyed stories from authors that range from Douglas Adams to Jean M. Auel. Novels that influenced me the most creatively were probably ones I read at an early age, like the Madeline L’Engle’s “Wrinkle In Time” series, C.S. Lewis “Chronicles of Narnia” series, Frank Herbert’s “Dune” Series, Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” series.

What excites you most for the upcoming anthology?

I’m excited to see the interpretation of what the “The Final Summons” means to writers. I think the title leaves the interpretation wide open to possibilities. The danger in a topic like this is finding the right place in the adventure to start telling the story. When I think of a final summons, I think of an epic journey. In a short story you don’t have the luxury of really deep world building, which means the characters need to stand out and be unique and the story idea needs to be tight. I love character driven stories, so I’m excited to see who I meet.

Is there anything you’re specifically looking for?

I’m looking for unique story settings and interesting, well developed characters. I’m not looking for stereotypical “types” of characters, or quirkiness just for the sake of being quirky, but character traits and flaws that add flavor to the journey of the story. I don’t have to necessarily like the characters, but I want them to be developed enough that I’m interested or intrigued enough by them to care what happens.

Jeremy Flagg: Curator of “The Final Summons”

The New England Speculative Writers is putting together its first anthology. The theme, “The Final Summons.” Submissions by members are due January 31st. More details about the submission can be found here. Three curators will be reading through the slush and putting together the best stories. We thought it’d be good to interview each of the curators and give a little background about who they are and what they’re looking for in this anthology. Jeremy Flagg is one of the co-founders of NESW and he’s on the hunt for diverse authors and equally diverse characters.

What is your background in literature?

I’ve been writing since 2006 and in 2009 I self-published my first novel. In 2015 I landed my first publisher for my sci-fi superhero series. I’ve published two non-fiction, six fiction books, and been part of five anthologies. My own writing ranges from young adult to superhero science fiction depending on my mood at the time. For my short stories, I find myself compelled to write horror, a genre I’ve always loved. In 2011 I became the Municipal Liaison for the Massachusetts Metrowest region of National Novel Writing Month and started the Metrowest Writers with some other excellent authors.

What are some of your favorite fantasy & sci-fi novels?

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. In fantasy, I always found myself moved by Lynn Flewelling’s “Luck in the Shadows.” Her attention to Seregil and Alec’s emotional and social turmoil, brought them to life. She also created a realistic romantic relationship between the male leads that took center stage for one character but not the other. This struggle resonated with my own experience in the LGBT+ community.

I also find myself fascinated by R.A. Salvatore’s “Demon Wars Saga,” which focuses on Jilseponie, an amazing female lead. Salvatore’s departure from traditional magic systems is paired beautifully with a lead character who is thrust into an impossible position when all she wants is to survive in peace. Her determination in the face of world gone mad tugged at my heart-strings. I enjoyed the emotional rollercoaster.

Nightwatch and Daywatch wetted my love of dark fantasy. Not quite horror, but always with dark air about it, Kuyanenko Sergei knows how to set a tone. Introducing me to the wonders of Russian story telling, he captivated me by reinventing the noir detective as a misguided do-gooder vampire. Sergei strips away the pop culture associated with vampires and witches and creates a fresh modern tale woven with classic themes.

My favorite science fiction book is Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. His ability to take technologies just beyond our current grasp and infuse them with religion had me reeling. I also appreciated the fantastical element of the metaverse with sword wielding hackers. There is something amazing about this idea of being able to jack into another world and be another version of yourself. I wanted to be Hiro Protagonist growing up.

What excites you most for the upcoming anthology?

I’m thrilled to see the many interpretations of “The Final Summons.” But more than that, I’m excited to step into another character’s world. I have no idea where each story will take me. I am looking forward to feeling, seeing, and doing as this character does. I also wants to see what amazing scenarios and worlds each author can develop in a short space. I don’t know if I’ll be an elf, a teen wizard, or a rogue fighter pilot in outerspace. The mystery has me eager to read.

I’m also interested to see how the idea of “summons” works into the plot. I don’t know where it’ll take me as a reader, but I want to immersed in a unique world and without chapter after chapter to give this information, I’m excited to see how the author will weave it into their story.

Is there anything you’re specifically looking for?

Diversity. I want characters unlike myself. I want to see the rainbow of gender expressions that avoid clichés. I want people of color who bring their culture into the character’s history and experiences. I want ethnicities I’ve never encountered and have a chance to step outside my own experiences. I want characters who have more than one emotional setting. I like them to be strong and weak, brave and fearful. I love the flaws in our humanity and believe these make for memorable characters.