Writer's Life: Avoid the Trash!
Updated: Jan 5
I am a writer, so in the writing community I am used to be on the 'published' side of the fence. Recently, though, in order to support a charity (Families Need Fathers, in the UK) I decided to edit an anthology of poetry and flash fictions dedicated to fathers and fatherhood. I therefore had to jump over that fence and switch role -from being published to publish others.
You would think the process is simple: put calls for submissions, let submissions flood in my email box, and, then, sort them through according to their literary values and creativity... Oh boy!
This is counting without the 10 MOST COMMON MISTAKES writers do when submitting, mistakes so bad most will likely get you rejected without your work having been read in the first place. That's right: many submissions end up in bin folders, without having been read at all! How is that?
Submitting is never easy, but if you don't want to have such a sad fate then there are a few conventions you must follow. What are they?
1- DON'T ASK FOR PERMISSION TO SUBMIT! SUBMIT.
'Dear blah blah blah, I have seen your call for submission for blah blah blah. Would you like me to send my work?'
If you have any questions, they should be about the suitability of your writing, or, clarifications regarding the publishing process; certainly not a request for a prompt to submit! Such a useless query is a waste of time, and will get you ignored. You're not a school child asking permission to go wee wee, so don't make yourself look like one. Get on with it: submit.
2- BE POLITE, INTRODUCE YOURSELF!
'Hi. I'd like to submit! Find attached/ below..'
Oh no, dear! I will certainly not find attached/ below, because I won't bother to read you. Most editors will not mind your tone. Be formal or informal, whichever suits you best, but be respectful. I haven't read your work and I don't know you personally, but such bland one liner as above tells me one thing for sure: you are rude.
You wouldn't barge into a room full of unknown people and jump straight into conversations without even bothering to introduce yourself, right? So, what makes you think this is somehow ok to do so when emailing, just barge into someone's mailbox without any introduction at all? Give us a feel of who you are and why you want to submit. It's not difficult to do, two-three lines are amply enough, and, starting by your name should be common sense! It's not only about social conventions. When it comes to featuring in a book (as is the case with my anthology) it also reflects professionalism. How?
Poetry collections don't sell much unless they are actively promoted. As the editor of a poetry anthology I will have to actively promote our book, and so will you for featuring in it. If you have no manners when submitting, I strongly assume you will have no manners when marketing. Or what would be your strategy when the book is out? 'Hi, here's our book, please buy!' Wow! What about that for taking readers for cash cows! Well, like most poetry editors and publishers I care abut my reputation. We won't have rudeness reflecting on our projects.
In fact, 'hi I'd like to submit please find attached/below' will get you straight into the bin even when submitting to magazines, because it's a sure indicator that you don't even follow submission guidelines. Are you familiar with Submittable? Giving your name and writing a cover letter always are basic requirements, and for a reason. Don't overlook it!
3- RESPECT THE SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES!
If you're asked to send no more than 3 poems in the body of an email, send no more than 3 poems in the body of an email -not 5 as a Pdf document. If you're asked to double space your work and use 12 Times New Roman, double space your work and use 12 Times New Roman -not single space and Calibri. Submission guidelines serve many purposes. One of them is to filter writers serious enough to have read them to tailor their work accordingly from the careless ones who didn't bother and just pressed 'send'. Well, guess what? When faced with carelessness, we editors can also press 'send'... to the thrash!
4- KNOW YOUR GENRE!
If you claim to be an author, surely you must know the differences between a novel and a play, a poem and a short story! Well...
I had put a call for submission looking for poetry and flash fiction. I had a few people sending me excerpts of their novels, and countless more sending me short stories! Why? Either they didn't care about submissions guidelines, or, they don't know their genre. Either or: whatever! And if that 'whatever!' sounds to you like the dismissive attitude of a blasé teenager, that's because it is. Not knowing your genre will have you dismissed with the same contempt.
(For information, flash fiction is everything from six words to a thousand, more than that and it's a short story -if you write flash fiction you must know).
5- WHAT IF YOU'RE NOT SURE...?
If you're not sure, ask. A polite enquiry is never a waste of time. First, because it's polite. Then, because it shows you have read the submission guidelines, know exactly what is being required, yet have such an unusual angle in tackling a topic that you are in doubt. There is nothing wrong being in doubt. If anything, editors love unusual angles -this is what they are looking for. I had a few of such enquiries before submissions. Some were ultimately accepted, some rejected, but, all had sparked my curiosity, and making an editor curious is always a positive thing. Ask. Build interest.
6- DO YOUR RESEARCH!
What is your target publication about? Will your work fit in? My project is simple enough: celebrating fathers and fatherhood in order to help a charity. You would think people had done their research before submitting (heck! My call for submission included a statement about their deeds and a link to their website!). Well, think again. I have received everything from erotica boarding on porn to thriller involving drug dealing, bloody violence, and, even, gore! If you want to increase your chances of getting published, make sure you submit something suitable where suitable. Do your research!
7- IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU!
Yes, I know, as an author getting published is always great for your ego, increase your visibility, broaden your audience, and boost your writing CV. Yet, it doesn't mean you should submit randomly to random projects and random publications just for the sake of it! Lack of genuine interest will be obvious, and a sure way to end up in the trash.
Editors will always assume that you selected submitting to them for a reason. So, why do you want to be part of their publication? What drew you into their fold? Why do you want to support them in creating content for them? It could be anything!
Does your work echo theirs? How? Did you benefit in any way from a post or article they published? Are you a subscriber? Why? If there's a theme, has the theme any meaning to you? If you have no idea why you want to submit, except that it will satisfy your own precious ego, then maybe you should not submit at all and instead look for another outlet in which you genuinely want to feature, for at least one valid reason not being about you.
It cannot be stressed enough: be genuine, and be engaged to create engagement!
8- DON'T DEAR 'WATZ YOR NAME'!
An editor might have a name or surname you're not familiar with, but it's no reason to butcher it. We're back to courtesy and respect. You can find the name(s) of the editor(s) in the call for submission and/ or publication website (who's the Masthead?). Just copy accurately; if a child can do it, so can you. Plus, here too, knowing whom to address your submission demonstrates you've done some basic research or have some familiarity with the publication in question, which is always a good start. If you cannot find it or are not sure, 'Dear Editors' or 'Dear Sir/ Madam' remains a polite convention doing the trick. Again: courtesy doesn't stop at a keyboard.
Misspelling a name is bad enough, but littering your work with bad spellings, poor grammar, and dreadful punctuation is even worse. Editors will stop at a few lines and call it quit. Editing is always a basic requirement. Being careless about it will just give us the impression that you typed it all in rush and clicked 'send' without bothering. This feels like you tossing your work onto our lap, and, if emails don't make it possible for us to toss it back at you (and not onto your lap!...) we can at least toss it into the trash folder. And, so, into the trash folder it will end. Edit!
10- FOLLOW UP / DON'T FOLLOW UP!
This rule is dead simple: follow up if you have been accepted, don't follow up if you have been rejected.
If your work was accepted, replying 'thank you' is basic courtesy. It's also an acknowledgement. When I accept a submission, let the person know, yet have no reply whatsoever coming back, heck! What do you want me to assume? I will assume that, maybe, your work has been accepted elsewhere before I made my decision. Or, maybe, you completely forgot about us, meaning you were not really bothered to start with after all. Or, maybe, you turned out to be rude and with no manners (Point 2...). Or, maybe, you're dead!! Whatever: no acknowledgement = your submission being withdrawn. Serious editors rarely like to chase after ungrateful people. Again, it's about courtesy and professionalism.
On the other hand, if your work has been rejected, don't take your frustration or disappointment out on the editor(s) making the call! This will serve no purpose but to have you ignored at best, blacklisted at worst. You could politely request for feedback and/ or constructive criticism, but this is highly likely to be unnecessary. You didn't make the cut because you didn't fit editorial lines, what else is there to know? Having said that, don't let rejection prevent you to submit something else! You will never know how close you might have been to be accepted, so submitting again will show editors a genuine interest. Plus, who knows? As long as you abide by submission guidelines and follow the advices outlined in this post, persisting might pay off!
So there we are. Don't sabotage yourself. Taking onboard the 10 points above are no guarantee your submission, to a magazine or an anthology, will be accepted; but following them will avoid it to land in the trash folder, more likely than not without having been read at all! After all, it doesn't take much: courtesy, basic research, understanding of your own work and its suitability... Be considerate if you want to be considered. It's that simple.
And you? Are you an editor? Have I missed anything? What are the deadly sins writers commit when submitting, leading them straight the bin-hell? Share your insights!