Submission Tips From an Editor
Of all the articles I have written for writers, this one is probably the one I wish they would take to heart the most. What follows are simple, seemingly common sense words of advice coming from an editor who has read thousands of submissions. However, everyday it seems I get stories or submissions that would benefit from this advice.
Editors are mostly hardworking folks who spend much of their time pouring over the written word of fledgling writers. It is not a glorious job; the writers get all the credit, the fame, and the wealth when things go well. And when things don’t, well editors get all the blame and bad eyesight. I am sure there are several things that most of them would like to be doing instead of reading another submission or manuscript, like writing their own masterpieces, playing with their children, or enjoying a sunset on the beach. Instead, editors are investing time and energy into your manuscript. They are more willing to do so if you follow the advice below.
Proofread your submission before you send it. About 60% of the submissions I receive have serious spelling and/or grammar problems. I can deal with one, but when I find that second one I am finished with the story. Don’t waste my time. Don’t waste yours. You took the time to write it, now take the time to make sure it is well-polished. The best advice is to get someone else to proofread your stories. They have a more objective view as well as a respectable distance from the prose. They will spot errors that your own eye won’t. Yes, I am sure you would like to finish off a story and get it out into the published realm as soon as possible, but a few mistakes can kill that a story before it gets its breath.
Your cover letter or cover email is important. It should be short and to the point. As an editor, I do not care if you have a cat or are happily married (as a human I love to hear these type of things after you sell me a great story and we have become friends). If it doesn’t have anything to do with the story or why I should give the story extra consideration, it shouldn’t be in that email or cover letter. Mention the name of the story (a good name can make a difference by the way), why I should consider it (it is a perfect mix of Arthur C. Clarke’s innovative ideas and Charles Dickens’ character studies, or it has a character I will fall in love with, or it is a suspenseful page turner with an ending that will surprise me), and how long it is. Some editors like a short synopsis and I do too. A little anticipation goes a long way. If you have been published, mention three to four of your best paid publications. Do not list every publication you have ever had, especially if they are non-paying markets. Honestly, publication credentials aren’t worth as much as people think. They can make an editor pay attention a bit longer, but normally there is a reason an author is published by Asimov’s or Fantasy and Science Fiction and it shows in their writing. Definitely mention any awards you have won. It doesn’t merit a story any special consideration, but it might put a good story into the sellable category. And lastly, I’ll address one that really puts the polish on a cover letter. Find out who to address it to. Often it takes just a few minutes familiarizing yourself with a publication to know who is going to be reading your manuscript. Take the time to find out and address it to that person.
Accept rejections with grace. Humility will get you further than anger or arrogance. If an editor happens to respond to your story with comments, use them to make your story better. If I take the time to write a personal note to a writer, it is because I see something in their story, or perhaps in their writing, that I like. I see potential. Honor the time I have invested and see if my advice can make your story better. Maybe it won’t. Maybe we are just thinking on different wavelengths. And that is ok. But never respond to me by telling me I don’t have a clue or telling me I have no appreciation for true art. I am willing to admit that that might be true. More often than not, it is not and my advice could really help turn a poor story into a good one, or the principles I suggest could be digested and later help sell a hundred stories. Humility suggests a willingness to be taught, a willingness and desire to grow and become a better writer. I love it when people write me back after I have rejected their story, but tell me they appreciate the comments I had. It makes me feel bad about rejecting their story and I earmark their name so that I pay particular attention to their next submission. Maybe I won’t like that one either, but I am more likely to continue giving them advice and pointers than not. An angry or arrogant response will immediately close my door. Basically, you’re telling me I wasted my time trying to help you out.
Read the guidelines for a publication. Our guidelines specifically state that I do not want attachments. I want the story pasted in the body of the email. Do you know how many of my submissions come in meeting the conditions of our guidelines? Forty-five percent. Forty-five percent! Little things like this tell me how badly a writer wants to be published. If they address it to me, if they follow our guidelines, if they talk about our past issues, I know they are familiar with our publication and have been hoping to get published here for a while. I love that. It makes me want to publish them. Now, I must say that I read rtf attachments. I even accept rtf attachments. It actually can make the editing and publishing process easier. But it is the principle of the thing that bothers me. That said, I suppose I will change our guidelines in the very near future to accept rtf.
Most writers put a lot of effort and time into writing their stories. Those stories deserve the best shot they can get. Following this advice could be the difference between a rejection and an acceptance.
© Seth Crossman