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The Number One Worst Mistake A Writer Can Make When Submitting

mistakes

We asked several editors, “What is the worst thing that a creative writer can do when making a submission?” And their answers surprised us! Read for yourself, then click the links to learn more about these great publications that are open to YOUR writing!

Diverse Voices Quarterly: This may seem like a no-brainer, but not following submission guidelines is the worst thing. To be more specific, some of the things that come our way are poetry submissions that consist of just one poem, stories that are too long, or work that we’d never publish (scholarly essays or book reviews). We can attest that some of the best submissions we receive are ones where the writers have read back issues and are familiar with the type of work we do like. We realize that not everyone has time to read every single piece ever published in every lit journal, but even just reading through a journal’s website, one can pick up on an overall vibe and tone that an editor might be looking for. Krisma, Editor.

Inkwell: The worst thing a writer can do when making a submission is to disregard the submission guidelines. We receive submissions from too many writers who state they don’t have computers so please excuse their out-of-date submission or forgive them for handwriting the entire manuscript, they simply didn’t know what to do because they can’t visit our website—or worse, say nothing at all. Not adhering to the guidelines torpedoes a submission. If you don’t have a computer, but you do have our address, write us a letter months before you consider submitting. And don’t forget, there’s the ancient relic called the library! If you write to us, ask everything you need to know. We don’t hate mail…especially if it’s necessary. Yes I’m an editor, but I’m also a writer, and I believe all editors are writers, therefore we feel any piece of work a writer submits should be sent out with the utmost respect. We create guidelines for a reason, not arbitrarily or to be as strict as the grandmother who smacks our hands away from the fresh-baked cookies before dinner is served. Guidelines create order. And although we love to break the rules in our writing in order to let the creative juices flow, without order on the business side, there would be publishing chaos. Putting out a literary magazine requires tremendous effort and coordination of readers, etc.  A writer following the guidelines is our best friend and also keeps our editorial fangs in place. And, frankly, nothing pains us more than to have to send a slip of paper back saying your submission is out of our reading period, over the word limit, or etc. Sometimes we appear a lot more uptight than what we really are, but the truth is, this is an interdependent relationship; so meet us halfway. Just follow the rules. Tanya M. Beltram, Editor-in-Chief.

Philadelphia Stories: The very worst thing an author can do when submitting work for publication is to ignore the submission guidelines. It’s really that simple. If we ask for double-spaced, please take the time to double space! When addressing a cover letter, make sure to get the editor’s name right. Proofread the work for typos and only submit work that is polished and ready to go. Authors should treat their work with the same care and respect that they would a job application. Authors should also make sure that they’re reading at least a brief sample of what the magazine is publishing to make sure that their work is in a similar vein. Don’t send a fantasy story to a magazine that only publishes chick lit. If the word limit is 3,000 words and your story is 4,500 don’t be surprised when you get that rejection letter. So much of submission success really boils down to finding the right editor who will love your piece, and that may take 20 or 30 tries. But if you fail to present your work in a professional manner, chances are the editor won’t get past the first page. Carla Spataro, Fiction Editor.

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Rattle: As a poetry editor, I’m always on the hunt for good poetry — and with the amount of time I spend in the woods, I feel like I can spot a trophy buck no matter how dense the foliage. The packaging of a submission never matters as much as the content, so my preference is for those who make my job as easy as possible: Make sure the poems are legible, follow the simple guidelines, and skip all the frills. The one thing that rubs me the wrong way is when a writer tries to butter me up with a transparent compliment about the magazine. Picking out one poem from a back issue to mention seems like an obvious ploy even on those rare occasions that it isn’t. I’m not naive. It’s my task to overlook this minor annoyance, and hopefully I do, but you might as well stay on my good side. Honesty is the best policy. Tell me that you’ve never read Rattle, that you just want the thrill of seeing your poem in a bookstore, and that you probably won’t even read the contributor copy you get for free if you’re chosen for publication. Or don’t say anything at all. That’s fine by me. Honestly. Tim Green, Editor.

Softblow Poetry Journal: The worst things: submitting without reading the instructions given by the editors or the guidelines set down by the journal; sending docx attachments; continuous submissions too soon after the initial rejection; biographies that go on forever and which matter little in the end; sentimental or religious poems; poems that equate innovation with bland obscurity or vulgarity; people who cannot understand that the reading of poetry is a subjective experience (they should stop submitting); people who respond to rejection with vehemence and arrogance (they should grow up). Cyril Wong, Editor.

Tiferet: As Tiferet’s poetry editor, I look for work that is fresh, polished, and powerful. A poem that startles me into deep attentiveness definitely has an advantage; but, importantly, I also look for work that is a good fit for Tiferet in terms of content and spirit. A potential submitter can only know what a journal is likely to publish if he or she is familiar with the journal before submitting. One of the worst mistakes a writer can make is not bothering to read an issue or two of a journal before sending work for consideration and, consequently, having little or no idea what the editor’s preferences might be. (With the caveat to “read before sending” in place, I add that potential submitters should also read submission guidelines carefully and then follow them precisely.) Adele Kenny, Poetry Editor.

The Worst Mistake When Making Submissions To Editors 

There’s a big lesson to be learned here. If you are following submission guidelines and doing research to be sure your work is being sent to the proper markets, then YOU have a huge advantage. The fact is that many writers—more than you may think—are not making professional, well-targeted submissions. So if YOU are making professional, well-targeted submissions, you’re a step ahead, a cut above, at the front of the line, the head of the class! While many writers have the time and resources to make strong submissions on their own, Writer’s Relief assists writers who (for whatever reason) need some help with the process. Our Review Board is reading RIGHT NOW for new clients (by invitation only), so be sure to send in your work soon!

Questions for WritersQUESTION: What do YOU think is the worst thing a writer can do when making a submission? (Leave your answer by clicking “COMMENTS” at the top of this article and scrolling down).

Photo by tom16602.

26 Responses to The Number One Worst Mistake A Writer Can Make When Submitting

  1. This advice holds true for novel submissions too. (I’m searching in google ‘worst writing mistakes.’) I’m learning quite a bit. :)

    I’m looking for a beta reader to help me catch book-wide problems. my email is at: vaporlightATaol.com

    What ever the beta reader wants they get; within reason, mind you.

    Thank you for these helpful tips.

  2. When I got to the point of submitting short stories, I was surprised at number of publication possibilities, and the amount of organized research needed to sort out the specifics of all the different “guidelines,” word limits, priorities, media, acceptable genres, reading periods, etc. But I also was surprised and disappointed at how snarky and “superior” some of the publishers seem to be. If the tone and feeling is off-putting, I move on. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned so far about mistakes is not reading / evaluating samples of the writing the editors publish. On several occasions now, after I find what looks like a good match in terms of all the guidelines, criteria, etc., when I go deeper and read what they have published I change my mind and move on. Many of the editors implore writers to read what they have published. It’s not always easy because no one of course subscribes to regularly reads scores of publications, but almost all provide at least abbreviated versions on line if not entire stories, poems, etc.

  3. I fully agree on most of the other comments about submission guidelines and targeting the right editors/publishers. Also, about the self-editing and polishing your work before submitting. In my own work, I edit, edit and edit again to check for typos, or see if I can say the same thing with fewer words. But on about the third time around, I know every word by heart and have discovered that it is all too easy to overlook mistakes that were missed simply because I do know the story so well. I don’t put a lot of faith in spell-check, but do keep Mr. Webster close at hand when in doubt.

    Bennie Choate, (Writer)

  4. ” “What is the worst thing that a creative writer can do when making a submission?” And their answers surprised us! ”

    Now THAT’S surprising. Four out of six are echoing the one thing harped on by almost every “how to get published” book and article, and this surprised a submission-specialist team?

    As to Cricket Freeman, I would like to ask how one knows when to STOP polishing? One of my college professors told me of a contest winner that wanted to “polish” her entry before publication. In so doing, she removed all the “cute” parts that caused her story to win!

    As to Millie, I can’t say that electronic submissions are creating any kind of a standard. Some insist on text format (so nothings underlined or in italics), some allow (or even prefer) higher levels. Some want it single-spaced, others want it double-spaced, and still others don’t even specify. Some want author data on every page, some don’t want it anywhere in the story file. Some of my stories have more than four different files, all because of differing requirements for electronic submission.

    The nasty thing is when you get a publication that uses “not quite” standard. You glance at the submission requirements, see all the “standard format” rules . . . and then get caught by the one or two things that aren’t standard.

  5. Thanks for the article. It is interesting that the basic number one rule among editors is to follow the guidelines. Seems simple, but obviously the editors in your article have had a lot of experience with submitters who did not thoroughly read or follow the guidelines.

    A flip side is that guidelines can be quite arbitrary, even bordering on the ridiculous. For instance, “Do not put two spaces after a period” (not making this one up). When I encounter this type of strict mindset, I simply move on. My basic rule of thumb is that if I can’t follow the guidelines or think they are too silly, I don’t submit.

    Most aren’t like that, thankfully, and I also appreciate when editors realize that everybody makes goofs sometimes. It’s good to be diligent when following the guidelines, and it’s also a wonderful thing from the other end to look beyond easily correctable errors, at least in small quantities.

  6. Hopefully, anyone who submits written work will know that the submissions will be accepted satisfactorily in the following way: EVERYONE WILL READ/THINK/WRITE in response to acceptance! Work submitted should be in a position that will require perfect achievement regarding acceptance! I was taught that “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” DEFINITELY!! :)

  7. I always experience an adrenaline rush when I type “The End” on the last page of my first drafts. Experience has taught me that “The End” does not mean my manuscript is ready for submission.

    I agree with the previous comments, but Cricket’s comment struck a chord. A RUSH TO SUBMIT TOO SOON can be fatal for writers. Self-edit to the max,polish and repolish,then find a recommended professional editor before submitting your work.

  8. As usual, the article and comments made express the importance of being professional in our efforts as writers to be among those who do get published. Ditto to Mark and Cricket’s advice. By following all the guidelines, checking for typos and obvious mistakes and believing what we submit ‘fits’ (which is not always an understood fit), that a rejection would come with a positive note encouraging more submissions.

    I always enjoy all the interesting articles and remarks given.
    Thank you for all the insight!!

    Jean

  9. I agree that following guidelines, and submissions are important, but more important than either, is research the publishing houses. Some editors are outwardly shocked in rejection letters I’ve received because I submitted a christian/ young adult manuscript to a regular publisher. Reaserching the publishers to really know what they are looking for is important

  10. Milley, who says “all editors are basically doing the same thing.” Every journal has a different process in place (just as an easy example, think how different things are for a journal with an editor who reads everything and one that goes through a series of readers before the work even makes it to an editor or one that has a guest judge). Each journal has to make guidelines that best suit the process that makes sense for the particular journal and its editors.
    Hamilton makes some good points about the workload of the editors but refers to having “hundreds of submissions.” Everyone should realize that we’re talking thousands!!

  11. I just made a terrible mistake when submitting something the other day! I pressed the online submit button and realized right afterward that I’d pressed the button without typing in the editor’s name! So instead of “Dear Tom McCoy, Man About Town,” it said “Dear ,”…how terrible! I have a form letter saved that I copy & paste into submission boxes and then personalize for that particular magazine. It sounds like a good idea and saves me a bit of time, but in this case being prepared in that way definitely backfired on me!

  12. Nail. Head. Hit.

    I work for a publishing house, and I have to admit that if I get a ‘template submission’ which doesn’t meet our guidelines (which aren’t exactly difficult to follow…we don’t force the author to jump through a thousand hoops), the query simply gets deleted. Harsh pehaps, but there you go. We pride ourselves as having a very people-orientated, ‘personal’ publishing house, so we expect some effort in return.

    ~Sara, from Inspired Quill

  13. There two things that I would think kill a submission. One, as repeated in the article, would have to be ignoring guidelines (although we have all attempted to “bend” a few rules). Secondly pertains to ignoring bc issues and submitting work that does not fit the theme of a magazine. It would be akin to submitting a series of poems that confront issues of depression and madness to the editor of Dr. Suess.

    As always, I thoroughly enjoy your e-mail articles and updates. You guys provide a great service! Thanks!

  14. Gay, Great points! And yes, editors do forgive those “higher level” errors like mantle vs. mantel. They know it happens!

  15. Ruth, Do you mean our guidelines to join our Full Service client list? (We help writers by preparing and targeting their submissions to agents and editors.) Our submission guidelines are here, http://www.writersrelief.com/review_board/, and we are reading now but will be closing soon. Cheers!

  16. As a literary agent, but also as a writer and writing instructor for 25+ years, I have to say the worst thing a writer can do is to RUSH TO SUBMIT TOO SOON. If you submit before you polish and perfect your writing, proof your query, target your queries, and follow the submission guidelines, you WILL get rejected 100% of the time. Take your time to do it all PROFESSIONALLY and your acceptance rate will increase. Isn’t your work worth that?

  17. If I wanted to send a poem, article, or short story, where would I find your guidelines? Along with the web page?
    Goodness, I would not ignore the obvious guidelines!

  18. I’m a writer but also an editor. I agree with the editors quoted about reading submission guidelines. Our press (July Literary Press) is not a journal, but we have the same problems. My most-hated submission is the essay or short story that is single-spaced when we have specifically stated that such submissions should be double-spaced. Single-spaced prose ends up on the floor in my office, but my co-editor is kinder. Unfortunately. I have yet to see a submission that truly heeded the guidelines.

    As to “spell-checking” submissions and cover letters: not good enough. As the late James Kilpatrick used to say: READ YOUR COPY!
    If you typed “mist” instead of “must,” spell-check won’t know the difference.

    Having said all that, I must admit that I once submitted a poem in which the word “mantel” was spelled “mantle.” The editor who accepted the poem (despite the error) kindly asked if I had intended to spell it right. Nobody’s perfect.

  19. I think Proverbs 19:2 states it perfectly and every writer needs to memorize this. “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” So take the time to learn your craft, and when you get ready to submit, take more time to check and recheck. Get it right before you submit.

  20. I agree with Jawzer! Even if you’re so careful, follow the guidelines, do everything right, the journal might flat out not like your writing. That rejection letter could come because they don’t love your work, and it could be over a silly mistake. But at the end of the day, as long as you’re submitting, you’re still a step ahead and bound to learn from the mistakes you might make.

  21. Everyone’s human and makes mistakes, so writers get a little edgy when they’re told to make sure everything’s perfect perfect perfect. But honestly, if you were the editor and had hundreds of submissions to sort through, you know you would first toss out the writers who didn’t spell your name right, have typos in the body of their letter, didn’t follow guidelines, etc. Let’s be real.

  22. I would say obvious typos and mistakes in the body of the letter would be the worst. That says to the editor that you didn’t even bother to run spellcheck before sending in your submission.

  23. All of the places I submit to all have very different requirements–it makes me a little crazy. If all editors are basically doing the same thing, why isn’t there a standard? I think that maybe with electronic submission thingies there is starting to be a standard (like with Submishmash), but it seems odd that there’s not more standards across the board. If the standards were clearer and more consistent, maybe the work would come in better overall.

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