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Online Writing Submissions: Mistakes Writers Make Submitting To Literary Agents And Editors

Submitting a book online to literary agents, or submitting poetry, stories, and prose online to editors, poses great potential for error. Today’s creative writer needs to know how to make successful online submissions. If you’re submitting essays, poetry, and short stories, you can submit your writing directly to an editor at a literary magazine using an online submission form, also known as a submission manager. If you’re submitting a novel to a publisher or a literary agent, you may opt to send a query letter by email (an e-query) rather than by regular mail.

Taking advantage of technology is smart. Unfortunately, writers often make mistakes when submitting online, which can result in their work not being considered for publication.

Avoid these common mistakes when using online submission forms (submission managers):

1. Don’t rush through the process. When you submit to an editor, take your time and follow the submission guidelines so that you don’t send the wrong type of file or submit work that’s over the word count limit. Check to make sure each field is filled out and entered correctly, and use the “preview” option before finalizing your submission.

2. Don’t forget to hit “submit” or “continue.” When using a submission manager, many people think the preview page indicates the form is complete; the last step is often overlooked. If you’ve successfully submitted your work, you should see a confirmation notice and/or receive an email message.

3. Don’t paste a sloppy cover letter or biography. Proofread and format your text carefully, and follow standard “netiquette.” (See Creative Writing Submissions Etiquette: Submitting To Literary Agents and Editors for more tips on professionalism in electronic submissions.)

To avoid other common mistakes when submitting online, take a good look at your cover and query letters. These (and all written communication between you and an editor or agent) should be professional and polished.

1. No typos. Carefully proofread every email and attachment before sending.

2. Screen for slang or lazy abbreviations. Avoid “OMG!” and “What do u think? Pls reply.”

3. Get the editor’s name right in your salutation. Spell it correctly and play it safe by using his or her full name to avoid embarrassing gender errors. (See Savvy Salutations.)

4. Stick to standard fonts and sizes. Twelve-point Times New Roman and Arial are most common. No funny colors, graphics of smiling bunnies, or oversized signatures.

5. Use the correct spacing. Follow submission guidelines for manuscripts and short fiction, and use single spacing in your cover or query letter.

6. Watch for bad formatting. If you’ve cut and pasted text into an email, send the email to yourself first in order to spot any problems.

7. No rambling. Cover letters and query letters should never be more than one page. The same goes for an e-cover or e-query letter.

8. No spamming multiple agents in the same email. Send one email at a time to one agent at a time. Otherwise, your submission will likely be flagged by spam filters. Plus, it’s just rude. 

9. Don’t CC a list of recipients. In any professional correspondence, don’t use CC when BCC is appropriate. If you’re sending an email to a mailing list or a list of personal industry contacts, don’t CC because some recipients may consider it an invasion of privacy.  

Remember: a quick email to a friend is completely different than an e-query to an agent or a cover letter to a literary magazine. Keep your submissions professional so that editors and agents will take you seriously. And don’t forget to hit submit!

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Which do you like better: digital or print submissions?

4 Responses to Online Writing Submissions: Mistakes Writers Make Submitting To Literary Agents And Editors

  1. Regina, We feel you!

    First, take a breath. Everyone makes mistakes–including editors. So we would hope they’ll understand.

    If it hasn’t been very long since you submitted, fear not. You have time to make the corrections.

    You can easily withdraw any e-submissions via submissions managers and then resubmit them with the proper info. You can also resend your original emailed submissions (with a clear note that it is a resubmission to correct a typo in your cover letter). You could also look at this as a way to show that you’re a “real” person and score some charm points by writing a very short line or two about why you made the mistake to begin with. When we’ve seen this happen with submissions to us, people like to point the finger at caffeine withdrawal. And that’s something almost everyone can understand. :-)

    If you mailed the submissions, then at this point you’ll just have to sit tight. Editors may recognize it as a typo but not consider it a total deal breaker.

    One last tip from the trenches: We have at least two different people look at our clients’ submissions before we send them. If possible, have a friend look over your cover letters and submissions to proofread.

    Good luck!

  2. I just sent about a dozen submissions and failed to realize until now that the cover letter, for all of them, mentions the name of another Literary Magazine. This is what I get for copying and pasting. I really, really, really, really hope they don’t notice because that was a major screw up. :( I’m so anxious and scared and embarrassed. What should I do?

  3. I prefer print submissions. I feel a lot more secure and confident sealing an envelope than clicking “Submit”. There’s something about electronic submissions that make me second guess myself. I’m always convinced I’ve gotten something wrong and I hover over that final button for 10 minutes before I can finalize the submission.

  4. There is definitely something to be said about seeing/holding your work on paper. Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s tangible and permanent. Digital submissions are slightly more worrisome. Will they get there? Did I follow the proper online protocol? Will all of my apostrophes turn into question marks in transit? But, digital submissions are the future, so we’d better get used to them!

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