Updated November 2023
What’s the best way to get an acceptance letter from a literary magazine editor? Savvy writers know the answer: write well and make smart, targeted submissions! But did you ever wonder how professional readers like literary journal editors slog through piles and piles of submissions without losing their minds?
Red flags—things that indicate a problem at a glance—are like shortcuts for overworked editors. When they spot a red flag, they quickly put that submission aside and move on to the next one.
At Writer’s Relief, we love writers and we want to see you succeed. When our Review Board is open for submissions of poetry, short prose, and books, we receive hundreds of submissions. To move effectively through all the work, we watch for certain red flags that signal we should move on to the next submission.
What red flags could YOU be waving?
6 Most Common Red Flags In Submissions That Usually Result In A Rejection (Tweet This!)
1) Ignoring submission guidelines. When a writer’s submission is way outside of our submission guidelines, they are (inadvertently) proclaiming:
I don’t feel like following guidelines. Or I don’t take this stuff seriously.
HINT: If you are going to break the rules when making a submission, it may help to explain why you’re doing it. Readers may be forgiving if they know what to forgive!
2) Formatting. Don’t use a font that’s bold or cartoony, or margins set to 2.5. Just submit in a simple, common font with your name and page numbers on each page. The story should stand out; the formatting should not.
3) Typos. Time and time again, we find typos—starting in the first line of the submissions! Even if it’s just a rogue comma, those little faux pas are annoying to a reader who still has 90 more submissions to get through. We know no one is perfect, but there are only so many times we can read the wrong version of “there” before getting discouraged.
4) Wrong word count. We’ve had people submit 285,000-word doorstops…er…novels, 50,000-word “short stories,” and 150,000-word “novellas.” Inappropriate word counts are easy-to-spot red flags.
5) Lack of supplemental materials. At Writer’s Relief, we like to get a sense of a writer’s personality because we need to work closely with our clients. We like to cultivate good energy, and we prefer to work with writers who are as enthusiastic about what they do as we are about helping them do it!
BUT some writers will skip the bio section. Imagine if you were excited to learn about a writer’s goals, interests, and history, but all he or she told you was “I like to write.” Read more: Does an author bio really matter?
6) Long, bitter diatribes—about literary agents who won’t take them seriously; poetry editors who hate rhyme; being misunderstood; being led astray by someone in the publishing industry. Then these writers wonder why they’re being rejected at every turn. ALL writers have it tough at some point. It’s the ones who don’t consider themselves victims who persevere and succeed.
The Green Light For Red Flags
Now, we’re not a bunch of negative nellies over here—rubbing our hands together, twisting our waxy handlebar moustaches, and devising new ways to kick writers to the curb.
At Writer’s Relief, we help our clients master the etiquette of making strong submissions, so we’re a little more forgiving of occasional blunders and honest mistakes than the typical editor might be. We love helping writers navigate the ins and outs of publishing, and we understand when a new writer accidentally waves a red flag or two when sending work to us. That’s what we’re here for—to help!
But if you want to increase your chances of getting an acceptance letter from literary editors, consider the way they use shortcuts to weed through submissions, and avoid hoisting any red flags.
And if you’re the kind of writer who tackles your craft (and your etiquette) with passion, then our Review Board welcomes your submissions!
Question: Have you ever waved any of these red flags when making writing submissions? Which ones?