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!)
- Ignoring submission guidelines. When a writer’s submission is way outside of our submission guidelines, he or she is (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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
Quite helpful and informative articles here! I am grateful for the caring atmosphere I perceive here! Thanks so much and God bless you all!
This was very helpful in an industry,common sense way. You effectively present the importance and the how-to of submitting materials in a business-like, mannermy way. As beginners in any field, arrogance and a sense of entitlement must be overcome for success to occur!
I was an acquisition editor for a major publisher. All of this is true, and then some. One has to wonder if these people have actually research the publisher? I have hundreds of stories. Although one of my favorites was getting an inquiry about publishing a man’s 30 personal journals. (No.) Or the woman who submitted a proposal about the Islamic demon of insanity. (It was a historical publishing house.) Or perhaps the young lady who sent me an email via text that read:”Do you have NE openings for interns?”
Helpful to have another careful set of eyes on your work prior to submission. It’s a truism that all of us become blind to certain common errors or typos, especially after going over a piece again and again.
Thank you for this advice.
I have been submitting full time now for about two years and I am sure that I have made many of these rookie mistakes but I am learning and my acceptance rate is going up so I must be doing something right I think.
Just paying more attention to what the journal says they are looking for and following their guidelines more has begun paying off.
Good advice and thanks for all you do to help authors.
While going through the submission process years ago, and carefully following the rules, I encountered grammar and punctuation errors–and typos–in some publisher’s and agent’s web sites. Yes, we’re all human and everyone makes mistakes. But apparently what is unforgivable in an author seems to pass muster coming from the other side of the desk. If some companies are lax in self-proofing, it makes me wonder about their skill in finding problems in the manuscripts they do publish. There are errors in most any book published these days. I found a whopper in one novel–a technical problem that not only pointed out the author’s lack of research, but the editor’s lack of general knowledge in not catching, or at least not questioning, the goof. Besides which, the mistake punched a big hole in the main character’s field of expertise in the story line. But I do understand that the publishing business is highly competitive and everyone is busy, busy, busy. And I understand the power in making a good first impression: queries, submissions, cover letters, first paragraphs, etc, etc. Being reminded of these things can lead to fine results. Still, in the research an author does to find the correct company to approach, the publisher’s or agent’s presentation is something to consider, too. (P.S. After 24 rejections, some of which were very helpful, I self-published. The general subject matter of my book was “hot” at the time of publication, 2009, especially locally–it still is–and I wanted to get in on the “heat.” It worked.)
We all dream of writing the next great novel. Unfortunately most of us, (regardless of how well we write), will never realize that dream. That’s why I’m a proponent of self-publishing. In 2004 I self-published my first book after ten years of research. I’m happy to say, fifteen years later, I’m still selling books. I’ve shipped books to over thirty states and one to Japan. My book is a documentation of murders that have taken place in a small rural county in Western Kentucky called “Murders of Muhlenberg County.” Regardless of what path you follow, you must have a reputable editor to edit your work.
As the judge of multiple poetry contests, I can tell you that a good half of the several-hundred submissions I read don’t make the first cut for all the reasons listed in the article. Spelling! Grammar! Punctuation! If I, as reader, look at your work with more care than you do, you can bet it’s bound for the “no” pile.
I slush read for a short story magazine. If the story is good, we may turn a blind eye to a little blip under 1, 2 and 3. Last year I started a poetry prize – same thing. Interestingly enough, though, the winner had none of those faults, even though the final judges were even more lenient. It just happened naturally. I think it speaks to a certain thoughtfulness and respect for the process that also shows in the writing itself.
I contacted a self publishing firm. They said we will read your manuscript and determine if it meets our standards. Two days later it did. I asked them if they read my manuscript and they said no, which prompted me to ask how they would know if I violated their standards. They put it through a computer program looking for swear words or sexually explicit content. They were a Christian self publishing company. In short. It mattered not to them if my book was good or bad. They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t cussing etc. in a Christian book. Hardly encouraging. The problem with most self-publishing firms is they are only interested in making money. Now I don’t have a problem with that as long as everyone is on the same page going into the process. Grammarly and AutoCrit are two programs I use to edit. Neither makes me a good writer, they do however fix a ton of grammar and mistakes such as overuse of that, their, there. Tense changes not intentional, redundant words, and a whole slew of other things an author might be guilty of making. Remember if you are a crappy storyteller your story will still be crappy, it just might look really good to a line editor.
…”in some publisher’s and agent’s web sites.” This is from the comments of Elizabeth Molsan.
As I read this note I was startled to see the incorrect placement of the apostrophe. In the context to which I am referring these should have been plural possessive. That is, the apostrophe is better placed after the ‘s’.