Submit to Me! A quick guide to help you avoid annoying editors

Absolute Blank

By Erin Nappe (Billiard)

In addition to my editing here at Toasted Cheese, I also recently took on a freelance editing job for an e-book publisher. As a result, I read many query letters, cover letters, and synopses (as well as stories and novels) from first-time writers.

When trying to get published, it’s best to be sure that you don’t do things that annoy, vex, or otherwise irritate the editors you’re hoping will publish your work. I surveyed my fellow editors for their favorite pet peeves, and we came up with these eight things you can do to make sure your story or novel doesn’t get tossed to the bottom of the slush pile:

Background Image: Richard Lemarchand/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

  1. Make sure your submission follows the guidelines

The surest way to make sure your submission doesn’t get read is not to follow the submission guidelines. Most publications have their guidelines readily available, if not online, then in books such as the Writer’s Market. If you don’t want to buy your own copy, make a trip to the nearest bookstore or library and take notes. (Please note—guidelines on a publication’s website supercede information found in a print publication. They’re usually more up-to-date!) Submission guidelines are written for a reason; they’re not just arbitrary rules. We disqualify dozens of submissions each submission period for not adhering to our guidelines.

Read and follow guidelines carefully. And do be sure to actually read the publications to which you’re submitting. Many times, you will find stories and articles available online. If not, head back to that bookstore or library, or order sample copies of the publication.

  1. Adhere to deadlines

If you’re given a deadline, stick to it. Being late will not endear you to any editor. Here at TC, stories submitted to the e-zine after the submission period ends get bumped to the next submission period. We publish quarterly, which means you’ll be waiting a long time for a response. Know the deadlines and plan accordingly.

Other deadlines are a bigger deal. A late contest entry will be disqualified, for example. Missing deadlines for magazines or corporate jobs will likely cost you the job and damage your reputation.

If you’re working with an editor on a novel, missed deadlines will make your editor cranky. No one wants a cranky editor. If you say you’ll have a manuscript to your editor by a certain date, well, it only stands to reason that the manuscript actually reach your editor on or near that date! Quite simply, you need to maintain positive working relationships with the people who want to publish your writing.

  1. Take as much care with your cover letter/query/synopsis as you do with your story

Nothing turns an editor off more than a sloppy, poorly-written cover letter or synopsis. This is the surest way to make sure that your submission doesn’t get read.

Write carefully. Proofread. Edit. Proofread again. Have a friend/spouse/significant other proofread it for you. Don’t be careless with this step; often, it’s the first impression we’ll have of you. Make sure it’s a good one!

It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t skip this step. We want to know who you are, and we want to know why you think our publication is the very best place for your work.

  1. Keep it positive

Theryn Fleming (Beaver) says, “My #1 cover letter peeve is when people say something negative about themselves and/or the publication being submitted to.”

Most of the TC editors agree on this one. Statements such as, “If you don’t like it enough to respond, it won’t be the first time”, “I’ve never been published”, or “You probably won’t like this” tell us you don’t really have faith in your work. “If [the writer] doesn’t believe in her ability, why should I?” says Baker. “Let your story do the talking for you. Better a ho-hum cover with a great submission than a ‘losing already attitude’ and the same submission.”

In most cases, it is not at all necessary to say you haven’t been published before or that this submission is your first. If you don’t have any relevant publishing credits, simply leave this section out of your letter.

(For more, see The short, sweet guide to writing query letters by Baker)

  1. KISS your queries and cover letters

The best advice for queries and cover letters is to keep them simple, only providing the necessary information. You don’t need to tell us your age, occupation, hobbies, or shoe size. We don’t need to know where you went to college, where you grew up, or how long you’ve been writing.

And as for previous publications? We think it’s best to list a few of your most recent or relevant publications. Many editors find long lists of publications tedious and unnecessary.

  1. Write your query/cover letter naturally

I’ve seen a number of queries that follow submission guidelines point by point. I find this tedious and distracting. For example, the publisher I’m working for asks that the query letter include a “marketing hook.” I got this in one of my queries:

“Since I’ve never submitted to an e-publisher before, I’m not sure what you mean by marketing hook. I certainly understand what marketing is but would ask you to clarify that requirement.”

Statements like this will only mark you as an amateur, and a lazy one at that. If you’re not sure about something in the guidelines, do some research or ask for clarification. (P.S.—the place to ask for clarification is not in your query.)

  1. Make it personal

Generally, editors do like to be called by their names. Do a little bit of research to find out who you’re submitting to, instead of using the generic “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Editor”.

There is an exception, though. If the publication has an editorial board, like Toasted Cheese does, don’t address your cover letter to a single editor. This will just make you seem rude. “While you may have done your homework, you didn’t understand it,” adds Beaver.

And finally, please, please, please don’t send us a letter addressed to an editor at a different publication. Don’t send out letters that are obviously mass carbon-copies to dozens of editors. You will forever be branded as amateurish and unprofessional. While it’s fine to use the same basic template for your cover letter, be sure to personalize it for each publication.

  1. Show, don’t tell

I saved my own personal biggest pet peeve for last—authors who tell me in their cover letter or query how wonderful/funny/touching their story or novel is, as in this example:

“How they resolve these issues is at times funny and at others poignant.”

Also, please don’t tell us how much your mother/spouse/next-door-neighbor/dog loved your manuscript. While this may be true, it is entirely irrelevant.

Don’t tell me how good your story is. Show me. A good cover letter should give me enough information to make me want to read on and discover all the things you love about your manuscript.

Some final words of advice

We know how scary submitting your work can be. Don’t let yourself get rejected simply for making these easy-to-fix mistakes. Approach all submissions professionally, be yourself, and above all, make sure your writing sparkles!

Final Poll Results

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