Happy New Year, word nerds!
I thought we’d start 2017 off with an etiquette lesson. After all, you want to make the best possible impression this year, don’t you?
Unfortunately, my knowledge of manners is rather specialized, so I don’t know what good it will do those of you who aren’t sending in articles to magazines. That being said, if you are planning to send articles to magazines (or even book proposals to publishers) this is the list for you!
1. Read and respect all guidelines.
I know I’ve said this before, but it is imperative that you read all of the guidelines for the publication you’re submitting to and abide by them. Each publisher requires different information and it’s your responsibility as a writer to make sure you include everything they ask for. It makes the editors’ lives easier.
2. Don’t pester after submitting.
I know it’s hard to let a manuscript go. You want to make sure the publisher got it. You want to make sure the publisher read it. Believe me, I’ve been there. But I’ve also been on the other side of things, trying to track down a single manuscript among the forty or fifty sitting on my desk (or even worse, sifting through records if I’ve already sent out a reply).
Each publication handles what editors call the slush pile (unsolicited manuscripts that have been sent in) in a slightly different way. Some, generally the smaller publications or magazines, send a response to every submission, whether accepted or rejected. Others, those that get a greater number of submissions or don’t have the time or resources to respond to each, only reply if they wish to accept the piece. Most websites will specify which the publisher does in regards to submissions.
So if you’ve studied the guidelines (which you should!), you’ll know whether to expect a reply no matter what. Many publishers will also give a time frame, an “if you don’t hear from us in X weeks/months, assume it’s a no” kind of thing.
Please, please, please don’t call or email editors repeatedly, asking if they’ve received, read, or replied to your submission. The only reason you should get in touch is if the publisher claims to respond to every submission and the allotted time has passed or if you have reason to believe that your piece did not arrive. Otherwise it’s safe to assume the editor has your piece and will get to it when possible.
3. Short is sweet.
There are a few things that aren’t necessary in a submission, but if I (and I assume other editors as well) see them, it gives the writer extra points with me. These things don’t take up much space (in fact, if done well, they can save space) and will definitely catch my attention.
What are those things?
- Be polite. Thank the editor for their time and consideration. I’m an editorial assistant for two magazines and reading submissions is one of many responsibilities I have. I set aside roughly one day a month to read, review, and respond to submissions. Sometimes I have to put it off in favor of deadlines or pressing projects. So when someone takes the time in a cover letter to thank me, it means a lot.
- Don’t offer justification. I read a submission recently where a writer explained that she knew she was over the word count specified in our guidelines, but it was only by 13 words and considering that she had already edited out about 80 words, it shouldn’t be a problem. I then challenged myself to find 15 words that could be cut on the first page alone (and I did). It wasn’t the fact that the story was over the word count that bothered me. It was the fact that the author tried to excuse herself, as if the effort she made at editing meant the rules didn’t need to apply to her. It just rubbed me the wrong way. Let your work speak for itself.
- Be concise. I’ve read multiple submissions that had more pages of information about the author than pages of the manuscript. All I really need is a paragraph or two about your writing experience, and, for my magazines, any experience or expertise on children or children’s literature. As interesting as the rest may be, I don’t have time to read everyone’s resume or life story.
- Include relevant information. I love it when an author has a little information section. It can be at the top of the page on the manuscript, under the title and author, or weaved into the summary of the story. What information am I referring to? Word count, genre, and contact information. Those are very important to me, even before I read the manuscript, as a way to sort out what stories we have greater need of.
4. Be considerate.
I personally have never minded if an author submits more than one story at once. However, I have gotten the same story from an author before. I also have dealt with authors who send in a new story immediately after hearing about the last one, which is more tiring than inconvenient. I’ve also gotten multiple stories in a series, sometimes after I’ve let the author know we aren’t looking for columns or serialized fiction.
So keep track of what you send, try not to send the same story twice, and be considerate with how often you submit.
Let me know if you have any other questions about submission etiquette or questions about submitting stories in general. Next time, I’ll talk about what happens once you get a response.