26 May 2014

5 easy steps to get your work rejected today!

May Submit-O-Rama: Five Easy Steps ...
In case you haven’t noticed, editors can be kind of picky. Some journals will outline everything from where on the page your contact information should appear to what font (and size of font) and spacing your writing should be submitted in. And you know what? It’s their right to be picky. You know what else? It’s your right to ignore them. You can totally do it. Feel free! Seriously! … Just know that it then becomes their right to ignore you.

Over the past month, I’ve been slowly putting together a few submission packets I’ll be sending out to fulfill my SOR mission in the next few days. (I used to, like many of you, submit work week by week … but since hosting this challenge, on top of all the other fun thingies I do, kamikaze submission warfare has become my modus operandi.) In the midst of prepping my packets, I’ve also been reading submissions to both Bloodstone Review, as an editor, and a few other journals as a reader. I’ve come across some things, and I hope you’ll take them to heart. They’re the things that writers do when submitting their work that leads to an almost instant “thanks but no thanks.” Sometimes it has nothing to do with your work. And as a writer, you need to know that this happens, and understand: While most of publishing is business, not personal … sometimes it’s a little bit of both.

1. dear who?

Recently while reading for a friend’s journal, I came across a piece that he’d marked “DNR” before it appeared in my reading queue. When I asked him about it, he at first only replied, “Oh, sorry, you weren’t supposed to get that one. Ignore it.” I pressed further, and found out that DNR stood for “Do Not Read,” a tag he used for pieces he wasn’t going to bother with. Tantalized, I opened the piece anyway. It was a rather nice, though not-quite-ready-for-publication, story. It’s my tendency to read the work first, then the cover letter, so as not to taint my opinion of the work based on my opinion of the writer (more on that later). When I got to the cover letter, I saw immediately that it was addressed to … well, not the editor of this journal. I asked my friend about it, and he confirmed, “Yeah, if this guy can’t even bother to get my name right, I’m not going to read it. I’m the only editor. Getting that wrong tells me you don’t [care at all about my journal]” (language changed for your innocent eyes). Get your editors’ names right. And for heaven’s sake, update the name of the journal you’re submitting to in your cover letters! As honored as I am that you think I’m the editor of The Greensboro Review … I’m not.

2. here’s one piece … here’s another … and another …

Do your editors a favor: If the submission guidelines say to only submit one submission per reading period, only submit one submission per reading period. Don’t try to sneak your work in under a different category. And please, please, please format your submission as a single document. If the guidelines say “submit 3-5 poems per submission,” that usually means 3-5 poems in a single document. Submitting one piece as one document and another piece as a separate document … is making multiple submissions. And chances are, unless you get an editor who understands what you’re doing, they’re going to look at each of those separate documents as a separate submission; they may read one (to be kind), but they may also unceremoniously reject everything else … without reading it.

3. “you’re” work is over “their” in the rejection pile

Edit. Edit your work. A typo is one thing. I make them all the time. (Including here. Go ahead. Find them!) But a failure to edit is pretty obvious, and VERY frustrating to an editor. It’s not the editor’s job to red pen your work before publishing it … it’s your job to fine tooth comb your work before submitting it! When I’m reading a piece, if I struggle over more than two sentences in a paragraph, or more than five on a single page, I’m probably not reading much further. Your work may be great, but getting the sense that I’m about to slip into teacher mode and break out the “Track Changes” tool on my computer is a bad sign for your writing.

4. “i've been published in over 30 publications …”

Good for you. But bragging doesn’t help your odds of publication. In speaking with some current and former journal editors, I’ve found that listing 3-5 previous publications is considered a good show of your writing clout. Listing 6-10 is pushing it. Beyond that, you’re just bragging … and editors aren’t interested in bragging. I mentioned earlier reading the cover letter last to avoid tainting my opinion of your work. In part, it’s because so many writers write “uppity” cover letters. If your cover letter comes off as “I’m so great,” it may also come off as “I’m condescending to submit my fantastic work to your crummy journal.” I once had a cover letter that indicated the writer may withdraw his work if it was accepted by a “higher caliber publication” … but he meant “no offense.” Well, it was taken. And it wasn’t even my journal. I’ll tell you the rest of the story of that submission in a bit.* But suffice it to say, your cover letter should not make you come off as a jerk. Because it may mean your work never gets read.

5. the wE!rd|Y m       isfo             rm@++3d

Oh my goodness … Please learn to format your submissions. Seriously. If I can’t open your submission, then I’m not going to spend twenty minutes (or more) figuring out how to get to it (anymore … it used to be I tried, but now, uh-uh, not happenin’). I’m rejecting it. If the editor says format your submission as a Word document or PDF, SAVE IT AS A WORD DOCUMENT OR PDF!!! I don’t mean to shout (actually, I do) … but there’s nothing more frustrating than getting some weirdly formatted file that can’t be opened. I used to tell my students, “I accept .doc or .pdf files. I will not accept .docx or .pages files. If you can’t figure out how to save a Word document, or don’t have Word on your computer, note that in your paper submission, and save it as an .rtf. If you don’t know what an .rtf file is, Google it. If you can’t follow those instructions, I’m taking five points off your paper, immediately.” It sounds harsh, but it’s what they needed to hear in order to learn to take me seriously. I once wrote to a writer who consistently sent inaccessible documents into a journal I read for at the time, and sent her a tutorial on how to save her documents. She wrote back, “I can’t figure that out. But you seem to know how to do this, so why not just open it?” After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I rejected her work. If you don’t know how to format a document, don’t submit your work until you figure it out. And don’t try to fake it. Test it out first. Because when you fake it, I wind up with a document that reads as a ton of numbers and weird symbols that I don’t think even exist in this universe … and I’m not trying to figure out what went wrong for you. I’m rejecting it.

* Bonus Story: When I read the submission suggesting that the work may be accepted by a higher caliber journal, I actually laughed and shared it with the editor. The journal editor, however, did not laugh. Without stating her intentions for gathering this information, she wrote to the writer and asked innocently where else he was sending his work. Mr. Arrogant Author actually wrote back telling her all the great journals he was submitting to. The editor took his cover letter and forwarded it to the editors of those journals. She later showed me several responses she received, all stating that they would likely reject the work once they got to it (unless it was actually too good to pass up). In case you didn’t know it, sometimes editors talk to each other. You mess with one of them, you may be messing with ten of them. Mind your Ps and Qs.


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1 comment:

  1. Three cheers for an excellent article - valuable reminders for us all. Thank you.


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