There’s good news for aspiring creative writers: publication editors automatically like you if you submit writings for consideration. Editors are happy that you are interested in their publication. When writers take an interest in publication, the editor knows that he or she is putting out a quality product. Unfortunately, there’s some bad news too: writers sometimes jeopardize their good relationship with editors. Upon closer inspection, editors may frown upon your submission if they notice it is sloppy and doesn’t really seem to respect the publication and its guidelines.
I used to co-edit a Wisconsin-based literary magazine. During this time, I connected with other editors and publishers in the region and abroad at events and conferences. It seemed that we all had the same types of daily editing frustrations. I personally tried to remain unbiased when making decisions, and I think I did a good job of not judging submissions based on a writer’s persistent annoyance. However, there is always the possibility of a writer’s lack of etiquette sneaking into the back of an editor’s mind and influencing his or her decision. Based on my personal experiences and industry contacts, I’ve compiled some tips to help aspiring poets and writers avoid editorial pet peeves. These tips won’t guarantee publication, but at the very least you’ll stay on the editor’s good side and possibly make a good contact within the literary community.
1. Read, read, read. Don’t submit blindly. Check out some back issues of the publication you’re interested in. The publication I edited specialized in ekphrastic poetry (poetry written about art), and it was apparent that some poets didn’t even know what ekphastic poetry was, yet they still submitted just because they stumbled upon one of the magazine’s publisher listings! If you read enough of the publication you’re considering, then you will start to get a feel for the editorial predispositions of the publication. Once you know what an editor is looking for, it will be easier to select pieces that he or she will like.
2. Follow the guidelines. This should be a no-brainer, but some writers still think that they will throw extra items into a submission to help cover all their bases (like maybe a bio that was not asked for or some extra pages that go beyond the publisher’s maximum requested). This actually hurts more than it helps; publishers set guidelines for a reason. Submission guidelines help streamline the submission process; when every submission is organized according to the guidelines, it makes reviewing submissions much easier for an over-worked editor. Just as dangerous as including extra materials is skimping on the materials. Do not omit items clearly requested in the guidelines; this makes the editor think you don’t care enough about the publication to put together a complete submission package.
3. Keep cover letters brief. Don’t ramble on about all your successes, your writing philosophy, or your personal life, just get to the point and tell the editor about your submission. Some self-praise is okay, but don’t overdo it. Editors have enough reading to do without lengthy cover letters bogging them down.
4. Give the editor time. For example, if the guidelines say it takes three to six months for a reply, then wait six months before querying. It is forgivable to ask for confirmation of receipt of materials, but constantly asking editors for status updates is annoying and unnecessary when submission schedules are usually posted on websites or inside of literary journals.
5. Respect the decision. It’s easy to respect the editor’s decision when you get accepted, but it’s a bit harder when you get rejected. I’d occasionally have poets reply to rejections saying that I’d regret the decision or that the poet really didn’t care for my crummy magazine anyway. Such hostility is really uncalled for. Don’t take a rejection personally; it is not an insult to your work. A rejection may simply mean that the writing you submitted did not fit what the editor was looking for. Also remember that editors are limited by the publication’s space; I’d sometimes reject material that I absolutely loved simply because the magazine was already full of other pieces that I loved just a little bit more. Final decisions are tough, and badgering an editor will never change the final outcome.