Writing a book is hard. Getting it published is even harder. Nine times out of ten, your poem, short story, or manuscript will end up in the slush pile, the literary purgatory where most submissions go to die. When publishers (specifically the unfortunate assistants) go through these piles, they’re not looking for reasons why your piece is the greatest thing under the sun, or the new obsession for the reading American public like “Twilight” or “Fifty Shades of Grey.” That would take them years, and let’s be honest, some writers, myself included, get impatient waiting three months to hear back from a publisher, let alone three years. Instead, these editors are looking for reasons to stop reading. Unfortunately in this world, one strike, no matter how minuscule it may be to you, means you’re out. These people have lives too, and they are not going to waste their lives away reading a manuscript for a book they know will never sell, especially when the cover letter accompanying the manuscript is riddled with grammatical errors!
So what can you do to get out of the slush pile, move on to the second round, and avoid immediate rejection? Well I can’t teach you how to be a good writer. Some people just have the innate ability, and others can’t even produce the mental capacity to learn basic English grammar. However, I do have one piece of advice that could make a world of difference in the number of rejection letters you receive in the mail.
READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES!
This is the easiest thing you could do, so why do writers make it look so hard? Are they so confident that the content of their submission will overshadow the fact that they completely disregarded the submission guidelines? I hate to be blunt (and overuse some adverbs), but it most certainly will not. If you want agents, publishers, editors, etc. to take the time to read your work, the least you could do is take the time to read their submission guidelines, and not only read them, but follow them as well. I don’t care if the guidelines are two pages long or twenty (though if it’s twenty pages long, don’t even bother submitting because it’s clear those guys are extremely picky and will probably only publish work submitted from someone like Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory”). We are writers, which means we are also readers, which ultimately means it won’t hurt to read the damn guidelines first!
So, without further ado, for those writers who are guilty of skimming through and missing some important reminders, I have compiled a list of extra guidelines that you may not see in the submission guidelines for a literary magazine, but I assure you, they’re there . . . in between the lines:
- If they prefer blind readings of submissions, don’t send them something that has your name, contact information, personal bio, and head shot on every page.
- Electronic submission does not mean post your 5,000-word personal essay in the comments section of the submission guidelines.
- A brief third person bio is simply that—BRIEF!
- A resume and a third person bio are not the same thing.
- If they want your name and the category of your piece (fiction, poetry, nonfiction, etc.) in the subject line of your email submission, ONLY put your name and category of your piece in the subject line of your email submission.
- If they are asking for adult literary fiction, don’t send them a mix of science fiction and fantasy. I don’t care if it’s going to give “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” a run for their money, the editors won’t read it!
- If they’re asking for 3-5 poems, don’t sent them a full manuscript.
- Previously unpublished does not mean previously self-published, or forthcoming. It means previously unpublished, or better yet, NEW!
- Unless they’re asking for experimental, don’t send experimental.
- “Read our previous issues to see what we like,” is NOT a suggestion.
- Always proofread before you submit. Go as far as to read it out loud.
- If you are sending five poems on five pages, make sure that it is five poems on five pages and not five poems on five pages plus fifty subsequent blank pages.
- Fifteen words over the word limit is OK. 1500 words over is not.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. The above rules are frequently broken, but I’m sure there are more. Are you an agent or an editor of a literary magazine? What submissions have you seen come to your desk that drove you insane? Leave it in the comments.
Oh, and writers, I cannot stress this enough; READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES OR DON’T SUBMIT AT ALL!