Last time on Real World: Editors, Split Lip editors answered questions about the submission process for their particular genres. This week, editors from a few other journals weigh in on the following question:
Episode 3: Submission Pet Peeves
What are things you'd advise submitters not to do? What might a really well-intentioned submitter (ie, not someone who sends a diatribe in response to a rejection) might be doing that comes off badly?
For interacting with anyone in the literary community, I really do value kindness and earnestness over anything else. Much has been said about how not to be a trash person in cover letters or when responding to rejection (note: never respond to form rejections), and I think both make up a large enough part of social interaction between writers and editors that there's a reason we have those conversations. But so many interactions also take place over social media; it's too easy to assume an unearned level of familiarity with a person on Twitter, say, due to how accessible everyone seems. If you @ them they will, well, if not reply, at least see it. And I think it's important to remember that no one person owes you their time, their words, their advice, their opinions. So don't slide into an editor's DMs or @ them multiple times a day to get a response about a submission. If you genuinely want to reach out about a submission, look to the guidelines on the publication's website. And if you want to reach out to an editor who is on twitter, maybe about pitching them or wanting to collaborate on something, see if they have a more formal method of contact (website, email, etc.)—if not, feel free to @ them asking how you can further get in touch. It's just common decency. They'll appreciate it and you'll avoid coming off as entitled.
I think in general, professionalism goes a long way. This isn't exactly pet peeve, but I'd be sure to take the time to craft a succinct and professional cover letter and bio. I'm going to be honest: I don't like "funny" bio statements. Don't worry. I do have a sense of humor haha, but I just think it's much better to get to the point and be professional. And I'm totally understanding that a lot of writers are just starting out and might be know what to put in a bio. It's really okay to just state that you're a writer and you live [insert city and/or state here]. I mean, in the end, the writing itself is what matters. And it's great to discover fresh, new talent.
It’s the little things. We’re fortunate enough to get a lot of submissions, so we start to notice when people don’t send us something we ask for, or if we have to track down pieces of information that should’ve been included in the first place. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it a pet peeve, but it’s a very real (and recurring) issue: If 99 people out of 100 follow directions, the one that doesn’t is going to stick out. I think writers should be more aware of this. We (all editors/publishers/journals) spend a lot of time creating our websites, writing up the words that fill the pages. Take time to read every word. Write down on a piece of paper or a spreadsheet or something what each journal needs/wants, and make sure you send exactly that. Don’t guess—if something isn’t clear, send the editors a note. I understand, absolutely, that accidents happen, but if we ask for no more than 8K and a bio and X, Y, and Z, and you send us a 12K piece and no bio and A, B, and C…we’re going to assume you didn’t read our website at all.
Beyond that, and something I think all journals deal with to some degree, is making sure you’re actual familiar with what it is we’re looking for before you submit. Midwestern Gothic doesn’t publish pieces online, but we have a clear creed on our website about what we’re looking for, and yet…we still get incorrect interpretations of the word Gothic—meaning, again, that the submitter didn’t take the time to read our website, to get to know who we are.
Last, submitting when submissions aren’t open. Again, we’re pretty gracious, we understand accidents happen, so I don’t know if I’d call it a pet peeve, but we do have very clear guidelines on our site on how to submit (read: Submittable), so when someone emails us a submission when submissions aren’t open, it’s something we take notice of. I’d never put anyone on a list for this, and always genuinely tell folks to resubmit when we open back up, that we’ll be happy to read their work then, but since journals get so many submissions, following the rules is…important (goodness, I sound like such a fuddy duddy). It shows how seriously you take the work, how seriously you take what it is we’re doing.
L: I just went OFF the other day on Twitter about this. I had a whole bunch of tweets that said things like "Dear submitters, please don't address subs 'Dear sir.' It's not hard to find out that both our editors who read subs are women." What gets me the most are submissions that make it VERY clear that the writer has no idea what our magazine is and is just blind submitting. Things like "Dear sir" and submitting genres we don't accept and submitting 4 times in a row without waiting to hear back about the first sub are all things that give that away.
M: OH gosh. For me, it's spelling my last name wrong. Specifically, I hate when I get Maddie Athens. I get it that it's really close to my name, but it's not my name and it makes me question how much time you spent proofing your own work if you didn't double check the spelling of my name. A few more: listing every publication you've ever had, trying too hard to be clever in your bio, a long synopsis of the story you're submitting, outlining the themes and main lessons in your story (lessons are a red flag anyways), and general rudeness. But because I'm a positive person, here are things I like: showing that you've read the guidelines, referring to my dogs, and general patience and kindness.
L: I love a really weird bio in a submission and when people mention a piece we've published that really stuck with them. I don't like when submitters reference a writer we've published who they love, but it turns out we actually haven't published that writer and have no idea who that is (Yes, this did happen).
We have a zero tolerance for stories abusing or harassing women or any minority (or anyone, for that matter), explicit rape scenes or violence-just-because. We have very little patience for reading anything derogatory, with women used as plot devices, with men admiring women from afar. We've read it all before. We want rounded characters with wild hearts.
I really think it comes down to following the submission guidelines – it’s the best way to make sure you’re getting it right. Follow basic human decorum. Be a good literary citizen. Above all, be considerate to editors and readers, and we'll be considerate right back.
Stay tuned for Episode 4 of Real World: Editors, where we'll be tackling rejections.