On Wednesday, we talked about things editors can do to sustain their publications. Today, let’s have a chat about the ways in which writers can do their part to keep the world a happy writing place.* Again, this is not rocket science but sometimes, important things bear repeating.
1. There are all kinds of writer’s guidelines out there. Some are long, some are short. Some are complicated and specific, while others are more ambiguous. However you may feel about a publication’s guidelines, follow them. Guidelines are not written just to blather on about administrative details. Guidelines are a set of rules that ultimately make Â editors’ lives easier. You want to make lives easier. A properly submitted manuscript makes for a happy editor. A happy editor is more inclined to enjoy your work. That’s what we call math.
- Word Counts: You are not the exception to the rule. If a guideline states that a magazine doesn’t accept work longer than 5,000 words, you cannot submit a story with 5,001 words. You really really can’t. I will personally reject that sort of thing unread, not because I’m evil but because it is a slippery slope and soon you’re reading 8,000 word stories that might be brilliant but are largely unusable for your purposes.
- File formats. If an editor asks for a PDF, do not send a Word document and assume that it is okay. It isn’t. If a magazine has specified a preferred file format, they have a good reason for doing so. If you can’t, for whatever reason, accommodate their request, query first. They may be open to working with you. Having said that, it is 2009. If you are a writer, you can use Word or Open Office and save your work in any file format an editor could possible want. If you are using Word Perfect, stop. Once in a while, we get .wps files. We can’t open them. I repeat. It is 2009. The Word Perfect train has left the building. Take some time to mourn, then move forward.
- Fonts. It is indeed very exciting to have so many fonts at your disposal, but true power is knowing when to use it. Stick to a common serif font (Times New Roman, Georgia, etc), and for the love of all that is holy, please do not use Courier New. While it does give you the nostalgic simulation of writing with a typewriter, it is so very hard to read on a computer screen. Sometimes, I don’t even want to read a submission if I see it in Courier New. Yes, I could just change the font, but why make editors work that hard?
- Type size. 12 point. Not bigger, nor smaller. Make it just right, for the Goldilocks in us all.
2. If you are submitting to a print magazine and your work includes images, make sure that they are available or that you can make them available at 300 dpi or higher, or they will look like crap and that’s not good.
3. Cover letters are nice. We’ve already discussed how much we love them, but it bears repeating. Even if you just send a handy list of previous publications, at least acknowledge that you are interacting with other human beings. If you’ve been asked to submit, say by an editor at AWP, provide a little context like, “hey, we had a great time chatting at the AWP bookfair. I was the one who told you about my pet tiger.” When an editor sees that, they’ll remember you. If you’re vague, you may well be out of luck.
4. Unless you have been explicitly asked to do so, don’t submit to an editor personally. Use the e-mail address or submission manager as indicated in the guidelines. When you circumvent the chain of command, you may be wreaking havoc with tracking systems and reading procedures.
5. Patience is a virtue. Most editors are writers too. We understand the frustration of waiting to hear back from a magazine. There are any number of reasons why some magazines have long response times–small staffs, tenuous funding, a high volume of submissions, personal issues, etc etc etc. If you are going to query about a submission wait until the guidelines indicate that you should query. If you’re querying too early or too often, you’re simply adding to the length of time it is going to take for an editor to respond to your submission.
6. If your work is rejected, and your ego is bruised, it is not nice to say unkind things about that publication. They may well have overlooked your genius, but there are literally thousands of magazines out there. Unless you’ve been submitting photocopies of your diary (true story!), your work will be accepted somewhere and then you can think, “Take that, mean editor!” Win/win.
7. If you have been published by a magazine, stay in touch. You don’t necessarily need to update editors on every Â shift and turn in your writing career, but when something you deem important happens, drop your friendly editors an e-mail. Help them promote you. Or just say hi. It is nice to get e-mails from past contributors. They always always make my day.
8. If a magazine has print and online imprints, don’t submit unless you are comfortable with your work appearing in either medium. Sometimes, we get cover letters stating that the writer is fine with online publication so long as we include their work in the print edition. That sort of preference is fine but that sort of statement is also called blackmail and blackmail is against the law. It is also not very nice. Print publication is expensive, and 1/100 of the writers who submit to a given magazine subscribe. You can’t have it both ways. Which brings me to…
9. Subscribe to a couple magazines. You can’t subscribe to every publication to which you submit. That is simply unrealistic. And expensive. But you can throw your support to a select few that catch your eye. Every subscription helps.
10. If your work has been rejected, take a breath. If you’ve been given feedback, think about it, let it simmer a bit. Â Submitting a new manuscript the very same day you’ve receive a rejection isn’t necessarily wise. We can remember what you just wrote and that may or may not be a good thing.
11. Read. Please. Read.
12. If your work has been accepted and you receive editorial correspondence, respond within a reasonable time frame, particularly if galleys are involved. For example, we give authors 72 hours to review their galleys before we go to print. If you don’t get back to us within that time, there’s not much we can do if you find a mistake a couple weeks later.
13. Don’t submit something fifteen seconds after you have finished writing it. Again, let it simmer. Sleep on it. Take another look in the morning. If it is still as good as you thought, then proceed with sending it into the world.
14. Recommend magazines you like or who like you to writers you may know and respect. In the past several months, we’ve gotten some awesome work from writers who have been sent our way by writers we’ve published without even knowing that this networking was going on. In corporate America, I believe they would call this synergy.
15. Edginess. There is edgy and there is absurd and betwixt them there is a line. Find the line. Avoid crossing it, because sometimes, there are submissions and we start to think they were written by serial killers and then we get scared.
Feel free to add your editorial advice to writers in the comments.
*I have broken all of these rules. I am a bad writer.