The spring 2013 issue of my online literary journal, The Whirlwind Review, went up this week. As I’ve written before on this blog, editing it over the past couple years has been an enormously satisfying and educational experience for me, and I am humbled by the talent of the writers who submit their work.
From time to time, however, I am also a bit frustrated by a number of fumbles writers make when they submit. It surprises me because I can’t help thinking that if they’re making these errors when they submit to The Whirlwind Review, they must be making them when they submit to other journals, and that could be having a real impact on their writing careers.
So, on this Tips for Writers Thursday, here are five dos and don’ts to keep in mind whenever you are submitting your work.
1. Read the Submission Guidelines. Let me put this another way: READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. All journals have guidelines clearly stating what they do and do not accept. Pay attention to them. If you send a sweet little essay about your cat to a journal specializing in cutting-edge vampire fiction or a poem about your relationship to your mother to a journal about the arts in Romania, you’re wasting your editor’s time and your own.
The Whirlwind Review, for example, has a clearly labeled page describing what we’re looking for. Among other things, it says: All work should focus on writing and spirituality, broadly defined. In the past four issues, I’ve published work about poems as gifts from God, the spiritual power of storytelling, prayer, silence, writing and healing, writing and meaning, writing and mysticism, writing and love, and many, many works about the experience and process of writing. Yes, once in awhile, I just like something so much I include it regardless of topic, but basically, those are my criteria: writing and spirituality.
Yet, every month I receive submissions from authors who have apparently not checked my guidelines or who did check them but decided they didn’t matter. I get romance fiction and essays about family relationships and tons of tons of nature poetry. Some of this work is truly excellent—but if it doesn’t touch on spirituality, religion, writing, storytelling, spoken word, the writing life or something related, the likelihood that it’s going to end up in The Whirlwind Review is very small.
2. Follow directions. I’m not a stickler about format and such, but I do have one request I make of authors: My guidelines ask that works be submitted as attachments, rather than in the body of an email.
Perhaps because they don’t read the editorial guidelines of the journals they submit to, a rather large number of writers ignore that request. What I usually do then is ask that they resubmit, which means that I’ve got to take time out of my already overloaded schedule to send them an email. But a lot of editors aren’t going to contact you and remind you to follow their instructions. They’re simply going to delete, toss out, return, or ignore your beautifully crafted work. Please don’t do that to yourself.
3. Put your name on your paper. Yeah, I sound like a teacher here, but it shocks me that so many people send me their work without a name on the attachment. Sure, their name is on the email to which the document is attached, but documents get separated from emails and saved on hard drives and, if I want to make sure I know who wrote what, I have to add the name to the document. In other words, I have to do the author’s work for her.
4. Make sure your editor knows what name you publish under. Let’s say I get an email from firstname.lastname@example.org, who introduces herself as Jane G. Jones, signs her email Janey Jones, and calls herself J. G. Jones in her bio. If I publish her work, I have to somehow figure out what she wants to be called. This comes up at least two or three times for every issue I edit: It’s another reason to put your name on your work. Let your editor know up front whether you want to be published as Jane Jones, Jane G. Jones, J. G. Jones. JG Jones, j.g. jones, janey “the pomegranate” jones, or what.
5. Please don’t tell your editor that your work is entitled such-and-such. This isn’t a serious problem perhaps, but it always gives me a rash when otherwise skillful writers tell what their work is entitled, and, editors being who they are, I’m positive it makes a few brains explode. Your work is not entitled. It is titled. Yes, you can find some dictionaries out there that state otherwise, but I don't know of any publishers who believe it. To read more about this distinction check out this informative post by Daniel Scocco.
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