Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in
Advice For Writers.
Original article on
I'm not going to review the obvious here - reading guidelines, polishing and
proofreading your work, etc. - on the assumption that you've already got it
covered. This is about how to be someone an editor wants to work with.
Let's start by assuming that you're a good (or at least competent) writer,
able to produce work at a level suitable for the magazine or publishing house
you want to build a relationship with. No amount of schmoozing or game-playing
is going to get you there if you're not up to standard; there's no secret way
around that. And, fortunately or unfortunately, you still need to get noticed by
the editors (whether with an acceptance, a revision request, or an "encouraging"
rejection that indicates interest in seeing more of your work) on the strength
of your writing. But from there, you can become a writer editors see as a
pleasure to work with, or a kind of neutral entity who doesn't trigger any
thoughts one way or another, or a writer at whose name editors roll their eyes
It's not so much of an issue if you're a brilliant master of the craft and
rolling in awards and praise in all directions - editors will put up with a lot
(though not everything or indefinitely) for the reward of genius-level work to
publish (and hopefully profits to go with that, if we're talking actual books
for sale or paid subscriptions). It's also true that nothing will save you if
you can't write.
But when you're at a journeyman level, working your way up from
more-than-competent to potential-star-on-the-rise, you're most likely submitting
work to places that get more acceptable-quality submissions than they have
publication spots. So it stands to reason that you want to have every possible
advantage on your side. You want editors to see your name and smile, to think,
"Oh, yes, I like working with that one."
How to make editors smile
- Regular, ongoing submissions are the best way to show that you're really
interested in being part of a magazine. Don't give up after one rejection.
Learn from the feedback you get, and keep trying. I can think of many instances
where an acceptance came after four or five rejections, as the author got
closer and closer to what we look for. By the time you get there, we feel like
we know you, and we're cheering for your success.
- Have a professional-looking, genre-appropriate, up-to-date blog or website.
This really is the first place most people will check for more information
about you, and that includes editors who've noticed you and want to learn more.
A polished website (especially one with a nice list of recent publications and
updated news) goes a long way to cementing any positive first impressions you
may already have achieved.
- Our confidence in you increases when you consistently behave in a
professional manner. This isn't a one-time thing or a badge earned, it's more
of a growing assumption based on a past record -we know the plagiarism &
previous publication check will come up clean, we know you'll respond promptly
to a revision request or other correspondence, we know if/how you'll interact
with readers once your story is published, etc.
- Editors like to feel appreciated. Not in a fake formal-thank-you-note way,
and I don't think there's any specific technique or set of instructions for how
to "do it right", but genuine appreciation makes a natural impact, so don't be
shy to show it if you feel it.
- Social media groups and communities are a great way to get to know your
editors and let us get to know you beyond routine correspondence, without the
risk of imposing as you might with personal emails or friend requests that come
too soon. It's not wrong to send an editor a Facebook friend request or an
email about something that isn't strictly business, but there's a very fine
difference between slowly developing a connection and rushing forward at an
inappropriate pace. Personally, I'm always thrilled to get to know writers at
any level, but I feel better if I've had some discussion/interaction
with you before I get that friend request or your quarterly writing news email.
- Be a fan! It's tried-and-true advice to read a few issues of a magazine (or
a few books from an imprint) before you submit your work -but there's an ocean
of difference between having looked over a couple of "representative samples"
and being a follower/fan/subscriber/reader/participant. When someone wants to
be a part of our community and what we do, as opposed to just having us on a
list of a few dozen potential markets, it's only natural that we'll want to
help make that happen. It may mean extra feedback from the editorial team, or
improved likelihood of getting a revision request instead of a rejection for
something that might be close -these are the two biggest areas where
fractional impressions can influence what we do: the amount of time and care
spent on crafting editorial notes, and the moment of wavering between an
outright rejection and a chance to rewrite.
- We love our volunteers. Most magazines and smaller publishing houses depend
heavily on volunteers, and no matter where you live or what your background and
skills are, there's almost always something you can do to help. It never hurts
to offer your time and talents, and see what can grow from that.
- Be (or at least act) sane and pleasant. All else aside, if you seem like a
decent human being, we'll probably enjoy whatever contact we have with you.
Now, I'm in no way suggesting that writers need to be all sweet and agreeable
and self-effacing to be liked -"pleasant" basically means that we don't walk
away from a conversation with you thinking ugh, that was a bad scene.
Editors aren't infallible and good ones should be reasonable; if you don't want
to make changes to accommodate an editor's opinion, you can be firm (and if
publication is contingent on you making particular changes, you can always
respectfully decline and take the piece elsewhere, with no harm done). The point
is not to argue with your editor, but to explain your concerns and see if
there's a solution that will satisfy everyone.
A writing career is a long-term thing, and nothing is gained from short-term
"victories" if you're the only one feeling good about them.
How to make editors shudder
- When you receive editorial feedback on a story, whether accepted or
rejected, email us to justify your choices, explain what we should have
understood from your story, and show your disdain for any revision suggestions.
I'm not sure which version of this is less appealing: the overtly arrogant
challenge or the self-deprecating humblebrag.
- Be precious about your deathless prose and strongly object to seeing the
least punctuation mark or verb tense adjusted, even when it's grammatically
wrong. Dish out attitude to anyone who wrongfully corrects a misused semi-colon
for you. Ferociously defend every adverb.
- Submit previously published work as unpublished, especially if the original
publication isn't available online to be found by a Google search. If asked
about it, lie: why, that review must have been written by a friend who was
emailed the story, mistakenly thinking it had been published somewhere, right?
For advanced credit, submit the same story to us multiple times, on the
assumption that we won't recognize it from the time before. If you can't
deliver previously published work of your own, consider plagiarizing from
sources such as Moby Dick.
- Ignore guidelines about no simultaneous submissions, and routinely
withdraw stories because they've been accepted elsewhere, or wait until you
receive a rejection or acceptance to let us know that actually the story isn't
still available. When the no-sim-subs rule is politely mentioned, rant about
how refusing simultaneous submissions is being controlling and denying writers
the opportunity to seek the best deal for their stories.
- Send queries that completely ignore any nicety of salutation or courtesy:
"When will I get a response about my story?" Don't include any useful
information such as the title of your story or when you submitted it. Don't
check the submission guidelines or FAQ page to see if the answer is readily
- Respond to rejections with emails full of anger, swearing, denigration of
the magazine or publishing house and its editors, threats, hatred, etc. For
bonus points, make accusations of bias, prejudice, and/or cronyism. Then go
gripe about us to your online writers' forum.
- Troll the comment threads of other people's published stories, looking to
start arguments and cut down other writers. Make cutting remarks about the
editors' choices and skills. Create sock puppets to agree with you and add to
the fun. Learn the publication's commenting guidelines so you can stay just
barely on the right side of them, giving moderators no technical grounds on
which to expunge your venom.
- Be a loose cannon on your blog and social media, and don't restrict your
posts to just friends either. Make every disagreement public and unpleasant;
name names, point fingers. Get into drag-out arguments on sensitive topics.
Self-promote aggressively and offensively. Overshare personal drama and private
business. Turn your "author platform" into a polarized battleground full of
political and social minefields.
In terms of public persona, there are several successful writer-bloggers who
take strong stances about various things and aren't known for pulling their
punches, and usually editors want to work with writers who are passionate, who
are willing to stand up for issues that matter to them, who enjoy engaging with
the wider community and aren't afraid of a spicy debate. The thing is, spicy
debate is elite-level stuff - if you're still trying to work out where the line
is between wit and vitriol, if you're wondering why your public persona
shouldn't necessarily extend to your business communication, or if you're not
sure what makes a comment "inappropriate" or "offensive" instead of "daring" or
"edgy," you're not there yet.
Finally, as to being sane… I believe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said good
writers are "a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person" (in The
Love of the Last Tycoon), so I totally get that "sane" might be a negotiable
term at times. But you know, quirky is just fine. Eccentric is fine. Tortured
and melancholic are unfortunate for you but fine for us. Just... don't be a
psychopath, okay? You know what
is? Don't be that. Then we're good.
Back to Workshop resources page.