I know that we've been talking writing groups for the past two weeks, and will be in the near future (probably later on this week) but I wanted to take a moment to talk about a topic I've been personally experiencing.
I'm not going to get into the topic of why submissions are rejected, because there's not much to discuss on it. But one thing you realize when putting together the second publication of a magazine that you may not have realized in the first run through, is that there's a lot of work coming your way, and it's simply not feasible to read it all.
So how do I/we as editor/s decide which works to read?
Having not realized the magnitude of the submissions we would receive, my fellow editors for Obsession read it all. We each read it all. This was a twofold painful process. First of all, it's simply inevitable that you're going to read work that you personally don't like as an editor. But even if you're receiving one hundred excellently written pieces, to read that much between the closing submission window and the deadline for publish the new issue is just mind wracking.
And that's just our editors. If you think that major publishers, whether they be small presses, large presses, online, offline, etc. are reading every submission sent their way then I'm sorry to break the illusion.
The fact is that the best piece of writing in the world won't matter if nobody sees it.
So how do you make sure that your submission is going to be read? You could really call this a listing of what I as an editor will not be reading the next time I undergo the process. But I can't imagine these suggestion will hurt your chances anywhere else either.
The Judgement Process
It's great to dream that your piece is being judged based on the quality of the writing, but that's simply not the case. Whether you're submitting online or offline, the very first thing the editor will see is how you present yourself. As a victim of horrendous handwriting, I know that I have to work doubly hard to get myself taken seriously. How?
When submitting, you are selling yourself no less than if you were attending a job interview. You should be formal. If you're talking offline submissions, you should have a typed cover letter, not just a slip of paper saying "Hey, please read my work." Online is no different. Just because it's online doesn't negate the need for a cover letter.
What goes in your Cover Letter? First and foremost, you better be humble. If you come off as arrogant, then you're piece will be quickly overlooked. But that doesn't mean don't hype yourself. It's a careful balance. Somethings that will also help include showing a knowledge of the publication that you're submitting to, explaining how you feel your style contributes to the established style of the magazine, and remember to always, always, thank the editors for taking the time to view your piece.
All of this before the editor has even viewed your piece. But that doesn't mean you're done yet.
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
In a world of automatic spell check, it is truly appalling how often we receive E-mails that are fraught with spelling and grammatical errors. I'm not saying one here or there (no one is perfect), but truly incomprehensible language. Always double check what you're sending out there for others to see.
In this way, your cover letter, and your writing especially should be free of as many errors as possible. One error an editor won't mind fixing in a final publication. But too many and you're out.
Almost as important as grammar is what the magazine itself asks you to do with your submission. Do they want your contact information on every page as a header? Then you had better include it. Page numbers? Specific font and formatting? Even something as simple as file type might matter.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is when a magazine asks you for a bio. This can easily be included in your cover letter as well, but it is important that your bio is not your life story. No magazine will publish three pages about your life, and odds are they may not even want to list every publication you've received.
I would like to comment on one more thing to watch out for as a digital publisher receiving digital submissions. Submit with a proper E-mail address! Names are fine. Occupations, ok. But if you're listing yourself (and these are made up addresses) as coorsdrinker4486, you're not going to be taken very seriously. Cutepoet27, probably not going to get the consideration you want. Even something like poet.magnificent is probably not the best choice. Just because it's online does not mean you shouldn't be professional.
A Few Other Tips
Many magazines allow you to submit multiple poems. Don't submit two great poems and one terrible poem. That terrible poem is the one that the editors will remember. Always submit what you consider your best work.
Many magazines claim they don't allow you to submit to multiple magazines, and it's generally a good idea to follow their rules. I've talked to people who ignore that rule, and they seem to do just fine, but it's a question of whether you want to inform that magazine that you have to withdraw your submission and then try to submit something again.
If you get rejected by a press, don't immediately submit to them again. Rejection may not mean that the piece is horrible, but it may not fit the theme of that issue, or it may need some more work before it makes the cut. It's often better to submit in circuits, having a few pieces that you send out, waiting for acceptances and rejections, and then trying new presses. Submitting over and over to the same press will just earn you a bad reputation and you won't be read.
Most importantly though, understand that editors are people. You may do everything right and an editor may be having a crappy day and decide to just ignore your piece. Or you may have written a truly depressing piece that gets read by someone having a fantastic day. Or vice versa.
But the thing to keep in mind is that no matter what, you need to be doing everything you can before your piece is being read to ensure that editors want to read your piece. The more they see professionalism and a friendly attitude, the more an editor is going to want to dive into your piece to see what you've submitted. The more an editor isn't excited to be going into your piece though, the less likely they are to really read it when they see it. Which may be worse than not being read at all!
David is one of the founders and editors of Obsession Literary Magazine and the maintainer of Obsession's blog.