|The Writer by Michel Omar|
In preparation for making my first submission to a publisher, I did some research on the topic. I wanted to make sure I understood exactly what was required, but mostly I wanted to make sure I didn't make any serious blunders that would rocket my manuscript straight to the trash in a blaze of obscurity. As it turns out, there are quite a few pitfalls ambitious writers commonly fall into that will get your submission or query letter rejected faster than an Obama impersonator at a GOP convention.
So to help out my fellow aspiring writers, I thought I’d compile a list of hazards to avoid at all cost:
Avoid any bad or off-color humor in your query letter. This seems obvious, but I’ve come across this advice a few times in my research. Depending on the topic of the submission and publication, some humor might be okay, but don’t overdo it.
Don’t be too wordy. Be concise and to the point. Avoid trying to impress the editors with flashy words and unrelated anecdotes. You have to remember that editors are usually short on time, and have even less patience when you waste it.
Whatever you do, do not call or e-mail the editor asking if they liked your material. Do not fret. If an editor likes what they read, they will contact you. Depending on the publication, it may take several months to get a response.
Avoid negativity about yourself. Let’s face it, a query letter is essentially a sales pitch. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, why should the editor? But don’t overdo it with fluff. A good editor will see right through it.
If making a physical submission vs. an email submission, don’t staple or bind the pages. It seems like a minor thing but think about it. If an editor likes your work, they will likely want to make photocopies to spread around the office. If your work is bound it just creates more hassle for them.
Never, and I mean never, print your submission on colorful paper or with colored text. Black text on quality white paper is all that will do. High quality watermarked paper is always a plus. Just make sure it is white.
Don’t use fancy fonts. Usually 12 point Times New Roman is the accepted standard, but make sure you check the requirements of the specific publisher you are sending your query to.
Don’t forget to include your contact information. This is especially important for email queries where it’s very easy to hit the [SEND] button a little early. Include your name, pen name (if applicable), address, and e-mail address.
Avoid the urge to douse your query letter in perfume, glitter, or potpourri. Yeah, I know. This one should also seem obvious, but I’ve seen it mentioned a few times so it must be a common mistake.
Don’t send gifts. Bribery will not work. It will only spark suspicion and likely insult the editor. If an editor doesn’t like your work, not even a year subscription to the “Jelly of the Month” club will persuade them. Let your work speak for itself.
You should avoid plastering the © symbol on your work. This is advice I should have taken myself. I had forgotten about this little tidbit of information when I made my submission until I was compiling this list. Of all the sins of submissions, I don’t think this one is particularly devastating. However, it can be a beacon to the editor that you are an amateur, since everyone in the biz knows that your work is automatically protected by copy write laws in the US. It can be seen as an insult to the editor that you don’t trust them, even though that wasn’t your intention.
Don’t start your submission with, “It has always been my dream…” Apparently this is the most overused phase in query letters for publications. It reeks of amateurism and unoriginality. I almost made this mistake too. Thanks, Alisha, for catching that.
Don’t forget to proof read, and then proof read some more. Nothing will hurt your chances more than a poorly written query letter or submission. It’s always a good idea to have others proof read your work too. A fresh pair of eyes will often catch errors that you overlooked. Thank you Alisha, Wes, Keith and Alex.
Don’t forget to include a SASE. Publishers appreciate, and most expect, you to include a SASE if you want your material returned to you after review. Obviously this is unnecessary if you are sending your query through email.
And finally, the most important DON’T is… don’t forget to read the submission guidelines for the publisher you’re making your query/submission to before you do anything else. This is an immediate deal breaker. If you do not follow the publishers guidelines to the letter, your material will not be read, least of all considered for publication.
I hope this helps anyone who is considering, or in the process of, submitting their work for publication. Sometimes it can be more helpful to know what not to do.
Michael A. Walker
Do you have any other advice for query and submission letters? Have any war stories or words of wisdom to share? I want to hear them.
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