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Day 27: 7 Embarrassing Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting Your Writing

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Day 27:  7 Embarrassing Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting Your Writing


1.  Draw something every day

2.  Learn about art

3. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own

Back when my boyfriend and I were looking for an apartment in Seattle,I got an email from a man with an apartment to rent in North Greenlake. I forwarded it to Paul, typing, “Hey baby, what do you think about this place?” After I hit send, I realized that I had not, in fact, forwarded the email. I had hit reply, effectively addressing my possible future landlord as “baby.”

Gaffs like these are embarrassing enough, but they’re even worse when you’re submitting to a literary magazine, journal, or agent. The little mistakes can have big consequences, like your work not being taking seriously. Here are some mistakes I’ve made (and some I haven’t) and what you can do to avoid them.

#1 Copy-and-Paste Mistakes

I start off pretty much every cover letter the same way. The first paragraph looks like this:

Dear Fiction Editor:
Please consider my short story, “Four-Handed Dentistry” (4,887 words), for publication in The Paris Review.

I’ve definitely made the mistake where I copy-and-paste my cover letter and then forget to switch out “The Paris Review” for the new magazine to which I’m submitting. Of course magazines and agencies realize that you are probably submitting to others besides them, but they don’t like to be reminded of it. It’s sort of a double slap in their faces. It says, “you’re not the first place I submitted to,” and “I don’t care about you enough to proofread my cover letter.”

The solution? Proofread your cover letter!

#2 Sending the Same Piece Again

Here is an actual email I had to send recently:

Dear Editors,

I’m so sorry — I just realized I already sent you the piece “Drawing with Crayons” back in September, and you already rejected it!

Oh dear.  I’m terribly embarrassed.  Please withdraw my nonfiction submission.

Yeah. Embarrassing. Unless you’ve made really significant changes to a piece, you don’t want to send it somewhere that has already rejected it. Nor do you want to send a piece to a place before they have responded to your last submission.

The solution? Keep a detailed list or spreadsheet of all the magazines/agents you have submitted to, what you have submitted to them, and what the result was.

#3 Sending the Wrong Piece

I don’t just mean attaching the wrong document to a submission, although that can happen, too. I mean sending pieces that are wrong for the magazine or the agent. Recently I got an email back from FLASH Fiction Online, saying I didn’t follow their guidelines and that my piece was being rejected.  I felt stupid.

You have to be careful. Maybe the magazines only accepts stories 5000 words or less. Maybe they do not accept poems, or maybe they only accept poems about cheese. And then it gets even trickier. Maybe your piece fits within the guidelines, but it’s just not the type of stuff they publish. For years I submitted my realistic short fiction to the literary magazine, Fence. When I finally subscribed and started reading Fence, I realized why they kept rejecting me. All of their pieces are super experimental/weird poetry/prose, and not at all like the types of things I write. I’d been wasting my time and making myself look like an idiot to the editors of Fence.

The solution? Read the submission guidelines carefully. Also, if possible, read back issues of the magazine to get a sense of the style. If you are submitting to an agent, read the authors the agent represents.

Oh no!  Don't do that!

Oh no! Don’t do that!

#4 Sending Pieces in the Wrong Format

Some magazines want your name on your piece, some don’t. Some want it in pdf, or doc, or some other weird format you’ve never heard of. Some want you to paste the story in the body of the email. Some don’t want you to email them ever. Some use online submission managers. Some still make you do snail mail.

And that’s just the magazines. Agents are even more complicated. Some want only a query letter. Some want a query and the first 50 pages, or the first 3 chapters, or the whole shebang.

No matter what they’re asking for, you better send it, and you better send it in just the right format, or you may be discounted completely.

The solution? Try to find the most up-to-date guidelines.  Read and follow them very carefully.

#5 Spelling/Grammar errors
Of course you spell-check and proofread the piece you’re about to submit. (And if you don’t, then O.M.G…you’d better start.) But sometimes we forget to spell-check and proof our cover letters. I’ve made the following embarrassing mistakes in some of mine:
Eval Langston
And probably others I never noticed.

The solution? Read over your cover letter before pressing send/submit

#6 Making Your Cover Letter Too Long
From what I gather, most magazine and journal editors don’t really care about cover letters. Let me show you my standard letter for a short story submission:

Dear Fiction Editor:

Please consider my story, “Four-Handed Dentistry” (4,887 words), for publication in The Paris Review. 

My fiction has been published in The Normal School, The Sand Hill Review, and The GW Review, among others. Currently I work as a math curriculum consultant and a Skype tutor for Ukrainians.

 Thanks so much for your time. 

Most Sincerely,
Eva Langston

You can make your letter a little more in depth, but anything much longer than that, you risk being found annoying by the editors.

The solution? Let your piece speak for itself.


#7 Mistakes Involving Simultaneous Submissions

There are a few journals/magazines out there that state in their guidelines, “no simultaneous submissions.” I find this really annoying. I’m supposed to send my story to you and only you, and then wait three plus months for your response before I can send it anywhere else? Lame. But the fact of the matter is, if you choose to submit to these “no simultaneous submissions” places, you have to abide by their rules or risk being found out and being blacklisted from the literary community for the rest of your life.

Luckily, most magazines, journals, and agents allow you to submit the same piece to multiple places at the same time. Great. Now, when a piece does get accepted, you must contact the other places you submitted to and let them know that your piece is no longer available. Editors spend a long time deciding which pieces to accept. Nothing pisses them off more than when they contact you with a “Congratulations! Your piece has been accepted” and you say, “oh, well, actually, it’s already been accepted by such-and-such Review.” You do that, you’re going to make some editor enemies who will badmouth you all around town.

The solution? Again, keep a detailed list or spreadsheet of all the magazines/agents you have submitted to, what you have submitted, and what the result was. As soon as you find out a piece has been accepted, contact the other places you submitted it to and let them know (nicely) that it’s no longer available.

Good work.  You get a nice, red shiny apple.  Drawing by Eva Langston.

Good work. You get a nice, red shiny apple. Drawing by Eva Langston.

Eva Langston is an aspiring writer.  Read more about her here.  


8 Mistakes Made When Submitting Stories Online

5 Common Mistakes Writers Make


About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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