While rejection is not a great experience, it can be used as a tool to strengthen your writing. In last month’s column, we discussed reasons beyond your control as to why your manuscript hasn’t been accepted. In this second part, we are going to examine some specific pitfalls you can and must tackle. You must remove all these “offenses” from your submissions if you want to see your work published. The two main reasons for turndowns are not following a publication’s guidelines (Is this author lazy? arrogant?) and sending in work with grammatical mistakes (Is this author sloppy? careless? uneducated?) If you’d rather not have an editor/agent associate the adjectives in parentheses with your name, then read on.
First and foremost, it is mandatory that a writer visit a potential publication’s website and read the guidelines for submissions. Publishers lay out exactly what they do and do not accept. There you will find listed:
• a word length – send a flash fiction to a magazine that states clearly its word-length is 3,000 – 5,000, and you can bet that story will come back unread
• a format for the manuscript – want to dress up your piece in cutesy fonts and multicolor print – best to check their formatting requirements beforehand
• target audience – send an erotica story to the family-friendly readers of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books – uh-uh, not “gonna” make it
• genre – do not submit a dynamite western to a sci-fi anthology unless your tale is a sci-fi western
• theme – if a romance magazine has listed themes, your love triangle story about revenge isn’t appropriate for the issue focusing on forgiveness
• the time its submission “season” is open – many small press and literary anthologies are published by colleges and universities, and many do not accept submissions June 1 – August 31. Send in your Pulitzer prize-winning short story during this time period, and there’s a good chance your piece will not even be opened.
In the “old” days, a writer had to submit a story via traditional mail. It was an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. While there are those markets that still accept hard copy submissions, most prefer to receive them electronically. But here again, check the website, and check it often, and adhere precisely to the guidelines as to how they wish to receive your story.
There is a second big reason authors’ works are returned: the manuscript is riddled with terrible grammar. Misspelled words, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and punctuation errors (especially the use of the comma) not only bog down your story, they make it impossible to read. Grammatical errors are disruptive and take the reader’s attention away from your story. These mistakes are correctable. I’ve stated it before: all writers need to know the basic rules of grammar and syntax.
My nine-year-old niece told me she’d read lots of books with incorrect grammar. Yes, that is true I told her, but the writer probably made those mistakes for a reason. And, as a writer you must learn to write correctly before you understand how to effectively break the rules to make your point. If your story is poorly written, editors will not waste their time with you. Why should they? You weren’t considerate of their time.
But take heart, the above reasons for rejection can be eliminated. It is in your hands to assure that your submission follows the stated requirements, requirements, not suggestions. Read and follow these guidelines, and correct all grammar and syntax.
So now what? You’ve written your story. Every word is correct, and each sentence is perfect. You consulted the guidelines and followed them to the letter. You’ve even read a few of my columns and included strong verbs, mirror plots, and a confidant and a foil for your main character.
Congratulations, you’ve made it past the first hurdles! The acquisitions editor(s) is now looking at piles of submissions to read. All the stories have made it this far: including yours. Everyone has done everything right. You’re at the starting gate, evenly aligned with all your competitors. How do you break into the lead and remain there until the finish line? In the next series, we are going to explore deeper how to make your story shine.