Feedback for New Writers, Part Two
Having said all that I said in Part One, I began to notice patterns in the submissions which indicated that some more practical advice might benefit new writers in many cases. These are offered as tips to anyone interested in submitting their work to me in particular, but I daresay that other publishers would welcome such practical considerations.
i) Many, many writers sent in submissions in all kinds of different formats, having clearly not read the submission guidelines at all. Different fonts, different software, different spacings - just about everything different.
I admit that my submission guidelines were and are a little vague, as I wanted to throw the doors open as widely as I could at first - but when I later became more specific, the variations became even wilder. It’s important to pay attention to submission guidelines, not just out of politeness, but because often, as in my case, the way a submission is received technically can shorten its ‘processing time’.
In other words, when a submission comes in, an editor has to make decisions what to do with it. In my case, this usually means copying and pasting the work into a larger document, for later perusal. If the work is already formatted more or less as I wish, this is easy; if it needs to be changed in any way, this slows the process down. I haven’t yet rejected anything purely for technical reasons, but you can see how having extra work to do might subconsciously incline an editor to put aside the work.
You want to try to minimise irritating the editor.
ii) Similar to the point above, when submitting a story it really helps if the story itself, just after the title, contains the name of the author.
This again minimises the work of the editor. If he or she cuts and pastes the work into a larger document, but forgets to add in the name of the person - an extra step for him or her, in many cases- a work might get ‘lost in the machinery’ and involve minutes of boring and unnecessary work trying to track down where it came from when it comes to reading it. Blame the editor if you like, but it can easily be avoided by the writer. If a name is clearly appended, this never arises. Even better if a short one or two sentence bio accompanies the story itself (rather than is added in an email) as again, if the story is accepted, the editor is saved the trouble of having to chase one later in the sequence.
iii) Most submissions, especially the quality ones, read well technically as soon as they arrive, but some have clearly not been checked through prior to being sent. Simple errors, like missing words or obvious mis-spellings, make that initial reading harder for the editor. I know that I will have to go through each and every story with a fine tooth comb looking for everything from a missing space to a slightly inappropriate comma, including the high quality works, but when I’m confronted with a piece of work which clearly needs some basic editing to begin with, it’s a negative experience.
You want to try to minimise negative experiences for editors.
iv) Another ‘pet hate’, while I’m on a roll here, is the email that occasionally comes after the work has been submitted: ‘Sorry, I sent you the wrong draft’ or ‘Can I just make these last minute changes?’ I’m considered quite a patient fellow, and will try to comply, especially if this kind of thing happens early in the sequence - but if I have already spent time carefully formatting something, especially if I have gotten as far as numbering pages and so on, then this can be quite off-putting.
It’s the author’s responsibility to fully check and double-check anything that is about to leave their hands to progress into the world of the editor. The more thoroughly checked it is, the more likely it is to be smoothly received.
Again, try not to annoy your editor.
iv) A further practicality isn’t related much to the work at all: it’s to do with communication and response times. Sometimes, as an editor, I have to get hold of the writer in a hurry, either to question something or to check that a significant change is OK with them, or to ask for an author bio, or just to inform them about something. By far the majority of authors will respond very quickly to such communications, getting back to me usually within 24 hours. But with a few, it is as though I have written to someone who no longer exists. I wait, and wait, and wait as long as I can, but time moves on and a book needs to be published - so sometimes changes are made, or entire stories are not printed, without having had any feedback from the author.
Anyone serious about writing as a career - or even intent upon it as a major hobby - should be somewhat ‘trigger-happy’ when it comes to checking their emails. This especially applies if they have multiple submissions out at several different places: check, check, check, as a matter of routine. Not only does this make my life easier and production faster, it probably improves a writer’s chance of getting accepted.
‘How can I be checking my emails all the time when I’m supposed to be writing?’ some may ask. I know that I have a system for doing this as an editor, but you need to develop your own way of coping with that. My system is a kind of rhythm: work, work, work, check emails, interact with social media, work, work, work. This is how I manage to produce so much in such a short space of time, and yet appear to be ubiquitous as far as Facebook is concerned - I plough through tons of editing, but, when I pause for breath, I raise up my head and check and interact. Then I plunge in again.
I suspect that the main problem some might have with this is that they get distracted by the social media and emails and don’t get back to writing. This can happen - but if you treat writing as a job rather than as a ‘thing you like to do’, you can learn to overcome this in the same way that you would overcome distractions at work if they were interfering with your output.
I’ve used that rhythm system to generate about three million words of my own over the last three years or so, plus produce over thirty books in the same time period and maintain a daily blog for nearly three years, so I know that it works.
v) This last one is a bit different.
Many writers believe that their goal in life is to get published. They work and work and work, and send out submissions, and rejoice when they are accepted and perhaps buy a copy or two of the book when it is published. And that’s that.
Successful writers - the ones who go that extra mile - are the ones whose goal is to be read.
Being published is just the first part of the game. It’s a big part, a vital part; it’s the bit where the writer emerges from the lonely world of writing into the bright light of the day. But in effect, it’s the team emerging onto the pitch, ready to play.
Readers don’t owe you their time. You have to make them read your stuff.
Getting it published and in a form accessible to them is obviously part of that, but putting something out there doesn’t mean it’s going to get read.
How do you ‘make’ readers read your material?
I wrote a handbook about it. It’s still available. You might want to read it. But in a nutshell, you can control the attention of readers, just like a football team can control a ball. Play with the right ball-control skills and it will be as though you’re the only team on the pitch.