I can’t believe I’m writing this article.  I’m anything but naive, but I want to believe that all submitting writers know better than to commit the career-killing errors I’m about to address.

And yet, here I am having to point out the patently obvious, because there are writers out there putting editors and slush readers through some truly crazy crap.

So here are a few hard-and-fast rules that really are not optional for the professional writer.  It’s mainly targeted toward Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writers, but most of these points are general.

Be Kind To Slush Readers

The hard-working Charlie Finlay of the esteemed Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine vented on Twitter one day (at least) about crap submissions.  When I asked for details, Charlie told me about handwritten stories on note paper, to name one mind-boggling mode of failure.

I can’t even.  Hey, my worst offense was submitting short stories to OMNI Magazine that were printed on an Okidata thermal printer from a Commodore 64, but at least they were typed!  And it was the 1980s, so.

Look, the poor person(s) slogging through submission slush deserve every amenity you can provide their overtaxed eyes and minds.  So take it easy on them via this little list:

  1. Follow the formatting guidelines.  Every writing outlet provides them either directly or via reference.  But just in case, default to this: http://www.sfwa.org/2008/11/manuscript-preparation/
  2. Don’t harass slush readers over formatting guidelines.
  3. Don’t harass slush readers over other rules and requirements.
  4. Don’t harass slush readers over timelines.
  5. When in doubt, ask, don’t assume.

Be Kind to Editors

I keep hearing from content editors about writers giving them grief over delays, rejections, or other acts that have devastated a writer’s dreams of instant fame.  This blows my mind.  If you challenge an editor on anything but obvious errors or lapses, you’re poisoning the well, burning a bridge BEFORE you cross it, and possibly nuking your chances at mainstream publication.

Look, these folks don’t live in little isolated bubbles.  They communicate and even collaborate.  Piss off one editor, and who knows how far and wide you’re mentally blacklisted?

But even if we’re talking just one editor, why would you want to kick things off by angering them?  The editor is not your enemy. So:

  1. Follow the formatting and submission guidelines.  You’ll gain instant respect for that alone.
  2. Know the outlet!  I can’t stress that enough.  Read the managing editor’s likes/dislikes.  Read the stories.  Talk to writers who’ve been published there.  Know the outlet!
  3. If it’s your first submission, introduce yourself.  They receive multitudes of submissions– who are you and why should an editor accept yours?  Once you’ve established a relationship, you don’t have to intro any further.  Speaking of which:
  4. Establish a relationship.  This means don’t antagonize the editor over any rejection, for starters.  So you didn’t get the 500-word critique your story (and mine) so desperately needs– this editor fields far too many submissions for a 1-on-1 with you.  That’s what paid editorial services and beta readers are for.  But you’ll find, if you play nice, that over time you’ll be rewarded with more than boilerplate responses.  For me that tends to occur after 2 or 3 mutually polite submission experiences.
  5. When in doubt, ask, don’t assume.

Be Kind to Yourself

Often we lash out at those who reject us out of anger with ourselves.  That’s understandable, and after 30-some-odd years of writing rejections I still have that sinking feeling when my work struggles to find a home.  But don’t lash out.  Step away from the work if you have to, then come back to it with a fresh take.  Float it past a paid editor or beta reader who will give you objective, constructive criticism.  Set it aside and write something else.

I’m not saying anything new to other writers when I acknowledge that we are rarely happy with our product.  And surely I’m not the only writer who suffers Submitters Remorse immediately after clicking that Submit button.  Especially after I reread the submission and see that glaring grammar error that no third grader would commit.

Remember to breathe.  Remember that you’re only human.  Remember that you deal with other humans, at least until the tech Singularity arrives and then, well, you can disregard this entire article and focus your attention on truly world-ending events.

Until then, absorb and digest everything I’ve said.  These are small, easy things that can make or break a career.

It’s not rocket surgery!

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