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Be Kind to Editors
I get that publishing sometimes seems like a mystery. Publishers and editors seem to hold all of the power, especially when you're a beginning writer. What many writers may not realize is how little power magazine editors in this day and age often have. Most of them are unpaid or underpaid. Even in commercial publishing, the salaries for entry-level and mid-level editors are astonishingly low compared to jobs in other industries requiring similar education and experience. Editor jobs often appear much more glamorous from the outside than they actually are, too. The reality is that editors tend to be overworked and get far less recognition than "rock star" columnists and reporters. Too many writers (or wanna-be writers) feel absolutely entitled to editors' time. Take it from me!
I've worked for national, regional, and local publications as a full-time employee, a contractor, a freelancer, a student, and a volunteer. That of course includes founding Quail Bell while I was in college. Today I run it with Gretchen Gales and the rest of the Quail Bell Crew, who will agree with me: Some writers forget we editors are people. I've seen behavior from writers that ranges from clueless to atrocious.
This sounds so basic, but apparently it's necessary to state: Editors are human and deserve your kindness, courtesy, and professionalism. Wondering if you're being rude, annoying, or over-demanding toward editors? Here are 7 ways to avoid wasting an editor's time:
1. Research the publication in question. You should never submit to a publication if you know nothing about it. Read the editorial mission. Check out previously published stories. See who the editors are. Notice what they've written and what they curate. Good writers are also good readers. Researching a publication should be an enjoyable part of the process. If you don't connect with a publication as a reader, then you probably won't connect with it as a writer and find your work at home there. You don't have to (and really shouldn't) submit your work to every publication you find. Don't waste an editor's time with your irrelevant submission.
2. Follow submission guidelines. This really is the next step in the research process. After you've taken an interest in a publication and decided to submit, do as the editors ask. Read through the guidelines thoroughly (don't just skim the first three sentences!) Then format and submit your work accordingly. If you have a question after you've read—again, actually read—the guidelines, contact an editor via the magazine website. This means via the contact form, which may have a drop-down menu for a specific section or editor, or using the email address provided for that person on the staff page. Do not stalk them on their personal social media accounts. Do not email them through their individual author or artist websites, either. Don't waste an editor's time by explicitly disregarding submission guidelines.
3. Only submit to publications you love. Just because you think a publication will likely accept your work doesn't mean you should submit your work there. First, it's arrogant to assume a publication will take your work. You never know exactly what the editors are thinking, what other pieces they're considering, what plans they have for the publication, or who knows what! There are so many factors at play in the pitching and submissions process. But there's also the point that you should feel enthusiastic about seeing your work in that publication. It's horrible to see your work in a publication that embarrasses you or makes you feel awkward. Don't waste an editor's time by pulling your work after it's already been published.
4. Submit work you're proud and excited to have published. Submit your best work, always. If you cannot have your real name attached to your work for professional or personal reasons, that's usually fine at most publications. Just state so in advance. But you shouldn't slap a pen name on something because it's sloppy or dishonest and you don't want to be associated with it. Never submit work that makes you cringe. Submit work that you will feel confident about if and when it gets published. Don't waste an editor's time by requesting edits to your work after it's already been published.
5. Proofread your work. Again, have some dignity. Even if you have impeccable grammar, typos are inevitable. At the very least, do a quick read-through of your work right after you've written it and again before you send it. Yes, editors are there as back-up, but they're not there to clean up your mess. As a writer, you should bring a certain caliber of work to the submission process. Editors want to focus on research, ideas, and narrative, not the same elementary errors many people make when they're writing quickly. Don't waste an editor's time by making them read through a million typos, poorly organized thoughts, or nonsensical phrases.
6. Send personalized emails. Some publications accept email submissions; others don't. If a publication does, do not e-blast the editor along with 30 other people. Never mass submit your work in the hopes that one editor will say yes. They can tell when you open with a generic "Hello" and notice that all of the recipients are BCC'd. Address a specific person by name if it's available on the website. In most cases, it is (just go to the staff or contact page.) Again, only email the editor via the magazine's website. Don't waste an editor's time with emails that resemble spam.
7. Communicate effectively, consistently, and professionally. Answer emails from editors. No ghosting. It's not cool in dating or friendship and it's not cool in the publishing world, either. If an editor has a question, answer it promptly. If they need your bio, send it promptly. Oh, and always be courteous, unless an editor has given you a clear reason not to be. (That is a whole other issue worth addressing in another article.) Not sure how to answer an email? Some cursory research via Google Search or Facebook groups for writers can probably help you with protocol. When in doubt, politely ask the editor for clarification, just as you would in other professional situations. Don't waste an editor's time with drama, boorishness, or lack of follow-up.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.