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Writing and Publishing

Are You a Rookie or a Professional Writer?

The Other Side of Article Submissions from an Editor’s Perspective

For the past thirty-five years, I’ve been submitting articles to periodicals. For the past sixteen, I’ve also been on the receiving end as a trade magazine publisher and editor. This gives me a 360-degree understanding of what happens to an article from conception to publication—and everything in between.

In my role as submission gatekeeper, I see a wide variety of articles, from the interesting and finely honed to those missing the mark and sloppy. I also deal with all manner of authors, from the skilled professional writer to the high-maintenance novice.

These two factors result in four possible combinations of article/author dynamics:

  1. You have a great article and are professional: Your work is on the fast track to publication. Feel free to send me an article every month, and I will seriously consider it.
  2. You have a great article but are hard to work with: I groan when I see your email, look for an excuse to reject your submission, and give it a low priority.
  3. Your article needs work, but you don’t: I appreciate your effort and will give your submission extra attention to make it great, knowing you will humbly accept my edits and be thankful for the results. I want to see you improve.
  4. Your article needs work and so do you: Sorry, you’re out of luck.

Therefore, for the greatest chance of having your article accepted, you need to create a powerful piece and be easy to work with. Although there are a plethora of resources to help writers refine their writing, there are not so many addressing the supporting issues that can mean the difference between rejection and acceptance.

Consider the following contrasts between a rookie and a professional writer.

You May Be a Rookie Writer If You:

  • Forget to spell-check your work: This is simply inexcusable.
  • Leave “Track Changes” on and include your reviewer’s edits: This means you were in a hurry or haven’t yet mastered your word processor.
  • Submit the wrong version: This error tells me you’re not organized. I have no expectation your writing structure is any better.
  • Assume the submission guidelines don’t apply to you: Guidelines are for the writer’s benefit. Learn them and embrace them.
  • Insist on no editing or require the approval of all changes: All submissions will be edited. It’s a reality of periodical publishing. The only exception is publishers who don’t care about quality. And do you really want to be associated with a shoddy publication?
  • Think artistic formatting equals creative writing: The use of italic, underline, bold, and all caps to add emphasis is not a sign of writing creativity but a lack thereof.
  • Insert needless self-promotion: If you do this once, I may edit it out. If you do this too much, I’ll simply reject your submission.
  • Argue to have your work accepted: No means no. There’s no room for discussion. You’ll gain nothing positive by pleading or threatening.
  • Beg for feedback: A writer who needs help with their craft should seek it from a different source prior to submission. A publication editor is not that person. Helping you become a better writer is not their job.

You Are a Professional Writer If You:

  • Produce articles that require few edits: You do whatever it takes to submit your best work.
  • Do what you say: When you promise a piece, you always deliver.
  • Meet deadlines: Deadlines are needed to produce a magazine on time, and you respect them, always meeting or exceeding expectations and never requesting an extension. You also understand that merely submitting your piece on time doesn’t guarantee a place in the next issue.
  • Know your target: Be familiar with the publication you’re submitting to, understanding its style and content. Know the audience and what they want.
  • Understand how the industry works: You comprehend periodical lead times and space limitations; you accept edits and deferred publication.
  • Minimize non-work-related communication: You keep your communication focused on business and don’t engage in superfluous interaction.

I’m not advocating perfection—I certainly miss the mark on that—but striving for excellence is a worthy goal that a professional writer pursues.

There’s more to consider, but this is a good starting point.

With this information, I encourage you to go write, avoid these rookie mistakes, and be a professional writer. The publication is sure to one day follow.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Should You Make Simultaneous Article Submissions?

Be upfront with editors if you are sending the same piece to multiple publications

When submitting an article to a magazine it’s a good practice to inform them if it’s a simultaneous submission, that is, if you’re sending it to others for consideration at the same time.

Making simultaneous submissions is like dating multiple people at the same time. If you are honest and careful, it can work, but if you’re not, someone will be hurt in the process.

If you submit your article to two magazines and both publish it in the same month, then it will look like one copied the other or that neither is interested in providing unique content. Both publishers will be upset with you and your chances of working with either in the future are unlikely. If you do simultaneously submit articles, make sure you inform each magazine you are doing so.

Better still is to submit your article to one first, then consider others later.

If the first publication doesn’t accept your submission, then you can immediately submit to a second. If the first magazine does accept it—assuming you only gave them, “first-rights” to use it—wait until after it is published before considering other magazines. (The first publication will often prefer you wait a certain length of time before you approach other periodicals.)

When submitting an article to someone new, you should indicate where else it’s been published if the piece is essentially unchanged from the original. However, if you repurpose it or sufficiently rework it, there should be no reason to note prior publication.

Following these steps when you submit articles (this doesn’t apply to press releases) is the professional way to do so and will save everyone much frustration.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Follow Submission Guidelines to Maximize the Chance of Publication

I recently discussed “Why Writers Should Follow the Rules of Writing.” Now I’ll focus on submission guidelines. The reason we should follow submission guidelines is simple: It increases our chance of publication.

Here are some tips for successful submissions:

  • Use Standard Formatting Expectations: We start by structuring our writing according to accepted industry practices. Then we tweak it if needed for each specific instance. Though there is no absolute set of formatting rules, start with “How to Format Your Submission.”
  • Follow Stated Guidelines: Virtually every publisher has submission guidelines. Look on their website. Find them, and follow them. Expect variations from one publisher to the next.
  • Send by the Right Method: In most cases, submissions are sent via email. Some will request an attachment. Unless otherwise specified, always attach a Word file; don’t submit work from another word processor, certainly don’t submit a PDF file, and never ask them to click on a link. Others will specify “no attachments”; usually they summarily delete all submissions with attachments. A few still requests mailed submissions. Whatever they ask, be sure to comply with their request.
  • Email to the Specified Address: Often a special email address is given for submissions. Use it. Don’t try an end-run around their process.
  • Adhere to Their Schedule: Some publishers have specific dates when they will accept submissions. Be sure to hit that window. Don’t be too early or submit too late.
  • Show Respect: Being the squeaky wheel will not gain the attention we want. Being nice will help with our current submission, as well as the next. If they say “no,” they mean it; there’s no room for discussion or second chances.

You’ve likely heard of writers who have ignored these tips and found success because of it. Although this has worked in isolated instances, the general result is they earn the label of a maverick, garner derision, and receive a stern “no.”

In most cases, each departure from a publisher’s submission procedure increases the chance of rejection. They (generally) don’t do this to be mean or to prove they’re in charge. It may be they’re too busy and don’t have time for writers who can’t follow directions. Or perhaps each instance of a writer’s deviation from expectations, subconsciously moves an editor towards rejecting that piece.

We should submit quality work, in the way publishers request, to have the best chance of success.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Did You Learn to Type on a Typewriter?

Last week, I encouraged the use of only one space to end a sentence, not two. The old convention of two spaces harkens back to the days of typewriters. Computers ushered in a new standard of only one space. This is what we must follow.

There are other formatting habits that came from typewriters, which must be stopped. While most writers have retrained themselves, I still see the occasional submission that persists in following one of these outdated methods.

With old typewriters—before the invention of tabs—each paragraph was started with five spaces. Though I’m not that old, some of the typewriters in my typing class were. With those machines, I needed to space-space-space-space-space to begin a paragraph. I still see an occasional submission that does this. Make sure yours doesn’t.

When tabs came along, we set a half-inch tab for paragraphs. Then, to start a paragraph, we simply pressed the tab. Now word processors do this for us automatically, so setting a tab just causes us extra work when writing and publishers extra work to remove them when publishing. Don’t use tabs for paragraphs.

On manual typewriters and some electric ones, when our words approached the end of a line, a bell sounded to warn us we were running out of the room. Then we needed to manually move to the next line, by doing a “carriage return.” Although this was necessary on a typewriter, it serves no purpose on word processors—other than cause editors and publishers to use bad language. I still receive some submissions where the writer did this. It is tedious to correct and easy to make an error when doing so, but removing these unneeded carriage returns is essential prior to publication.

When I’m vacillating on whether or not I’ll use a submission, it contains any of these issues, it’s likely I’ll reject the piece. I suspect most publishers and editors will do the same.

If you learned to type on a typewriter and carried these habits over to your word processor, begin to retrain yourself now.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

What Does Your Formatting Say About Your Writing? The Two Spaces Dilemma

I recently read some advice for older job seekers. The article warned of things not to do in their resume and cover letter that would tip off potential employers to their age and diminish their chance at an interview.

The number one item on the list is equally applicable to writers: Don’t use two spaces at the end of a sentence. Seriously. Whether job-seeking or submission-sending, using two spaces sends a message, and it’s not a positive one.

Like me, most two-spacers do so because they learned to type on typewriters in the dark ages, and using two-spaces was standard practice back then. Others learned to use two spaces when a taking keyboarding class taught by an old-school two-spacer.

As a magazine publisher, I receive submissions on a daily basis. When I first started, most writers used two spaces to end a sentence. Over the years, the number of two-spacers decreased, and about five years ago, the ratio became about fifty-fifty. Today, less than 10 percent adhere to the old style of two spaces. A single space is now standard.

As a publisher, I groan every time I see two spaces. Though easy to fix, it’s also irritating. Here are some thoughts that assault my mind when I spot two spaces at the end of a sentence:

  • This person isn’t a serious writer; their words will need extra editing.
  • This person is out-of-touch; I wonder if their topic is likewise dated.
  • This person is old school; will their writing sound like it, too?
  • This person resists change or doesn’t care; I don’t want to read their submission.

This may seem an intolerant attitude, but such is the mindset of many a publisher and editor with too much to do and not enough time to do it. So avoid making things harder on yourself and limit your chances of publishing success. Just avoid typing space.

By the way, it’s not a hard adjustment to make; I retrained myself in a couple of days. You can, too.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.