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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.