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Here’s A Tip: Be Someone We Want To Work With 20 April 2013

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Advice For Writers.

I’m not going to review the obvious here — reading guidelines, polishing and proofreading your work, etc. — on the assumption that you’ve already got it covered. This is about how to be someone an editor wants to work with.

Let’s start by assuming that you’re a good (or at least competent) writer, able to produce work at a level suitable for the magazine or publishing house you want to build a relationship with. No amount of schmoozing or game-playing is going to get you there if you’re not up to standard; there’s no secret way around that. And, fortunately or unfortunately, you still need to get noticed by the editors (whether with an acceptance, a revision request, or an “encouraging” rejection that indicates interest in seeing more of your work) on the strength of your writing. But from there, you can become a writer editors see as a pleasure to work with, or a kind of neutral entity who doesn’t trigger any thoughts one way or another, or a writer at whose name editors roll their eyes and shudder.

It’s not so much of an issue if you’re a brilliant master of the craft and rolling in awards and praise in all directions — editors will put up with a lot (though not everything or indefinitely) for the reward of genius-level work to publish (and hopefully profits to go with that, if we’re talking actual books for sale or paid subscriptions). It’s also true that nothing will save you if you can’t write.

But when you’re at a  journeyman level, working your way up from more-than-competent to potential-star-on-the-rise, you’re most likely submitting work to places that get more acceptable-quality submissions than they have publication spots. So it stands to reason that you want to have every possible advantage on your side. You want editors to see your name and smile, to think, “Oh, yes, I like working with that one.”

How to make editors smile

  • Regular, ongoing submissions are the best way to show that you’re really interested in being part of a magazine. Don’t give up after one rejection. Learn from the feedback you get, and keep trying. I can think of many instances where an acceptance came after four or five rejections, as the author got closer and closer to what we look for. By the time you get there, we feel like we know you, and we’re cheering for your success.
  • Have a professional-looking, genre-appropriate, up-to-date blog or website. This really is the first place most people will check for more information about you, and that includes editors who’ve noticed you and want to learn more. A polished website (especially one with a nice list of recent publications and updated news) goes a long way to cementing any positive first impressions you may already have achieved.
  • Our confidence in you increases when you consistently behave in a professional manner. This isn’t a one-time thing or a badge earned, it’s more of a growing assumption based on a past record — we know the plagiarism & previous publication check will come up clean, we know you’ll respond promptly to a revision request or other correspondence, we know if/how you’ll interact with readers once your story is published, etc.
  • Editors like to feel appreciated. Not in a fake formal-thank-you-note way, and I don’t think there’s any specific technique or set of instructions for how to “do it right”, but genuine appreciation makes a natural impact, so don’t be shy to show it if you feel it.
  • Social media groups and communities are a great way to get to know your editors and let us get to know you beyond routine correspondence, without the risk of imposing as you might with personal emails or friend requests that come too soon. It’s not wrong to send an editor a Facebook friend request or an email about something that isn’t strictly business, but there’s a very fine difference between slowly developing a connection and rushing forward at an inappropriate pace. Personally, I’m always thrilled to get to know writers at any level, but I feel better if I’ve had some discussion/interaction with you before I get that friend request or your quarterly writing news email.
  • Be a fan! It’s tried-and-true advice to read a few issues of a magazine (or a few books from an imprint) before you submit your work — but there’s an ocean of difference between having looked over a couple of “representative samples” and being a follower/fan/subscriber/reader/participant. When someone wants to be a part of our community and what we do, as opposed to just having us on a list of a few dozen potential markets, it’s only natural that we’ll want to help make that happen. It may mean extra feedback from the editorial team, or improved likelihood of getting a revision request instead of a rejection for something that might be close — these are the two biggest areas where fractional impressions can influence what we do: the amount of time and care spent on crafting editorial notes, and the moment of wavering between an outright rejection and a chance to rewrite.
  • We love our volunteers. Most magazines and smaller publishing houses depend heavily on volunteers, and no matter where you live or what your background and skills are, there’s almost always something you can do to help. It never hurts to offer your time and talents, and see what can grow from that.
  • Be (or at least act) sane and pleasant. All else aside, if you seem like a decent human being, we’ll probably enjoy whatever contact we have with you.

Now, I’m in no way suggesting that writers need to be all sweet and agreeable and self-effacing to be liked — “pleasant” basically means that we don’t walk away from a conversation with you thinking ugh, that was a bad scene. Editors aren’t infallible and good ones should be reasonable; if you don’t want to make changes to accommodate an editor’s opinion, you can be firm (and if publication is contingent on you making particular changes, you can always respectfully decline and take the piece elsewhere, with no harm done). The point is not to argue with your editor, but to explain your concerns and see if there’s a solution that will satisfy everyone.

A writing career is a long-term thing, and nothing is gained from short-term “victories” if you’re the only one feeling good about them.

How to make editors shudder

  • When you receive editorial feedback on a story, whether accepted or rejected, email us to justify your choices, explain what we should have understood from your story, and show your disdain for any revision suggestions. I’m not sure which version of this is less appealing: the overtly arrogant challenge or the self-deprecating humblebrag.
  • Be precious about your deathless prose and strongly object to seeing the least punctuation mark or verb tense adjusted, even when it’s grammatically wrong. Dish out attitude to anyone who wrongfully corrects a misused semi-colon for you. Ferociously defend every adverb.
  • Submit previously published work as unpublished, especially if the original publication isn’t available online to be found by a Google search. If asked about it, lie: why, that review must have been written by a friend who was emailed the story, mistakenly thinking it had been published somewhere, right? For advanced credit, submit the same story to us multiple times, on the assumption that we won’t recognize it from the time before. If you can’t deliver previously published work of your own, consider plagiarizing from sources such as Moby Dick.
  • Ignore guidelines about no simultaneous submissions, and routinely withdraw stories because they’ve been accepted elsewhere, or wait until you receive a rejection or acceptance to let us know that actually the story isn’t still available. When the no-sim-subs rule is politely mentioned, rant about how refusing simultaneous submissions is being controlling and denying writers the opportunity to seek the best deal for their stories.
  • Send queries that completely ignore any nicety of salutation or courtesy: “When will I get a response about my story?” Don’t include any useful information such as the title of your story or when you submitted it. Don’t check the submission guidelines or FAQ page to see if the answer is readily available.
  • Respond to rejections with emails full of anger, swearing, denigration of the magazine or publishing house and its editors, threats, hatred, etc. For bonus points, make accusations of bias, prejudice, and/or cronyism. Then go gripe about us to your online writers’ forum.
  • Troll the comment threads of other people’s published stories, looking to start arguments and cut down other writers. Make cutting remarks about the editors’ choices and skills. Create sock puppets to agree with you and add to the fun. Learn the publication’s commenting guidelines so you can stay just barely on the right side of them, giving moderators no technical grounds on which to expunge your venom.
  • Be a loose cannon on your blog and social media, and don’t restrict your posts to just friends either. Make every disagreement public and unpleasant; name names, point fingers. Get into drag-out arguments on sensitive topics. Self-promote aggressively and offensively. Overshare personal drama and private business. Turn your “author platform” into a polarized battleground full of political and social minefields.

In terms of public persona, there are several successful writer-bloggers who take strong stances about various things and aren’t known for pulling their punches, and usually editors want to work with writers who are passionate, who are willing to stand up for issues that matter to them, who enjoy engaging with the wider community and aren’t afraid of a spicy debate. The thing is, spicy debate is elite-level stuff — if you’re still trying to work out where the line is between wit and vitriol, if you’re wondering why your public persona shouldn’t necessarily extend to your business communication, or if you’re not sure what makes a comment “inappropriate” or “offensive” instead of “daring” or “edgy”, you’re not there yet.

Finally, as to being sane… I believe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said good writers are “a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person” (in The Love of the Last Tycoon), so I totally get that ‘sane’ may be a negotiable term at times. But you know, quirky is just fine. Eccentric is fine. Tortured and melancholic are unfortunate for you but fine for us. Just… don’t be a psychopath, okay? You know what chaotic evil is? Don’t be that. Then we’re good.


1. angelabooth - 21 April 2013

Reblogged this on Angela's Hub On WordPress and commented:
Fantastic article: teaches you how to be PROFESSIONAL with your writing. If you’re ever tempted to argue with an editor — DON’T, if you’re not under contract. Even if you are under contract, never, ever stoop to trying to justify your words. Your words are what count, and only your words. Make them better. You can’t sit at a reader’s shoulder, muttering: “Here’s what you should be thinking…”

Camille Gooderham Campbell - 22 April 2013

Thank you, Angela.

2. Paula Cappa - 22 April 2013

I tweeted this because so many people in the editorial business don’t get it. Thanks!

Camille Gooderham Campbell - 23 April 2013

Much appreciated, Paula.

3. Milo James Fowler - 12 May 2013

Sane is definitely a relative term! Being an editor is akin to being a school principal — you really do see folks at their worst regarding their “babies.”

Camille Gooderham Campbell - 13 May 2013

Ah, but we also see them at their best… The first glimpse of a rising star is worth all the rest. I suppose school principals probably feel that way too when they spot students who have the potential to go on to great things.

4. Roy Gomez - 19 May 2013

Thanks, Camille. Insightful. Succinct. Entertaining.

Camille Gooderham Campbell - 20 May 2013

Thank you, Roy.

5. villareal6252 - 9 July 2013

Hello. If I submit a story to a publication that I have alrwady posted on my blog, is that considered a simultaneous submission? Sincerely, Betty Villareal

Camille Gooderham Campbell - 9 July 2013

Betty, if you’ve already posted a story on your blog, you’ve effectively published it, so you’d need to submit it to markets that take reprints — it would conflict with the “previously unpublished” requirement at EDF, for example. Simultaneous submissions are a completely different matter; that means you’ve sent the same story out to two different markets at the same time.

6. What I read {April 2017} | Irene Montaner - 2 May 2017

[…] a very insightful article about what editors like and don’t like from authors. Or in other words (probably those of the editor who wrote the […]

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