How to properly submit your work to agents, editors & publishers

best work

I’ve been getting a lot of really random emails lately, from people who seem to be absolutely desperate to have their work published.

Not necessarily published by me, just published by anyone.

Desperation is never a good look, particularly when it comes to representing your writing.

Hey, I was an unpublished, aspiring author once, too. In fact, all writers are still “aspiring” writers, throughout their careers, as they continue to shoot for bigger and better markets, land agents, or sell books. So I get that feeling of wanting to be accepted, of wanting to be published.

But here’s the thing:

You can’t sell your work with the attitude of “please, someone, anyone, LOVE ME!”

Especially if you are going to email completely random editors and ask them if they will publish your work, completely out of the blue, and without reading any of their publication’s stated Submission Guidelines.

Please, writers, I beg you: DO NOT DO THIS.

Not only does it smack of desperation, but it’s also incredibly frustrating to the editor on the receiving end.

We’re not actually mean people. We’re not here to crush your dreams. But we get hundreds of emails every day, and we simply cannot respond to all of them – especially if the answers to the questions you’re asking have already been covered by a prominently placed page on our website.

There is nothing more infuriating than being asked the same question 90 times in a row.

Except being asked the same question that you’ve already answered, clearly and unequivocally, on your Submissions Guidelines and/or FAQ page.

I have both of these pages. Please read them. They’re there for a reason. And the reason is to make both of our lives easier.

What NOT to do:

    • Do not send me things I haven’t asked for. (These are called “unsolicited submissions,” and they are always deleted unread.)
    • Do not ask if you can go above or below the specified word counts. (The answer will always be NO.)
    • Do not pitch me a story in a genre that doesn’t interest me.
    • Do not spam an enormous list of editors with a generic email CC’d to all of us. (And don’t try BCC’ing it either; we’ll know!)
    • Do not write abusive emails to agents, editors or publishers you actually want to work with, whether this is a first contact or a “rejection rejection.”

These are general guidelines that all agents, editors and publishers feel strongly about. It’s why they have guidelines listed on their websites. If you don’t follow their guidelines, you will not receive a response. There are simply too many other writers and their manuscripts competing for our attention.

You have one shot at making a first impression. This is why guidelines always say “please send your best work.”

What you definitely SHOULD do:

    • Write the best story you can.
    • Use your spellchecker.
    • Have a real person read your work and give you a critique or edits.
    • Follow the specified submission instructions, which vary across publications.
    • Politely address the agent, editor or publisher by name in your cover letter. (This really does make us feel warm and squishy inside, as opposed to emails that begin “Dear Editor” – or with the much maligned “Dear Sir/Madam.”)

Some people claim – nay, exclaim! – that if you can’t read and follow these simple directions, then you shouldn’t be a writer.

But it’s really not that difficult. Read, write, follow the submission guidelines, and wait for a response. If accepted, rejoice. If rejected, accept it and move on. Keep sending out your work and doing your best. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

People smarter & more powerful than me weigh in

If you need additional insight into the mind of a literary magazine editor, check out “What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines” by Lynne Barrett, the founding editor of Gulf Stream Magazine and editor of The Florida Book Review.

And if you’re not familiar with the terms literary magazines use in their guidelines, check out “How to Submit Your Writing to Literary Magazines” by the editors of Neon Magazine over at Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

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