by Emma LaSaine
1. Submit Draft Thirty-Two
With the exception of a small (and possibly dishonest) portion of the population, none of us are “First Draft Writers.” Like cheese, wine, and fine motor skills, your writing will improve with time. Unlike cheese, your writing will take more than just a little effort and a lot of sitting around.
Don’t dash off a brilliant idea as fast as you can type and send it to a publication without ever bothering to rewrite. By missing a deadline the first time around, you’ll ensure that your piece won’t be published, true, but in the long run, you’ll also avoid becoming a horror story for that editor to tell when they get drunk with their friends and forget about confidentiality etiquette. Better to revise a piece until it’s strong, and then submit it.
2. Bulletproof Your Manuscript
We all miss a comma here and there, a homonym that Word didn’t catch for us, an inverted apostrophe. It’s gonna happen. But there’s a difference between a single stray comma and an illegible manuscript. Copy editing is a part of the publication process, but that doesn’t mean you can get lazy.
By the time you submit your manuscript, you’ll probably have read it a thousand freakin’ times. I know. But read it again. Print it out, turn off the music, tell your roommate to take a walk, get out a pen, and read that sucker aloud. You will catch something you let slip every one of those thousand previous reads.
Each editor is different, but as a general rule they will appreciate the hell out of a piece that is well written. At the very least, a clean manuscript stands a better chance of making it past the first read. Some editors will only read a page, a line, because they have four hundred other manuscripts sitting on their desk or in their inbox. Don’t be that jackass who didn’t proofread. Editors are only human; If it seems like you didn’t bother to proof, we feel disrespected. Don’t piss an editor off—it may cost you publication.
3. Do the Curtains Match the Drapes?
While you’re proofreading, try to look at your manuscript objectively. Yes, you are the omniscient author, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t fuck up. We all do it. Change a character’s name halfway through a manuscript? Yep, I’ve seen it. Dates don’t match up with characters’ ages? Guilty as charged. (Math is difficult, I know, but it’s also important. You don’t want to give an editor any reason to doubt your authorial authority.)
Another small mistake that may slip by you is the title of your piece. If you have a form cover letter that you like to copy and paste, make sure you change the manuscript title. An overworked editor doesn’t have time to query you to verify if the manuscript you submitted is in fact the piece you intended them to read. Take the extra two minutes to proof that cover letter.
4. Name Your Manuscript as You Would Your Child
Speaking of titles, let me take this opportunity to remind you that people are a judgmental lot. Even at the best of times we’ll form hasty conclusions based on whatever small scrap of information we have before us. This means that every word counts. Especially the first few words. Don’t just shove a title on the top of your manuscript. You worked long and hard on this piece (one would hope) so respect your own effort and take the time to think up a title that does it justice. It’s the first thing an editor will read and it may be the difference between intrigue and exhaustion.
Don’t call your piece “First Person POV Exercise” unless that’s actually the title you pondered up. You don’t want an editor to think that you aren’t taking their time seriously.
5. Hook Me
Editors want to love your work. We want to fangirl over it like the word nerds we are at heart, but sometimes stress and sleep deprivation keep us from feeling that exhilaration. Get our attention quickly and and keep it. A good first line will never hurt you. I’m not saying that you should shove all the sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll of the ’60s into your opening sentence merely to grab attention, but don’t just throw some words there as a place-holder either. It’s important to be intentional. Your manuscript should begin where the story starts and not a word sooner.
6. Paginate Like a Champ
Page numbers make editors’ lives easier. Editors with easy lives are happy. Happy editors read manuscripts less vindictively. This is where we forgive you that rogue comma or occasional character name fuckup.
7. Flyin’ Blind?
Some publications do what is called a “blind read,” meaning that their readers and/or editors read manuscripts without knowing who wrote them, in order to maintain an unbiased opinion. If the publication to which you are submitting does this, don’t put your name on the manuscript. Just don’t. It will immediately disqualify your work from consideration. The lesson here is to read the submission guidelines. You know you should.
8. Get Your Dates Straight
You revised. You proofed. You wrote the best damn cover letter in four counties. Now it’s time to submit. But is it, actually?
Make sure you know when the deadline is. This sounds silly, but it’s actually the most important thing. If you don’t submit in time, your work won’t be considered. Just to be safe, plan to submit a few days (or even weeks) before the deadline.
9. Know When to Use the Shotgun
Like a shotgun, simultaneous submissions have their time and place. Some publications do not consider simultaneous submissions (when you send the same piece to multiple publications for consideration), but most will. Again, it’s important to check the submission guidelines. Note in your cover letter that a piece is a simultaneous submission. Common courtesy also dictates that you should notify editors in a timely fashion if your piece has been accepted by another publication. Don’t waste their time considering a piece they won’t be able to publish. Also, don’t be a jerk about it. Even though you’re a Bigshot Soon-to-be-published author now, you still may want to publish work again, and this magazine or journal may be a great fit. You’d do well to respectfully thank the editor for their time so that they remember you positively when that next submission arrives.
10. Read Your Manuscript Again Before You Click "Submit"
Just do it.
Emma LaSaine is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, with a BA in Creative Writing. She is an award-winning nonfiction writer, Managing Editor of Habitat Magazine, and Production Editor of Hair Trigger 38. Emma is also the 2013-2014 Honors Research Award recipient. Her writing appears in BORGEN Magazine, Slacktivist, The Lab Review, and on her website, emmalasaine.com.