Twenty points on how to get published, from an editor’s perspective…
1. Editors do not enjoy sending out rejection letters. This is probably why most publications (Writers’ Hub included) have a long backlog of submissions, yet to be dealt with. There are only so many rejections you can issue in one day without feeling like an awful person. Most publications will accept only a tiny percentage of submissions received. Ours is relatively high—around 5%. That’s one in twenty—nineteen rejection letters to write for each positive response.
2. Selecting submissions is a completely subjective process. There are no scientific measures for good writing. It is personal but the editor is responsible for maintaining the standard of work in the publication and it’s our reputation on the line. That’s why we get to judge.
3. Editors do make mistakes. Of course we do. But it’s better (for us) to reject a worthy piece, than to put up an undeserving one. That’s why most pieces that go up on the Hub will have been read by two of us, but pieces that are rejected have only been read by one person. In an ideal world we would have a team of readers to discuss the merits of each piece, but unfortunately we don’t have the time and the resources.
4. The editor (sadly, these days) does not have time to nurture and develop talent. The writer needs to take responsibility for editing and polishing their own work; whether this is through the input of a tutor on a creative writing course, or paid-for editing by a literary consultancy, or feedback from a writing group. You need to make sure your piece is publication-ready before you start sending it out.
5. We don’t have the time to give feedback on pieces that we are not going to publish. There are many reasons why we might decide not to publish a piece. Sometimes it’s clear that a writer is not at the publication stage yet, but sometimes a piece is well-written and interesting but it’s just not quite right for the Writers’ Hub. But receiving rejection letters is part of the rite-of-passage of any writer. There are many examples of famous writers who received awful rejection letters from publishers; like this list on Flavorwire.
6. When submitting, do not address me as ‘Dear Sir’. Read the ‘About Us’ page. I have a gender, even if you don’t get as far as my name. ‘Dear Editor’ is fine.
7. Do include some information about you. If not we will assume that you are not really taking your submission seriously. This does not need to be in a separate file, in the body of the email is fine.
8. Be polite, please. If your story has been turned down a snarky reply is not helpful.
9. Don’t submit in weird formats that we cannot open. Preferably send a Word file, but if you do not have Word then paste your story into the body of the email.
10. Don’t ignore our submission guidelines. Anywhere you submit will have specific submission guidelines—read them and obey them!
11. Proofread your work for spelling and grammar. Get someone to check your piece before you submit; sometimes there are things that a grammar check will not pick up—we are full of admiration for anyone who writes fiction in their second language, but sometime it is clear that a person has just not taken the time to read over their piece before sending it. If you can’t be bothered to proofread your work then we can’t be bothered to read it.
12. Don’t submit the same story twice. We will remember if we have read a story before, this just wastes everyone’s time. Keep a record of your submissions.
13. Don’t use overly-complicated metaphors, too many adjectives and long ‘impressive’ words. Sometimes these tip a seriously-intentioned piece over the edge into farce. (Case in point—the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Awards.)
14. Don’t write about suicide, attempted suicide or changing your mind about committing suicide. It’s good to focus on a life-changing moment but this is an obvious one. There are exceptions to every rule but unless you think you have a particularly original take on this, avoid it! Ditto non-specific epiphanies about life and existential crises without context—these are not stories, they are journal entries.
15. We’re not that keen on horror, ghost stories and stories written from beyond the grave—there are specific places that welcome these stories, we don’t usually publish them unless you have a particularly unique take or style.
16. And please don’t write about gorgeous, leggy blonde woman and the amazing sex you have with them/imagine having with them. There are so many potential pitfalls here—a minefield of stereotypes, wishful thinking and general creepiness.
17. Previous publications do help but good work will always speak for itself. If the person has been published before then we may take a second look but we will not turn a good piece down because the person does not have a publication record.
18. Make us laugh, if a piece makes us laugh out loud, and not because of an awful metaphor, then we are immediately more inclined to consider it.
19. Make us cry, or at least be engaging—characters do not have to be ‘nice’ but make us care what happens to them.
20. Be original, and if you can’t be original, be interesting at least.