How To Stay Out of Your Editor’s Numskulls List

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By Bello Sodeeq Adekunle

Editors normally read submissions in offices and sometimes due to busy schedules, life compels them to do so in waiting rooms, subways and even airplanes. They contemplate submissions while doing petty chores, tidying up places, attending to prospects and also picking their children up from band practice. They think about writing throughout the day.

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They receive mails of submissions, probably from 200 to 300 submissions a week, and try to read and respond to each and every one of them within five to seven days. A small percentage of their replies are acceptances, but the overwhelming majority are not. They’ll be the first to admit that sending rejections is a lot easier than receiving rejections and just the same as bridling unstable dreams. Though they were scourged when they receive the occasional vitriolic reply from angry writers.

Editors also empathize with the frustration of not getting your work published, but it still sucks to receive these sorts of derogatory emails, you know, they have feelings too. By nature, they try fleeing from any signs of interpersonal conflict, so they rarely fire back an equally snarky response. Instead, they will place these mean messages in a folder I’ve titled “Numskulls” with the names of those so called numskulls redacted.

Rejection doesn’t seem like a strange occurrence to editors . Maybe because they dispense it frequently. But I’ve been on the other end a lot, too. I am also a struggling writer. I know what it’s like to work forever on a piece, meticulously crafting what is presumed to be one’s best, until it feels just right and worthy of submitting. I am familiar with the adrenaline rush of clicking “send”, and the overwhelming wave of dread and doubt that follows. And I am no stranger to the interminable waiting for an answer back, a yes or no. Praying not to be a no, yet still having the negative hunch that it will probably be a no. It always feels like it’s going to be a no.

I’m not trying to paint editors as some sort of hero. They care about and look forward to reading submissions, and while that may not always be evident in their one- or two-sentence rejections, I understand the vicissitudes of the submissions process. Having been on this unfavorable edge for certain numbers of years time, I’ve learned that there are a few relatively simple things writers can do to give their work a better chance of acceptance.

Read the Submission Guidelines

Editors are sticklers about their site’s submissions guidelines. Some guidelines are short and direct, others are long and ironic and require a good five minutes of your time, but just the same, peer through and read them. Because if you submit your work in an incorrect format, or fail to include your contact info, or write a 500-word cover letter when the guidelines say that cover letters aren’t necessary, an editor will notice. In many ways, the guidelines are just as much for the editor as they are for the writer, because they help organize submitted pieces and make them more manageable to read and evaluate. More importantly, if it’s obvious a writer hasn’t read them carefully, it makes it easier for an editor to say no.

Read the Journal You’re Submitting To

Again, I can relate to desperately wanting to get your work out to the world, but if you haven’t read a site thoroughly and gotten a handle on the type of piece it publishes, your chances for acceptance will be very low. There are different kinds of sites that cater for diverse kinds of work . So, if a site says it’s looking for political satire, don’t send in a poem about that crazy night you had in college. If their focus is on literary parodies, don’t send a personal essay about your sordid tale with a laundryman. If they put out a call for work nourished with wordplay, don’t send them a monologue of a person sitting on a closet, pooping.

Checking out a Journal before submitting

This will also help you decide if you actually want your work to appear there. Don’t simply take the word of a friend or a co-worker or a writer’s-market guide; study a site to see if you find it suitable and if your writing will be a good match. Otherwise, you will just waste your time sending work to a place that you really won’t find a stead for your work. In addition, many sites run topical pieces, so reading a site before submitting will help you avoid sending a piece about something that they have already covered.

Be Conservative With Your Cover Letter

Cover letters are tricky, because while they can help personalize the writer-editor relationship, they may lead to a few pitfalls. Editors have to read a lot of submissions, so it’s best to keep things short and sweet. A quick “Hello, here is my piece, Thanks for reading” is more than sufficient. Save the humor for your submission, because if a joke bombs in your cover letter, it could taint the assessment of your work. Mentioning past credits is fine, but unless they include well-known publications, an editor will likely skip over them. And avoid any inkling of presumption; saying “I think this piece is a perfect fit for your site”. Doing so, you will just rub your editor’s fragile ego the wrong way. Yes, they are human, just as you are but they are their site’s gatekeepers, and they know well what is and isn’t a fit for their site. Just let them have this faux sense of power. please, It’s one of the few things they have in this world.

Don’t Bombard an Editor With Submissions

This one is a little delicate because I appreciate diligence, and being able to write consistently is admirable. There are some very talented writers who churn out great piece after one great piece. With that said, if you are sending multiple unsuccessful submissions over a short period of time to the same publication, you risk looking like you’re trying to throw whatever you have in your drafts folder in hopes that something will stick and get published. Taking a week or two or three between submitting to the same site will at the very least give the appearance that you are honing your piece and only sending what you feel is your best, most well-crafted writing — which is what you should be doing anyway.

Don’t Be a Numskull

The big one. It should go without saying, but angrily replying to a rejection will get you nowhere. Rejection can be subjective, spams are on a spectrum, and sometimes your piece just isn’t a good match. If you need to vent, curse the editor out in your head instead. You can trash them to your mail delivery person, or print out a photo of them and use it to line your pet cockatiel’s cage. Whatever you do, just don’t write back something surly and spiteful, even if you’ve come up with a spectacular burn, a clever objection, or scathing advice on how they could do their job better.

Thankfully, the vast majority of writers put in the time and research and submit appropriate and properly formatted work. When they receive a rejection, they do their best to shrug it off and not take it personally. Most writers are friendly, receptive, and perseverant. If they respond to a rejection, it is typically with a “Thanks for considering!” or “I’ll keep trying!”. For the record, this is not sucking up. Okay, maybe it’s a little sucking up, but sucking up is better than just being sucky. Writers are typically fans of the site they are submitting to and have set a goal to get published on its pages, so they return with a pleasantry or two and soldier on. Odds are they will submit something else shortly thereafter.There are writers who have been rejected many times , kept keeping on and eventually landed pieces on their desired site pages. Rejection comes with the territory. Accepting it and moving on to the next piece is the way to go.

Being a numskull works against your own interest

In all likelihood, an editor will no longer consider your work for their site. There are tons of other writers who are able to come to terms with a “no” and carry on with their writing lives. An editor will continue to focus their attention on those folks and leave you and your jerky wallowing by the wayside (i.e., the spam box). So, the safest choice is to put down the can of gas and box of matches and let the bridge stand by not replying to a rejection altogether. But, if you absolutely must, write up a draft and let it sit for a few hours before sending. Odds are, you’ll eventually cool down, come to your senses, and delete it. (I have actually done this a handful of times after receiving particularly jerky rejection replies. It feels good to write them even better, the next day when I’m glad I didn’t send them). Disparaging these editors and fellow struggling writers isn’t worth it. Otherwise, it’s welcome to the numskull folder for you.

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