Let me preface this by saying I have only been published in a Lit Mag once, so I am no expert on getting published. However, I am a volunteer reader for Blue Mesa Review–a really fabulous magazine from UNM (with free submissions!!!) and I get to read A LOT of submissions and with that, a good number of comments made by my peers who are the editors and readers of the magazine (and who, ultimately, decide what gets published). If you are a writer and have the opportunity to read for a magazine or review, do it. It will teach you things you never knew you needed to know. You will read something with a grimace, followed swiftly by a healthy dose of humility upon realizing that you too, make that very same mistake on the regular.
Reading for BMR is extremely inspiring. I’m humbled by all the incredible writers out there and the seemingly endless stream of original creation. Thank you to everyone who submits. You are brave and fortune favors the brave (and relentless).
Things I recommend avoiding:
- Don’t use sans serif font. Just don’t.
- Unless you’re really, very confident don’t format your piece untraditionally. Weird margins, multiple spaces between paragraphs, willy-nilly indentations, etc. are just distracting. It doesn’t make you seem artsy or edgy. 1 inch margins, 1/5 inch indentations, new paragraph=new line, serif fonts. Nothing fancy. We are 100% more likely to be wowed by your craft than by your ability to artfully tab lines.
- This may seem obvious but, PROOFREAD!!! You wouldn’t believe how many people submit stories with punctuation and spelling errors in the first sentence (and in the cover letter). Poor syntax and incorrect punctuation and grammar are distracting. Even a really great story will get voted down for a lack of proofreading.
- Don’t submit gimmicky cover letters. Your cover letter should tell the readers your name, writing or topic credentials, whether or where you’ve been previously published, the title and word count of your piece, and maybe a “thank you for your consideration.” We don’t need to know (nor do we care) that you wrote this piece after you broke your arm and were tripping on pain killers and muscle relaxers for three days. We don’t need a synopsis (unless it’s requested in the submission guidelines). Really. It’s short fiction, not a novel-length manuscript. Personally, I try to avoid looking at the cover letter until after I vote. However, I will occasionally be drawn in by a word or phrase and read it prior to reading the submission. If I read a spelling or grammar error, or if there is some cheesy line or the tone is goofy, I start reading the piece with that wackiness in mind, like a pre-formed black mark against the story. It’s human nature (hence my avoidance) and I’m sorry but objectivity is an easily tainted perspective.
- Don’t start a story with an alarm clock going off. Before I started reading I would hear other readers mention this and I thought they were joking. They weren’t. I think people see it as a good way to orient their reader to time and start the scene with some sort of action but it’s overused and generates an instinctual eye roll. There are a million ways to show your reader what time of day it is. You don’t need an alarm clock.
- I know. It’s 5 for Friday, not 6. Consider this is a little pre-weekend bonus. This is my personal avoidance advice that may not be shared by many other readers or editors but I think it’s worth thinking about and this is my blog. Don’t start your story with an expletive. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a language prude and rarely curse in real life and even more rarely in my writing so I’m not entirely objective, but for me it’s a turn-off. It feels like the author is trying to manipulate me into thinking something really dire, dramatic, or important is happening by dropping a curse word in the opening. Like, “look, there’s a lot of action and intensity happening here.” If you’ve written a well-crafted scene that opens with action, drama, excitement, conflict, tension, etc. you don’t need it. As my grandmamma said, it’s the tool of a lazy mind. Sometimes curses are a necessary part of dialogue and characterization but it’s not necessary to drop a bomb before the first period is placed.
Happy Weekend, Y’all! I hope y’all submitting with relentless bravery and unassailable optimism and are able to use the above to reconsider your revisions and drafts. Do you have any submission advice? I’d love to hear it!