These are the first & second of twenty-six Articles.
What Editors Like—and Don’t Like
You’ve just written (and revised, and proofread) a spectacular piece of writing. All it needs now is a home. Your chances of having the work accepted for publication improve when you know what editors look for.
An Editor Likes:
- A brief cover letter (even in an email), using the editor’s name and title, polite, and interesting, if possible; after you’ve developed a relationship, a friendly note may suffice.
- To be treated as human, not as some nameless entity in a mass mailing Evidence that you’ve read the journal or browsed the website
- A self-addressed stamped envelope; don’t expect a response without one
- A clean neat copy, double-spaced for all but poetry, single-sided; if emailed, find out if the journal accepts attachments or wants the submission in the body of the email
- Font size 12 point or larger for ease in reading
- Unless specifically told not to, a brief biography; saves time after acceptance
- Unless told not to, your name on each page
- Query letters for large projects, interviews, etc.
- A cooperative, not competitive, experience with you
An Editor Doesn’t Like:
- Ratty pages that have obviously been submitted many times before
- A nasty reply to a rejection letter
- A full replay of all your publishing credits
- Badgering phone calls or emails asking if your work was accepted; after a few months have passed, a polite inquiry about the status of the work is in order
- Material that clearly doesn’t fit the journal; look at sample copies first
- Poor craftsmanship; learn the basics of writing to say what you want to say and get your ideas across to the reader
- Cliches and tired descriptions; you’re a writer, find an interesting and original way to say what you mean
- People who don’t follow the guidelines
- Work that arrives late or past the deadline
- Poor follow-up in revision, contracts, etc.
An Editor Looks For:
- Good writing, clarity of thought
- A beginning, middle and end of the story/poem/collection
- A gripping first line/paragraph/stanza/page
- A middle that carries the interest, doesn’t bog down, moves the story forward
- A gripping close that somehow summarizes what went before or ties up loose ends
- Proper punctuation, grammar, use of language, imagination/imagery; keep a book of grammar and a thesaurus on your bookshelf
- Action; the days of rambling discourse are over; attention spans are short
Now, send out your best work, be patient, and keep writing.
THE EIGHT AWFUL ENDINGS
(adapted by Patricia Wellingham-Jones from an article of the same name)
by Glenda Baker
in New England Writers' Network, vol. 7, no. 1, Summer 2000
Published in OutStretch online magazine, 2001
Editors dread, even more than a dull beginning (because when a story doesn't grab them, they don't waste good reading time), the ending that leaves a short story flat. Here are the eight worst endings a writer can send to an editor.
1. It Was All A Dream! Probably the worst of them all, this means everything that happened in the story - didn't. And the chief character(s) weasled out of having to solve the dilemma, leaving the reader feeling cheated.
2. Deus Ex Machina - means the writer got the character into such a mess he couldn't figure out how to solve it. So the god (deus) came down from (ex) on high in a chariot (machina) to make everything right again.
3. Moment Of Truth Out Of The Blue - comes when a character makes a radical about-face without any previous warning - or reason. The resolution of a story must be in proportion to the degree of the conflict.
4. Let the Reader Figure It Out For Himself - the writer must give the reader at least a hint about what the character is going to do. "The Lady or the Tiger" isn't playing fair!
5. The Surprise Ending - only works when it involves casual foreshadowing and planting clues throughout the story so the ending makes sense. Leave the reader saying, "I should have seen that coming," not, "Huh?"
6. The Fade To Black Or Soap Opera Ending - incomplete because we just witnessed major action but don't see the character's reaction. Readers need to know what the character felt and did after receiving the startling news.
7. Too Long, Drawn-Out Ending - the story ends but the writing doesn't. Should be: The story ends when the dramatic action ends.
8. The Rushed Ending - the writer runs out of a) energy, or b) word limit, so summarizes the end by telling what happened instead of showing the final event. Major editing within the piece would tighten the story and give space for a good ending.
Now, think through your ending. Does it satisfy the reader? Will it keep an editor from banging her head on the desk? OK, do a final proof-reading and send it in.