Be nice to an editor

I wrote for years as a hobby, getting the occasional article published and, somewhat less frequently, paid for as well. I wanted to keep my first cheque but, like most writers, the urge to celebrate a sale was too strong.

As I became more proficient the percentage of unsolicited manuscripts being accepted increased and I remember that when it hit 25% I felt I had it made. Not only that, I got the hang of rewriting rejected material and then submitting it elsewhere. It was a lot of work for little remuneration though.

I then tried something a little different. I submitted copy with images, then a little later with a selection of images. My rejection rate dropped to below 25%, and I went on to have 26 consecutive unsolicited manuscripts published without one rejection. I’d cracked it. Mind you, three out of the next five were thrown back in my face, but I still felt positive.

I met a magazine editor, one who’d accepted around 20 articles in three years so obviously felt my work was good. I asked him why he liked my copy, the idea being that if I could get him to articulate his reasons his appreciation of my quality would be increased.

“You meet deadlines, you write in English, you hit the wordage and you give me a choice of images. The perfect writer.”

There was nothing there about my clever use of words, the subtle puns and remarkable use of repetition. I was shattered but tried not to show it. When I became a magazine editor I realised the truth of what he said. He had defined a professional article writer.

There is nothing more comforting to an editor to know that there would be no need for rewrites, the copy would be delivered before the date and if a writer can hit wordage every time they are in the top 2%.

Since then I’ve become a little more sophisticated. I will identify a paragraph or two in the copy proper that could be removed without affecting the sense. In addition, I’d include and additional paragraph, or if the wordage is over a 1500 then two, for inclusion if they are needed. An editor has enough to worry about without the layout bod getting all stroppy.

It is not just a case of submitting the first 10 images on your folder; you need to give an option. For instance, have different viewpoints, ensure people don’t look the same way, or, to put it another way, give the picture editor a choice. My layout artist was inconsolable when I provided a dozen images of cars, all of them red, all facing from right to left.

It would be wrong to suggest that all editors are interested in is filling the white space between adverts. There has to be some qualative judgement. If you stick to what the magazine is about, write in English and pick a subject that hasn’t been covered in the last six months, you stand an excellent chance of being published. Include images and you should be home and dry most of the time.

What the books tell you about double spaced lines and an inch either side of page, with twice that at the top and an inch and a half below is of no consequence in the digital age.

Do an editor a favour. Send one some copy. They’ll thank you for it, but only by sending you money.

One last point: you will pitch an unsolicited manuscript in a covering letter or an email. Keep it short and to the point and check it just as carefully as the copy. There’s nothing more off-putting than an obvious homophone.

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