21 Editors On The One Thing That Will Keep Your Piece From Getting Published

As a producer here at Thought Catalog, I field literal dozens of submissions every day from literary hopefuls who send their pieces in in the hopes that today is the day they see their name in (well, digital) print. I also field a lot of questions from hopefuls who have submitted and haven’t heard back yet — what they’re doing wrong, what they can do to get published, you name it. In the spirit of that, I asked editors I know at both print and web publications what they consider to be their ultimate red flag in a writer’s work. (Note: This does not reflect any specific standards at any one site, but if you use this as a general rule of what not to do, chances are really good there will be few editors who dislike you for a lot of little reasons.)

1. “Just being generally aggressive in your correspondence. I know you really want to be published, but you have to be patient and respectful when emailing other people, especially because this is their job, and sometimes, you just can’t factor into the plan. There’s so many ways to reach people now that social media is a huge part of the publication world, and tweeting at someone, emailing them, sending a Facebook friend request, and emailing them again is not the way to go.”

2. “Not proofreading your pieces. Unless it’s the name of a person or a brand, the red line that pops up in Word is usually there for a reason. If you leave it, I’m going to think this isn’t your final draft. And sometimes, typos like ‘it’ instead of ‘is’ don’t get picked up by spell check, so be careful.”

3. “Stop trying to do what you saw other people do. There’s so much work out there — whether self- or professionally published — that everything that copies everything else is just noise. Write what you want to write, not a copy of what you saw someone else write.”

4. “Using lots of profanity when writing about a really controversial topic. Pick one, not both.”

5. “If you’re not sure where a comma is supposed to go, ask someone. Better yet, find a copy of the MLA handbook and brush up on your punctuation and grammar. It saves me so much time if I don’t have to go in and add 10 commas because you didn’t think they don’t matter. (The strippers, Hitler and Stalin think they do.)”

6.Nobody double spaces between sentences anymore.”

7. “Before you submit, Google your title and then the name of the site or publication. If there are a dozen and five articles already published on the same topic, pick a new one.”

8. “Find a friend who you know will be absolutely honest with you. Let them read it, and then take their advice to heart. Ask them if they would read this if they just clicked on it on their own. If they wouldn’t, you can bet that no one else will, either.”

9. “Do not argue with an editor. They’ll never work with you again.”

10. “I care more about what you say, as opposed to how you say it. We can fix how you say it. We cannot fix your ideas. Make sure whatever you’re writing about is compelling in some way or another.”

11. “Someone once emailed me and said, ‘Here’s an article I did. It’s not very good and it needs a lot of editing, but I figured why not?’ Why on earth would you even send that? Don’t send me something you know needs a bunch of edits. Also, if you’re not proud of something, why would you want to share it with the world with your name on it? If you wouldn’t read it, then don’t send it to me.”

12. “No one wants to read a personal play-by-play account of your breakup. If you want to talk about the feelings you worked through and your come-to-Jesus moment, that’s fine. Readers respond really well to feelings and how your experience relates to theirs. (They love feeling less alone.) But walking your reader through everything you did each day doesn’t help anyone.”

13. “Trying to be friends with your editor. I really appreciate the desire to be closer to me, but this is my job, and I have to keep a professional distance with each of my writers. Being my friend doesn’t mean I’ll publish you more — it actually means I know what work you’re capable of, and I will set a higher bar for you. Being easy on your writing because I personally like you is called nepotism.”

14. “I’d say writers just being careless is my thing. When you open a document and see lowercase letters at the beginning of a sentence and lazy abbreviations, it takes away from things immediately, even if what’s written is otherwise decent.”

15. “Response or rebuttal pieces that are 80% copy-and-paste of the original article, and 20% quick, whiny sentence response to various points. Write a response piece if you feel really driven by a subject, but make sure you’re continuing the conversation in your own direction.”

16. “Submitting anything — essay, manuscript, whatever — as text or Word docs. Not PDFs. (Or is this just me who can’t edit PDFs?)”

17. “If you’re not sure about your grammar, ask a friend who you think is a good writer to help you before you submit it. It’s harder to edit your own work than it is to edit someone else’s. Another set of eyes on what you’ve done will never hurt.”

18. “Really long, meandering work that doesn’t get to the point (if it has a point at all). Make sure you say what you’re trying to say explicitly at least once – and then you can be poetic about it.”

19. “This is a personal preference, but I would much rather read about the girl who wore blue shoes than a girl who wore iridescent aquamarine Prada single-strap sandals from three seasons ago. Unless the reason why she’s wearing Prada stilettos is important to the story, it’s just try-hard. The best writers consult a thesaurus, but no one can tell that those words weren’t in their vocabulary before.”

20. “Writing something that isn’t interesting is the biggest sin. Ask yourself if you would read the article you wrote if the author was some random person you didn’t know. It’s fine to answer no, but publish that on your own blog and work on your voice. Send articles that are interesting to a wide audience out for submission. I’ll edit an article with hundreds of errors if it’s something really interesting or something we’ve never seen before. I come across something that’s truly new and creative so rarely, I’m hungry for it.”

21. “Complaining about the publication I work for on social media. I see you. I remember you.” Thought Catalog Logo Mark

featured image – AZ

Writer. Editor. Twitter-er. Instagrammer. Coffee drinker. (Okay, mostly that last one.)

Keep up with Ella on Twitter and ellaceron.tumblr.com

More From Thought Catalog