How Do You Present Yourself?

This week, thousands of writers are hoping to have an opportunity to present their work to agents and editors following #PitMad. Others are already sending pitches for non-fiction articles or submitting short stories.

Each writer should read over their material, check how they spell the agent or editor’s name and double-check the list for what’s required for their submission. 

These things are fairly standard for experienced writers.

One thing that isn’t on the submission checklist? Checking your email and content presentation.

Email

Many writers have email addresses that do not include their name. I routinely get submissions from variations of Iamthescariestwriterever@… and publishmeifyoudare@ …

Some of these writers do not use their proper name as the registered name on their email account, either. Some writers who use their name as their email address also do not use their proper name. Instead of filling in their boxes to have their first name be John and their last name be Smith they present one name as johnsmith666Ihatesunshine.

What’s the issue?

First, it’s odd. It isn’t professional. Would you use this email if you worked in an office or a law firm or for your teacher email if you taught in a school? If the answer is no, then the obvious question is why someone would pursue professional publication without presenting their material professionally?

There are other reasons. This might be rare, but this morning, I searched the email account for a submission by the writer’s name. And it didn’t come up. Since we’ve been transitioning to the new Bee email, I searched for it on that account as well. Again, it didn’t come up.

I know the submission exists, because we have a system. Every submission put under consideration (sent when we’re open to submissions, not a multiple submission from a writer) is documented in a program we use that staff on both coasts can access. Each item has the name of the submission (story or manuscript or non-fiction pitch). It has the writer’s name. It has the date. It also has the word count, and when appropriate it has the genre.  And it can be moved from ‘to review’ to ‘accepted’ or ‘rejected’ or anywhere else in our status list. 

This is time consuming, but this is how we ensure checks are in place. 

I know the submission exists, but because the writer did not use their name for their email account searching their name does not produce the story.

Content Presentation

No matter how clear we try to make our submission guidelines, no matter how much writing and publishing advice we share here, people either don’t read it or ignore it.

Our submission guidelines clearly state that the best submissions include:

  • the story title in the subject line
  • the words Bee Fiction Submission in the subject line
  • no more than a short introductory line or paragraph citing the word count and genre of the story — NOTE: multiple paragraph queries for short fiction will not be read
  • again, the word count of the story in the email and/or subject line
  • the author’s bio (approx. 100 words written in third person)

When the writer includes the name of their story in the email then a search for their story name will locate the email.

When the writer only puts ‘Fiction sub’ in their subject line and leaves the body of the email blank, their email will not come up in a search.

Also, due to the fact that we document specific information in our communication system, failing to include this in the body of the email adds layers of work to the process for us. You know how it is when you’ve had a long day, and you’re just looking forward to getting home and relaxing, and then you get a text message asking you to stop at the store and pick up a list of things after you stop at the dry cleaners? 

In the event that I do not have time to search for the relevant information for the submission, it delays processing. And when it delays processing, it means that submission drops down the review list, because our communication system uses order they’re added in, not order submitted in.

And, in some cases, even opening the document doesn’t resolve the issue. Despite the fact that we refer people to the William Shunn formatting guidelines, which include referencing the word count and having the writer’s name and information at the top of the submission, followed by the name of the story, we do receive submissions that do not contain this information. Some do not even include the story’s name. 

What This Says

When I receive submissions that do not follow our guidelines then I am inclined to think that it is either an inexperienced writer who does not know how to prepare a submission and was not willing to read our guidelines and follow them, or it is a writer who does not think submission guidelines apply to them.

Both are problematic. The bottom line is that writers should follow the submission guidelines. A submission should be at least in the ballpark. It’s always possible to overlook something, but most of the information should be there, formatted comparably to our request, since it is standard for many publishers.

Nobody truly has the excuse that they didn’t know better because our guidelines are posted.

Nobody has an excuse for not caring. After all, if the writer doesn’t care about presenting their material professionally, why should the editor care about their material? It can suggest the writer may be difficult to work with, and if an editor is deciding between a handful of submissions the slightest thing can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Giving Up

This isn’t the first time I’ve searched for the material I was referencing. It’s on a list I’m working to clear, and again, I couldn’t find it in my searches.

I checked my inboxes. I actually checked the trash. I checked through the most likely folders the item should have been in.

After that, it depends on the scale of importance of the item I’m searching for. If it’s a manuscript we want to publish, then I will search every folder until I find it. If it’s a short story that I’m on the fence about or planning to reject, then I will abandon the search. Eventually, the writer will follow up, and I can reject it then without losing any more time searching for it.

Yes, sometimes, you might not hear from an editor or agent because your material went astray. This is one of the reasons I do not like the ‘if you haven’t heard from us in three months it’s a rejection’ system that some publishers and agencies have in place; it doesn’t account for the fact that things get lost, and in the event that your agency is one that has an ‘a rejection from one agent is a rejection from all’ policy, that writer won’t query your agency again, although their material may never have been considered.

Don’t pretend it hasn’t happened to you. I have had emails end up in the trash inexplicably. My husband will tell you I’m anal about keeping my inbox clear, but I’ve had a sensitive computer file things I didn’t intend to click on at all. The pointer hovered over something, or I moved it with my hands without intending to, and next thing I know, the email disappears into the wrong folder. On the other side of the equation, my husband has 56,000 unread messages in his inbox and I have no idea how he ever answers anything I send him at all.

One Thing To Never Do When Submitting

Never give them a reason to reject you. With the volume of submissions we receive, the reason I decide on one story over another may be insignificant to anyone else. There are a lot of great stories I really like that I have to reject. Sometimes, it really is just down to personal taste.

And sometimes, there are indicators in a submission that the person may not be responsive to edits.

Do not ever give an editor or an agent a reason to reject you. I want every submission to knock my socks off. I want you to make it brutally hard for me to choose. Many of you do, and writing those rejections is tough.

But there are some who make it easy. They unload their whole catalogue of unpublished material. They send a new submission an hour after getting a rejection, which tells me they didn’t process their rejection and didn’t review the new material before sending it in, or the material that was rejected. And sometimes, when you do that review, things jump out at you and you see something in your writing that can be improved. No reflection means there’s likely been no progression. 

There are always exceptions, but it can be a sign of an inexperienced writer.

Others simply do not follow the submission guidelines. They aren’t even in the ballpark.

This may shock some people, but I couldn’t care less about a handful of typos that need to be fixed. And I have no problem taking on a manuscript that needs to be edited, because every manuscript published is edited.

I am far more concerned about whether or not I have the sense that I can work with the writer. That means I need to see that they listen, and part of listening in this business is actually trying to follow submission guidelines.

Do Yourself A Favor

Check your email account before you start submitting to editors and agents. Ask yourself if it will look professional in their inbox.

If you want professionals in this industry to take you seriously you must take yourself seriously first.