How to NOT Get Published

Working on both sides of the submission desk, as an editor and an author, I am in a unique position to see how both sides feel–the author who is eagerly and as patiently as possible waiting to see if they are accepted or rejected, and the editor who has to deal with the insane authors when they are not so patient.

In the process of experiencing these two sides, I’ve learned a lot about how I should, as an author, treat, respond to, interact with the agents and editors I am submitting to based on how I feel as an editor receiving submissions from authors.

So what I have for you today are real issues I’ve had to deal with in acquisitions, and they are things that, as an author, I would never do! You shouldn’t do them either, unless your goal is to NOT get published.

#10 – Don’t send edited versions of the same submission.

If you send a submission to an editor or agent, make sure it’s the best and final version you are sending. If you find a mistake, suck it up and deal with it. DO NOT edit it and send a new copy to the editor or agent. Edit it, so that you have it ready for the next agent or editor, or so that it’s perfected in case the agent or editor contacts you, but don’t send an edited version. This draws attention to a mistake that the recipient might not have noticed or cared about, so there’s no reason to point out your mistake so evidently. Additionally, it makes it clear you didn’t send the best copy you can, and that might make the editor or agent worry that you will be difficult to work with or that you can’t keep up with your files, etc. Proof, double proof, check and recheck, and then send the best copy of your writing possible, and if there are mistake, live with it!

#9 – Don’t tell an editor or agent how to do their job.

If someone is in the position of editor or agent, it’s likely they have experience or education or both to hold that position. Chances are, they’ve probably been doing their job longer than you’ve been submitting, so they really don’t need you to tell them how to do it. This includes saying things like, “I suggest you do such and such (Uh, thanks?)” “Might I suggest this….(no)” Instead, ask the editor or agent what you should do or tell them what you’re ready to do. For example, if you’re writing a query, it’s not okay to say, “I suggest/recommend/advise you to request my manuscript” but it is okay to say, “I’m prepared to send the full manuscript upon your request.” The point here is, make their job easier on them by being ready, willing and able, but don’t ever tell them how to do their jobs.

#8  – Don’t call an editor or agent unless they have told you it’s okay to do so.

This one is so important that many agents and publishers have included verbiage on their websites specifically informing authors not to call.

#7 – Do not ask for an exception to the guidelines.

The guidelines an editor or agent has posted are usually there for a reason. Chances are, those guidelines have been cultivated after years of experience and they are the way they are to make the agent or editor’s job easier–not to make your life harder–and the easier you make the agent or editor’s job, the better your chance of getting published if you’ve written something worth publishing. Once you’re on the NYT best sellers list, then you can ask for exceptions, but when you’re still trying to get your first novel published, follow the guidelines!

#6 – Give them a way to contact you!

Would you believe I’ve actually received submissions that, by the time I responded to them (one was only three weeks later), the email address they had submitted with was no longer valid and they left no other way to contact them? I’m not going to go searching all over the internet to try to hunt someone down to publish them, I don’t care how good the writing is, and I’m pretty sure my more prestigious colleagues are even less likely to do the same. Use a valid email address that you know you’ll always have. If money is tight and you might lose your internet and your email is linked to that, your acceptance letter might bounce!

#5 – Don’t send viruses!

Seriously. In today’s age, there’s no reason for a computer to have a virus. There are free anti-virus programs that will help you protect your computer from viruses, but even if something were to happen and you manage to get a virus, you shouldn’t be sending emails and attachments while your computer is infected, just so you can infect other computers. Run a virus scan at least once per week and keep up with your spyware and adware and malware stuff. If my anti-virus software tells me your email message has a virus, you’re email gets deleted, unread, and your submission won’t get considered. Don’t let a technical bug ruin your publication chances!

#4 – Don’t send copyrighted material and pass it off as your own.

If you didn’t create it from your own mind, you can’t sell it to me or any other publisher or agent. That includes using things you find on the internet, no matter how obscure, and nowadays, a lot of agents and editors will check to make sure it is your original work. And yes, poetry IS TOO copyrighted and cannot be sold to someone else unless you wrote it – really! I don’t care how obscure you think the writing is, if you stole it, you’ll eventually be found out, and it won’t be pretty.

#3 – Don’t add me to your mailing lists for forwards and don’t ‘invite’ me to join you on every single site you’re a member of.

Most of my business emails are used to correspond with writers for various projects. I don’t use them for things like blogging, social networking (FB, Myspace, Twitter, etc), so when I get an ‘invite’ to join someone on another website to one of my ‘business’ emails, I know it’s one of the authors I’ve corresponded with, most likely using the auto-invite feature from the address book import on some website. Look, *I* don’t mind this so much, as I just delete the emails and move on, but do you really want a literary agent to whom you are pitching your novel to receive an invite to some social website you belong to? Really? (the answer is: no, you don’t.) I highly recommend that all professional or wannabe professional writers who are submitting to markets, agents or editors: get a professional email account that you use ONLY for your writing submissions, one that you don’t use for anything else, so that the address book stays only with your writing contacts, and you don’t make this potentially career-fatal mistake.

#2 – Don’t use wallpapers or stationery to submit your writing.

Some people have cute email stationery they use for their emails that put little images or moving graphics or colors or designs on the email. Some people have pretty stationery they submit their writing on when they send hard copies. Some people have fancy signatures that have multiple links and HTML code to display the signature. Don’t do these things. Send your email as a regular plain email. If you use a signature, make it a plain text one, because you don’t know how the editor or agent will be reading your work – not every email program displays HTML or displays it so it looks the same as it does on your computer. I find the moving image ones to be most annoying while I’m trying to respond to a professional email. It won’t make you stand out in a good way – it’ll just make you stick out like a sore thumb.

And lastly…..

#1 – Don’t insult the editor/agent, their company, their website, their clients, their customers, etc.

You know, don’t send a submission to an editor or agent and tell them, “I would have done such and such, but your site is hard to navigate.” I guarantee you that anywhere from a few to hundreds of other people had navigated that site the same day and they submitted without any problems or pointing out that the editor/agent/site/whatever was lacking.

I remember reading once that someone queried an agent and said, “I really hated so-and-so’s last book, so it prompted me to write this one….” and turns out, so-and-so was a client of the agent they were submitting to. Uhm, yeah, don’t insult the agent’s other clients. That’s not a good way to get published.

Of course, there are more obvious ways to insult an editor/agent/etc., and I’ve been the recipient of a few slings and arrows to be sure. If an agent or editor rejects your writing, don’t call them names and put them down or threaten them; you might just be submitting to them again one day, and believe me, they will remember you. If they don’t, they will keep records that will refresh their memory. Agents and editors can move to different publishers or different agencies too, so don’t think you can avoid someone you’ve insulted just by submitting some place else; plus, did you know the print media and book industries are small worlds? Yeah, and the people who work in those worlds, they talk to each other. Imagine that.

So when they talk about me and a book I have had rejected, I’d rather it be: Oh, that Michelle Devon. Yeah, she submitted to me too. Really nice, good writing, just didn’t have a market for it.

That’s a lot better than: Oh, Michelle Devon. Yep, she was a real bitch to work with, insulted me, said I wouldn’t know good writing if it crawled up my arse and died….

Well, you get the idea.

Hey, it’s okay to think these things. You just can’t ever say it. Trust me, the editors and agents have thought/said in private their share of dirty things about writers too. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship in the industry, you know.

What it all really boils down to is this: be professional.

You’re submitting a book or a writing that you hope to get paid for. This is not that much different from looking for a job. You wouldn’t submit a resume with errors and smudges or stains on it, would you? You wouldn’t show up for a job interview wearing shorts and flip flops, right?

Put your best foot forward–both in your person and in your writing–when you’re submitting to agents and editors, and never ever burn a bridge behind you if you can help it.

Keep writing, keep reading, keep submitting…

Love and stuff,

PS: pardon any blog typos this morning. I’m over 40 hours without sleep again. Tell my head to slow down, please? Thanks!

Love you all!