EDITORS ARE IRRITABLE CREATURES. I have, more than once, had bitch sessions with other editors about contributors and their work. When I was starting out writing, this knowledge would have been my worst nightmare — the idea that someone, somewhere, was openly grousing about my work would’ve been almost too much to handle. Because writing is an inherently vulnerable activity — you’re exposing some part of yourself and offering it up for criticism from the outside world.
Editors have a different experience of writing, though — they get new submissions all the time, and have to make quick judgment calls as to whether they want to spend their time on a piece or not. Getting rejected sucks, but rejecting someone isn’t all that much fun either. And a lot of the time, the reason we’re rejecting someone would have been insanely easy to avoid on the writer’s part. The avoidable stuff is what drives us crazy. If you’re doing any of these things, please stop. We would much rather give your writing a fair shake.
1. Submit to us in a different format from the one we asked for.
At Matador, our pitch process is centered around the title. This is in part because internet articles live or die by their titles, but it’s also because a good title provides focus and clarity to the story — kind of like a thesis statement. Sometimes, authors will have a great idea that isn’t totally formed, and ideating the title helps them give a clearer shape to their idea. The title informs the piece, too, so if we went piece-first, then-title, we might find ourselves in the trap of having to settle for a mediocre title on a great piece. I’d much rather the title and the piece be great.
Which is why it’s so frustrating when authors submit full pieces to me without pitching a title. It’s something I’ll forgive once, if you’re a new contributor and I hadn’t told you about the pitch process. It is not something I’ll forgive if you already knew better.
Because look, regardless of the publication you’re submitting to, the pitch process is in place for a reason. It’s there in service of the writer, the editor, and the publication. So to submit differently than what is asked for is to unconsciously show contempt for the process. If we ask for something a certain way, please do it that way. I promise we’re not just doing this on a lark.
2. Refuse to proofread.
Mistakes are almost always forgivable. I have, to my supreme mortification, actually published errors in the past. In one of the first articles I ever published, I used the word “geology” instead of “geography,” and my editor didn’t catch it. I didn’t notice it until I heard a classmate mocking my article, not knowing the author was sitting two feet in front her.
So I understand typos and mistakes. What I do not understand is submitting an article where no proofreading has been done. We are not your high school English teacher. This is pass-fail.
We’re looking at your piece thinking, “How much work is this going to take?” A piece riddled with errors — even if you assumed you would clean them up in a later draft — makes us doubt your professionalism, and also your skill level. In an ideal world, you send us a first draft, we love it, and it goes straight to publication. We are definitely not interested in correcting your every mistake — we’d much rather help improve the writing than clean up grammar errors and typos. You have to have more pride in your work than that.
My suggestion has always been to read your piece out loud. The eye glosses over things that the mouth can’t, and speaking your piece also gives you the added benefit of hearing whether your sentences and cadences work. But do whatever works for you. Just don’t submit something without giving it a once-over.
3. Submit something off-brand.
If you aren’t familiar with what my publication publishes, why are you submitting to it? I understand that “brand” can be a relatively nebulous thing — internally, companies are always discussing and debating what their “brand” is, so it’s not insane that you wouldn’t know everything about us.
But I assume that everyone who has submitted to me has read our site, and hopefully follows us on Facebook. Which is why it’s baffling (and infuriating) when I get pitches for pieces that have nothing to do with independent travel — or travel whatsoever. If you can’t take the time to familiarize yourself with our page, I can’t take the time to read your piece.
4. Try to sound like someone you’re not.
You would be surprised at how well I know you. I may have never met you, and I may have only exchanged a few emails with you, but I know what you are like. Or rather, I know what you are not like. Forced or insincere writing can be spotted from a mile off. It’s okay — I don’t blame you. I blame Don Draper. I blame all of the advertisers and marketers of the world that have convinced you that you need to sound like a commercial or a movie trailer. I blame Jack Kerouac, for making you think “stream of consciousness” just meant “typing blindly.”
If you aren’t comfortable enough with yourself to write in your own voice, it’s going to be really hard to edit you. It is really hard for me (and later the reader) to get to know you if you’re forcing cliches, marketing constructions, or words you don’t fully understand into your pieces. Which is the whole point of writing, anyway.
5. Nag me.
If you have submitted a final draft, and it’s been a week since you’ve heard from me, you have every right to reach out. If I am a single day — hell, a single minute — past due for your pay, you have every right to send me an email every 10 seconds.
But if you submit something, and it’s been 24 hours, you don’t need to check up on me. I am a busy person, and as wonderful as you are, you are almost certainly not my number one priority (I like to write, too!). So give it a minute. Relax. Start writing your next piece.