Friday, July 22, 2011

Even More Reasons Writing is Rejected: Part Three

In Parts One and Two, I covered 40 reasons why your work may have been rejected – 20 which are easy to avoid, and others which go to the heart of writing craft. Today, to wrap up, 20 or so reasons which may or may not make sense, but turn out to be more or less true

Some Reasons you really can't control…
1. The editor was in a lousy mood that day and didn't like anything that crossed his/her inbox.
2. The editor has seen your work before and just doesn't like it, period.
3. The section in which your piece would have run has just been eliminated.
4. The venue got way more submissions than anticipated and even though your piece is good, they can only publish so many.
5. The publication got way more submissions than they anticipated and since they have far too few staff to read them all, everyone in the overflow lot simply got a rejection.
6. Your piece was read by an overworked undergraduate student on an internship who makes mistakes and overlooks good work sometimes.
7. The editor who read your work just doesn't like ____ (fill in blank with whatever the subject of your piece was – ducks, China, smokers, kids…)

Reasons you can't control, but might have realized before submitting…

8. They only publish work by…women and you're a man; health professionals and you're not; Asian-Americans and you're Greek.
9. You've written about this topic dozens of times in publications similar to theirs, and the editors don't want to be derivative.
10. You have paraphrased too much of another writer's work.
11. You keep sending to the same editor over and over, and keep getting impersonal form rejections (never any personal notes or encouragement). Take the hint. He/she isn't interested in your work. (Probably.)
12. You are not a writer that venue considers established enough for its pages.

Reasons that sound inauthentic, but sometimes really are just plain true:

13. We just ran something similar.
14. We recently accepted something similar.
15. Liked this, but it just missed: please submit again. (You know, editors often really do mean this.)

Possible explanations for: "This is just not for us," or "This doesn’t meet our editorial needs":

16. We just don't like it and aren't really sure why.
17. We have other stuff at the moment that we just like better.
18. Someone here knows you, doesn't like you, and cast the veto vote. (Yes, it happens; though thankfully, not too often.)
19. We're in a budget crunch which is limiting our page count, bandwith, editor and/or contributor budget; therefore, we're cutting back on how much we accept.
20. We're just way too busy to explain why we are passing on this.

Annoying things that, on a good day, probably won't get you rejected on their own, but are just enough to annoy the editor so that if he/she is having a not-so-good day, may just get you the boot:

- You don't know how to properly punctuate or format dialogue.
- You don't use page numbers and it's a long piece.
- You sent it to an editor's personal email address instead of their professional inbox.
- You wrote a rambling cover note filled with unnecessary information.
- Instead of inserting direct links to your published work, you invite an editor to "visit my website (or blog)" so she/he can spend time she/he doesn't have hunting down your published work.
- You mention that you and the editor once met and that he/she indicated your piece would be a shoe-in, when what was really said was more like, "send it along."
- You address a female editor as Mr. or a male editor as Ms.
- You wave your MFA (or other) degree as if it is reason enough to accept your work.

Did I miss anything? Writers, and editors especially, do chime in.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More Reasons Your Writing Gets Rejected: Part Two

Yesterday's post noted 20 possible reasons for rejections that are easy to avoid. Today, it gets trickier:

20 possible reasons for rejection, that have to do with your writing craft and skills…and a few tips on what you can do about it next time around:

  1. Your opening lines were forgettable.

  2. Your cover note summed up the entire piece, it didn't sound fabulous, and so the editor never bothered to read the work.

  3. Your piece was riddled with poor grammar, improper usage, spelling/punctuation errors. (Message: I am a lazy writer.)

  4. Your piece was poorly organized. (You rushed, or you don't yet understand what you really want to say on the page, or you need more feedback or experience.)

  5. Your work is very clearly not at the same level of skill and craft as that which the venue routinely publishes. (You didn't spend enough time studying what's published there or you weren't honest with yourself.)

  6. Your work reads like an early draft, instead of a meticulously revised final manuscript.

  7. Your work is riddled with adverbs (instead of good verbs) or is written in a passive voice or commits some other obvious crime against prose.

  8. Your dialogue is stilted, tedious, inauthentic, or filled with banalities ("Hi," she said. "Oh hi," he answered.)

  9. Your work is loaded down with trite and expected clich├ęs, overused idioms, too-common similes, poorly constructed metaphors, tired old phrases.

  10. You shift tenses and/or points of view for no reason, or you do so clumsily.

  11. It's dull to read. (Your language range and vocabulary inventory need a boost.)

  12. Your work lacks conflict or tension; no one wants anything.

  13. Your work has a happy-ever-after, all-wrapped-up-in-a-pretty-bow ending.

  14. You have a strong opening and/or ending, but a too-soft middle.

  15. You have a strong middle, but a lousy opening and/or ending.

  16. You didn't tie up (or at least acknowledge) the loose strings the piece raises.

  17. Your work makes it clear that you are not reading enough in your genre.

  18. You have written about a subject that has been completely over-exposed, or its time has come and gone, and/or you just do not have a fresh enough new angle on it.

  19. You have copied another writer's well-known style too closely and your work reads like an imitative writing exercise.

  20. You love to use exclamation points !!! or you overuse (and incorrectly use) the ellipsis…or you love the em dash but don't know its proper usage -- or you randomly use § dingbats or white

space breaks in places that make no sense, all/any of which weakens the overall effectiveness of the prose.

In Part One, I discussed 20 possible easy-to-avoid reasons why your work/query was rejected; you can read it here.  

Update:  Now, part three has been posted - 20 or so reasons for rejection that do and don't make sense but are still often true.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reasons Writing Submissions & Queries Get Rejected: Part One

A while back, I was prepping a talk for a writers' group about submissions and rejection (and I admit, was in a slightly cynical mood), I came across an article titled something like, "10 Reasons You Were Rejected," and I thought: Ten? Really? Is that it? I can probably come up with ten times ten. Thankfully, I didn't go quite that far, but I did compile "61 Possible Reasons Why You Got A Rejection: The Good News and the Bad." Relax, I'm not going to sling them all at you right here, right now. Nah, I'm going to break them up into three posts. There, isn't that better? First up --

20 possible pretty simple reasons why you got a rejection. (These, by the way, are oh-so-easy to avoid):

1. You sent a piece of the wrong word length.
2. You sent it to the wrong editor (and that editor did not do you the supreme favor of forwarding it on to the right one).
3. You sent it by postal mail and that venue now only accepts electronic submissions.
4. You sent by personal email and that publication now only accepts submissions through their site's Submission Manager form.
5. You sent a piece as an attachment when guidelines said NO attachments. Or vice versa.
6. You missed the deadline (yes, even by five minutes – if it's an online sub).
7. You ignored or did not read the exact submission guidelines. Or figured they did not apply to you.
8. You sent a form/genre that the publication does not publish, or no longer publishes.
9. You put your name on the pages of your work, or it appears somewhere in the text, when the guidelines say NOT to (because it's either a contest or the editors do a blind reading).
10. You sent single-spaced text or a teeny font size or otherwise poorly formatted your work.
11. You made a pest of yourself by following up too soon, too often, or impolitely.
12. You said something stupid in your cover note like, "I don't read your publication, but…"
13. You submitted (via email) something that was previously published and the editor found it online (because yes, some venues do a routine search/scan of all submissions).
14. Your cover note stated that you needed a speedy reply, hinted that another publication was interested, or asked for a specific (and way high) amount of money. Or you otherwise made an ass of yourself.
15. You queried about something you should have sent in as a fully completed piece.
16. You sent in a fully completed piece when you should have queried first instead.
17. You called something a short story (indicating fiction) when it is really a personal essay or piece of memoir (nonfiction) or vice versa, and the person who edits that genre dismissed it.
18. You sent something that is not right for that venue's clearly stated readership, mission, or desired style/form/aesthetic.
19. You dropped the names of certain editors, authors, or others who you think have influence at that venue, and you didn't check with those people first; when the editor asked them about you, there was a less-than-effusive reaction.
20. You have been published by this venue in the (recent?) past and they have a policy about not publishing the same authors more than X times per Y time period.

Have I made these mistakes over the past few decades? Some, sure. Live and learn.

Tomorrow, 20 or so possible reasons for rejection that are related to your writing craft.

Update: Parts Two and Three have now been posted and you can find them here and here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, July 15, 2011 Edition

►Sandra Beckwith, of Build Book Buzz, is offering a free download of her guide to virtual author tour basics. She knows her stuff.

►I am a big proponent of maintaining a submission/rejection tracking system, and I like this author's – a tracker-with-a-trackside-twist.

►Interesting advice from Marion Roach Smith about structure and the memoir at Gotham Writers' Workshop.

► I was reminded recently what a terrific resource exists for writers on the hunt for scholarships to attend conferences, residencies and retreats. (hat tip Practicing Writing).

►I'm not a huge fan of sites that post freelance writing jobs, simply because most aren't really jobs (they pay nothing or pennies) and often the poster is clueless about reasonable rates, turn-around time, what experience matters, or other issues. But some writing friends tell me I just haven't found the right sites yet. So here's a list of 65 places that post freelance jobs. Who knows?

►Check out odd writing habits of famous writers over at Flavorwire, which also notes some of their writing philosophies, too, such as this: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket." Guess who?

►Looks like there's a lot to be learned over at Pitch University, about getting ready to send that manuscript or proposal to an agent or publisher.

►Some writers who've heard "no thanks" from the New York Times' Modern Love column are posting their essays, and in some cases, a note about their submission experience, over at Modern Love Rejects.

►Talk about short. At one forty fiction, they want your Tweet-sized, 140-character story.

►Kudos to two of my writing students/writing coaching clients whose work has appeared around the web: this piece by a mother of an autistic child, on her experience watching James Durbin on American Idol this past season; and this short contribution to the Eckhart Tolle newsletter, by a health care worker, on compassion and listening.

► Finally, in this fun speeded-up video, watch as an empty space becomes a book store (via GalleyCat).

Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Stuff My Writing Students Say, Part 11 -- On getting casual, lazy, sloppy.

"I realized that I had become a very casual writer. With texting, emails and Facebook, I've gotten sloppy and lazy."

So many writers have, and of course, it's helpful to be aware of this tendency and guard against a too-casual, even sloppy approach to the creative work we write in the hopes of publication. Just as we take care that the easy, sketchy, rough-note aspects of first drafts don't cross over into more polished pieces, it's also a good idea to create a mental boundary around the kind of sloppy, casual way we write in emails and social media, and the way we approach how we write when we are writing for real.

But it's perhaps not all bad news. In fact, several times over the past six months, I've actually advised a few writers to look to their casual, sloppy, social correspondence in order to get to a new place in their memoir manuscripts and/or personal essays.

Some nonfiction writers find it difficult to dig down deeper than surface level and express sometimes uncomfortable feelings, or to describe potentially embarrassing or painful personal moments in an essay or memoir form; and yet, sometimes these are the very same people who tell me they can however, easily express themselves and tell the real story underneath a surface situation, when writing an email to a very close friend.

When I hear this, I make what to me seems a very logical suggestion, but one which many seem to find a bit odd: Gather up those emails -- they are kindling, fodder, the ingredients for a from-scratch creative meal. Yes, they will be wordy and rambling and not always on point. But that's okay. It's in the spaces between the tangents and the sprawling, long-winded rants and prose pity parties, where the valuable stuff resides.

It's not that I want these writers to copy and paste this material directly into their pieces, but I do want them to take a look at it, think about what they've written there, and consider what they've told their best friend and why and how they first wrote it. If they are lucky, those emails go back to the time in question they are trying to write about. Why wouldn't you study them? The way, say, you'd go back and re-read personal journals? What better memory trigger?

In this way, I've seen a few writers make the leap from hiding behind vague descriptions and imprecise emotional language, to getting their more elusive, emotional stories on the page.

Sure, we want to be aware that today's modes of communication encourage sloppy writing, and keep our standards high for our more meaningful work. One effective but oh-so-difficult habit is to clearly separate the time we spend really writing, from the time we are participating in any online activities (as in, turn off the damn internet when writing!). But these newer communication methods also encourage writing, period. And encourage us to tell our stories, sloppy as they may be, to our first read readers, our confidants. Sometimes, sloppy – in an emotional sense -- is what you want, at critical points in working as a creative nonfiction writer.

You can read the rest of the Stuff My Writing Students Say series here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Fridge Clean-Out -- Links for Writers, July 8, 2011 Edition

► If funding develops, Chicago will become home one day to a planned American Writers Museum.

► Attention memoir writers and personal essayists who are sincerely concerned about how what we write will affect other people – Rights of Others is a blog you'll want to bookmark.

► Shelf Awareness, the excellent daily enewsletter for those in the book trade, now publishes a not-so-frequent, but equally wonderful one for readers, chock full of reviews and other news.

► I wonder why more out-of-work, experience investigative journalists have not applied for these grants, which are still available.

► Promoting a book of poetry can test even the most creative sort. That's why I love this idea: For a week or so, you can call the author, Heather Christie, and she reads you a poem. Maybe she was trying to avoid the (reality or perception?) that "no one cares about your (bookstore) reading"?

► Whether you are a closet science geek, or need new places to find ideas about science-related topics for your writing, you'll be interested in Scientific American's new venture, grouping some 60 science blogs in one place. I took a very brief, casual tour around and read some truly interesting stuff.

►There are so many places, ways and reasons to teach writing outside of academia, and I am always interested in the people who do so, like this woman.

► I love, love this comingling of poetry, prose, brevity and developing a daily writing practice. Think about joining me - dive into the river and write a "small stone" every day that remains in July.

► In 21 days, you could transform some aspect of your life, by breaking an old habit or creating a new one, according to loopchange (and science); so I'm thinking, for those struggling to establish a daily writing habit – might noting your intention on this new social site, cheering others on in their new habit goals, and reaping members' encouragement, get you going?

►Finally, just for fun, what if a women's magazine wrote headlines and articles that truly reflected real lives?

Have a great weekend.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Not the Friday Fridge Clean-Out

Last night, putting together the Friday Fridge Clean-Out, I was checking out the eight links I'd set aside, and here's what I thought as I opened each link to reread the item and decide what to say about it: Nah. Never mind. Old news. Not so funny after all. Who cares? Overexposed. Don't think anyone but me will care. And, must-have-copied-the-link-wrong-have-no-idea-where-this-was-supposed-to-lead.

And there, my friends, went the Friday Fridge Clean-Out down the garbage disposal. Instead of flailing around for more, fresher, newer, better links, I said, "eh," and decided instead to post a sample of what piled up in my own fridge this week. Here goes:

>Really, Mr. Editor, you're not going to run the piece you asked me to turn around so, so fast, which I did because we've worked together before and you'd always treated me fairly, and I didn't even stop long enough to get a letter of assignment or contract? And you "can't" (or won't) tell me why the piece has been killed? And I get no kill fee? Really?

>Really, writing student, you are dropping the class because the material is outside of the parameters of peaceful existence a sentient human being, but I shouldn't worry, it's not me?

>Really, former writing student, you sold two articles to that nice regional magazine and you are so charged up about your rebooted freelancing career and you want to thank me, for the editing and writing advice, and the vote of confidence? Really? You're so welcome – and you go, girl!

>Really, washing machine, you die and need to be replaced after only 7 years just when I have one kid heading in from camp and another heading out? Really? (Sorry, off topic I guess…except for the need to write/teach/edit/sell something to cover the costs, and…wait, what's that? Really, university where I teach on campus only twice a month, you want me to do what? To purchase a 24/7/365 parking permit? Really?)

>Really, literary journal editor, you love and want to discuss the piece I sent you 17 months ago (and received no response), and you want to discuss it "very soon"? The same piece I tried to follow-up on twice (and received no response), and then formally withdrew (and received no response), and then resubmitted elsewhere (and received a quick, polite response) – that piece? And when I explain that the piece is no longer available, I get an email lecture about submission protocol? Really?

>Really, writer who writes well and who seems like a good person, an interesting person, you do want me to edit that memoir manuscript we first talked about a year ago? And you did not ask me to chop my fee in half, nor did you ask me to turn it around way too quickly? And, you sent me a perfectly formatted, spell-checked, proofread manuscript which I don't want to stop reading – really? Thank you. My washing machine and wallet thank you. My tired brain thanks you. My empty fridge thanks you.

And next week, Friday Fridge Clean-Out returns. Really.

Have a great weekend!