Mistakes in Submitting
Ashely: So one thing I wouldn’t say is necessarily a mistake but a big change is in the length of my cover letter. When I was first starting out in submitting, my cover letter was much longer than the one that I use now. I really believed that it would make or break a submission if it wasn’t the bestest cover letter ever. Now, I know that cover letters are important, but don’t need my life story (and really shouldn’t).
My biggest mistakes are the fault of my own memory. When I was starting out I misspelled names or mixed up names. I tend to submit a lot at one time and I would mess up. First thing, it happens, so don’t worry about it like killing your career. But, do slow down and make sure you’ve got the right names and people, especially if you’re someone who submits a lot. Double check before sending out.
Really, the worst thing that happens with small mistakes like that is that you’ll get rejected, which sucks, but are usually forgiven, in my understanding.
Jacque: When I was first getting started submitting, I made the mistake that a lot of new submitters make, which is not being familiar with the journals I sent out. The very first place I submitted was a legacy journal (I’m a poet, so even without looking, I can say it was probably Rattle), that I didn’t submit to because I wanted to be published there, but because I knew Anis Mojgani had been published there, which meant that I wanted to be too. As I’ve grown as a poet, I’ve tried to shift my work and where I submit to journals that I actually enjoy reading, and I’ve found my work in amazing company as a result.
Another mistake that I made early in my writing career was categorizing publications based on tiers. These invisible barriers (print over online, university over independent, etc.) allowed me to mistake a journal’s longevity for desirability, which took a lot of the joy out of submitting, made me competitive, and led to a lot of disappointment. Since then, I’ve discovered the joy of working with smaller journals who are genuinely excited about my work (and also, in my experience, very savvy when it comes to sharing and promoting their authors). When I think about where to send my work now, it’s based on where I would be proud to have my work appear, where I feel like I’ll be treated kindly by the editorial staff and fellow contributors. Do I still have dream journals? Of course! But now, my career doesn’t hang on those journals in quite the same way.
Ethan: Lack of familiarity with the publications I was submitting to was definitely my biggest mistake, too. One of the first nationwide lit journals I ever submitted to was the University of Pittsburgh’s Hot Metal Bridge, and the piece in question was this weird fantasy horror short story. Even if it weren’t for the quality of the piece (and hoo boy, was it a bad story), that was never going to be the right venue for something like that.
I also assumed that online journals were far below print journals in terms of desirability, which isn’t true at all. Sure, print magazines have traditionally had more prestige, but online journals are much more readily available to readers. I don’t have statistics to back me up on this, but I expect that more people overall read online magazines compared to print. (I certainly do.) And if sharing your work with the world is the ultimate point of publishing, then online journals are arguably a better means of accomplishing that. I’m not against print journals by any means, but I don’t focus on them, either.
No matter what you do, you’re going to make some cringeworthy mistakes when you begin submitting your work. The key is just to be aware of your own ignorance and educate yourself as much as you can, both before and after you submit.