Are You a Rookie or a Professional?

For over thirty years I’ve been submitting articles to periodicals, and for the past fifteen I’ve also been on the receiving end as a trade magazine publisher and editor. This gives me a 360-degree understanding of what happens to an article from conception to publication.

In my role as submission gatekeeper, I see a wide variety of articles, from the interesting and finely honed to those missing the mark and sloppy. I also deal with all manner of authors, from the skilled professional to the high-maintenance novice.

These two factors result in four possible combinations of article/author dynamics:

  1. You have a great article and are professional: Your work is on the fast track to publication; feel free to send me an article every month and I will seriously consider it.
  2. You have a great article but are hard to work with: I groan when I see your email, look for an excuse to reject your submission, and give it a low priority.
  3. Your article needs work but you don’t: I appreciate your effort and will give your submission extra attention to make it great, knowing you will humbly accept my edits and be thankful for the results.
  4. Your article needs work and so do you: Sorry, you’re out of luck.

Therefore, for the greatest chance of having your article accepted, you need to create a powerful piece and be easy to work with. Although there’s a plethora of resources to help writers refine their work, there’s not so many addressing the supporting issues that can mean the difference between rejection and acceptance. Consider the following contrasts between rookie and professional writers.

You May Be a Rookie If You:

  • Forget to spell-check your work: This is simply inexcusable.
  • Leave “Track Changes” on and include your reviewer’s edits: This means you were in a hurry or haven’t yet mastered your word processor.
  • Submit the wrong version: This error tells me you’re not organized.
  • Assume the submission guidelines don’t apply to you: Guidelines are for the writer’s benefit; learn them and embrace them.
  • Insist that no edits be made or require approval of all changes: All submissions will be edited; that’s a reality of periodical publishing. The only exception is publishers who don’t care about quality – and do you really want to be associated with poor quality?
  • Think artistic formatting equals creative writing: The use of italic, underline, bold, and all caps to add emphasis is not a sign of writing creativity but a lack thereof.
  • Insert needless self-promotion: If you do this once, I may edit it out; if done too much, I’ll simply reject your submission.
  • Argue to have your work accepted: No means no – and there’s no discussion.
  • Beg for feedback: A writer who needs help with his or her craft should seek it from a different source prior to submission.

You Are a Professional Writer If You:

  • Produce articles that require few edits: You do whatever it takes to submit your best work.
  • Do what you say: When you promise a piece, you always deliver.
  • Meet deadlines: Deadlines are needed to produce a magazine on time, and you respect them, always meeting or exceeding expectations and never requesting an extension. You also understand that merely submitting your piece on time doesn’t guarantee a place in the next issue.
  • Know your target: Be familiar with the publication you’re submitting to, understanding its style and content.
  • Understand how the industry works: You comprehend periodical lead times and space limitations; you accept edits and deferred publication.
  • Minimize non-work-related communication: You keep your communication focused on business and don’t engage in superfluous interaction.

I’m not advocating perfection – I certainly miss the mark on that – but striving for excellence is a worthy goal all writers should pursue.

There’s more to consider, but this is a good starting point.

[This article is my guest post that first appeared on the blog of literary agent Rachelle Gardner.]

What do you think? Please leave a comment!