Monday, November 10, 2008


I'm having a time out from my boring technical writing and catching up on some of my blog reading. It was during this relaxing past time I came upon this bit of information by Lauri Kubuitsile, a full time, award-winning writer living in Botswana.

I am amazed because I've read lists like this many times and the don'ts listed on them never seem to change.

Don't leave contact details off your short story submission unless otherwise indicated. This is normally because some authors place the details within the email instead. This is your work people and I'm guessing you'd like to gain the kudos or any feedback it gathers. Put your information in the email and in the story if you must, but definitely put it in the story - usually on a cover page in bold, clear type.

Don't go with the the first thing in your head. This should be obvious. Originality is, or should be, a key word in all your writing. And that is only possible if you read what's come before. Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre of choice and some from outside of it. At the very least you'll learn some good writing practises from osmosis and gain an insight into what's already been done. There is no such thing as a new plot, but there is an infinite way to portray it in a new light.

Don't mention your pets/hobbies. This is a new one on me. I stress all the time to anyone who'll listen, to read the publications guidelines (and one or two copies of the publication if possible) to understand what the editors are after. No where have I yet seen a guideline asking for the name of your pet or what your hobby is. The only way I could see this as being relevant would be if you're trying to build a non-fiction platform - i.e. You're writing a non-fiction story on climbing mountains and your hobby is climbing mountains with your pet yak - maybe.

Don't use txt. You are a writer. You are supposed to be an aspiring professional practitioner of the English language (or whatever countries language you write in). SMS is not the English language.

Don't go over or under the word count. Again - guidelines are there for a reason - not an editors whim. Be professional.

Don't send a poem to a short story market. Oh please. Apart from the fact I detest poetry, why would you? Lets go back to the guidelines - be professional!!

Don't scan your story into a JPEG file and submit. I'm beginning to think a school of 300 students were encouraged to send in entries and none of the teachers bothered to read the guidelines. Who scans a story into a picture file for submission? Where in the guidelines would it have suggested that?

Don't ask for a critique. In a contest, this is a big no-no. In short story markets, it is usually another big no. Some anthology editors are willing but not many of them. I would recommend not asking, but if you're lucky enough to get one, be profuse in your thanks (and don't expect the same responses from the editor in the future just because they were kind enough to do it once.)

Don't reveal this is your first story. I'll admit to doing this when I sent out my first piece to market. I did so because I'd done no research at all. This is the biggest mark of being green and points to the fact you've done no learning in the field what-so-ever. Unless you're incredibly gifted, it will also mark your writing as probably being terrible as well. No need to give an editor a reason to gloss over your work before they start. Be professional and succinct.

Don't constantly query. Editors are busy people. Annoy them at your peril.

So in the end, more than half of these dont's should be eradicated by simply reading the guidelines. How and where to place your contact details is normally covered. What to include in a cover letter is covered. The word count is always covered, as is the type of prose requested, i.e. short story or poem. The format of the submission is recovered and is usually .doc, .rtf, .txt, or within the body of the email. Response times, when to query if you haven't had a response, and what sort of a response you can expect are all covered in the guidelines.

The moral to all this:

Read the publications guidelines!


  1. That one about not mentioning your hobbies is interesting. I wouldn't have thought it mattered either way but it's kind of pointless to mention it when you think about it.

    Just wondering if editors would regard socialist revolutionary work as a 'hobby.' I certainly regard it as much more than a hobby, and I'm in a sense, trying to market myself as a Marxist horror writer, but perhaps editors might just see it as another irrelevant detail like saying you enjoy knitting...

  2. Mentioning hobbies in a cover letter is pointless.

    Marketing yourself in a particular way is different. I'm guessing you wouldn't be using it as a central theme in a cover letter for your story anyway.

    In an authors bio, maybe, but then that would be looked at only if they liked the story.

    I don't think you have anything to worry about.