Do you ever wonder if you have the brilliance to be a writer?
Or look at the elitist literature types and think you’re not refined enough?
Is there only one chance to make a good impression?
Let me give you some hope and some help. Some help by saving you a few steps. Some hope by sharing with you some of the silly mistakes I’ve made…and why they don’t matter that much.
First, I attempted to explain my writing
I now know, during a critique, the best thing I can do is listen. I can accept all or none of the critique, but the first step is getting the feedback. In the past, I would attempt to explain all the parts people didn’t understand. I tried to get them into my mindset. I didn’t realize that I would not be there to explain my writing to each reader if it got printed. I learned the written word has to be even clearer than speaking. Readers can’t hear the inflection you hear when you write. Subtleties often have to be more direct.
Your writing has to stand on its own two feet – without additional support.
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I annoyed people
I don’t think I ever ended up on the dreaded blacklist, if there is one. But, I had my moments. After I sent an inquiry or a completed piece, I was impatient. I didn’t know that the standard response time for magazines is 90 days (120 for larger ones). When I wrote asking if they’d made a decision yet, I’d write something like this:
Dear Highbrow Editor,
It’s been two months since I sent this to you and I’m trying to find out if you’ve made a decision.
Peter D. Mallett
I’d also mention when it was the second or third inquiry. This ensured that they’d ignore me. Then I checked with a seasoned writer friend. He told me to try something like this:
Dear (insert kindly editor’s name),
I am writing regarding my submission titled, 21 Ways to Spend a Million Dollars, sent 1/1/14. I am not writing to see if you’ve reached a decision. I realize that it takes time to find the right articles for the right issues. I am simply writing to see if you received it. If not, I would be glad to resend it. Thank you for your time.
Peter D. Mallett
He said this shows respect and gives them the opportunity to respond 3 ways. Yes, we received it; haven’t made a decision. Yes, we received it; we are not going to use it. No, we didn’t receive it; please resend it. When I did this, I received two responses in one day. I received another the second day. I was so excited. I felt like I’d been given the magic bullet. Respect goes a long way. Another silly thing I did…
Didn’t read the guidelines
Yes, I have sent things to magazines that I thought would fit and later read the guidelines more carefully and realized it wasn’t a fit at all. That’s why I recommend surveying the magazine before submitting. An even worse offense is thinking the magazine will change their guidelines for you.
The Fruitcake analogy – Fruitcake is something I don’t like. Yup, I know homemade fruitcake is different than the kind in stores. But, the spices, dried fruits, and nuts are not my thing. But some people are adamant, “I know you don’t like fruitcake, but you haven’t tried my fruitcake.”
People will do the same with editors. “I know you don’t normally print this type of stuff but…” If a magazine doesn’t print humor articles, it doesn’t matter how funny your piece is. The editor isn’t going to take it, so don’t waste your time sending it.
Sometimes I did this without realizing it before I learned to write in my own voice. I also studied a magazine so much that I thought I should write just like the folks who had already written for them. Always remember, part of the reason you will be paid to write the assignment is because you will write it in your unique voice.
Wrote first, marketed later
In the beginning, I composed my ideas into complete manuscripts first. Then I got out my Writer’s Market Guides and tried to find a home for my words. Even after deciding I wanted to make money writing full-time, I did this. I asked a writer friend if he did that. His response was, “I used to, but not anymore.”
It makes more sense to find a market, come up with an idea and then write your article geared to the magazine and its audience. Otherwise, even if you find a match, you’ll probably have to rewrite parts of it. You just won’t hit the mark without having seen the target; even if your name is William Tell.
I didn’t double-check the facts
It’s easy to misspell an unfamiliar name or place. Always check at least two sources for dates, times, places, and names. And remember, people play with the spelling of names. Don’t assume because a name is common that you know how they spell it.
Here’s the hope: If you have done things wrong in the past, and then turn and approach an editor six months later in a professional manner, there is little chance they’re going to connect the two experiences. Unless you really made a mess, you don’t have to use a pen name. Just determine to do everything right this time. Most editors are too busy to start and maintain a black list. Chances are they deleted the email or tossed the letter and thought no more of it.
Confession time: What silly mistakes have you made?
What advice can you give to pave the way for others?