Before You Query or Submit to a New Market: 5 Ways to Vet a Publication
I still remember that summer afternoon when my mother came upstairs to find me weeping into my pillow. I was 20 years old, and I had just discovered that my boyfriend had been cheating on me. Of course, I told my mother the edited version of the story, omitting that part about me walking into his apartment to find him in bed with his ex-girlfriend.
I also remember my mother’s advice: “You should be choosier about the company you keep,” she said. “Pick men who actually deserve you.”
Two weeks ago, over three decades after the boyfriend debacle, I found myself replaying my late-mother’s advice-this time about my writing career.
I had just submitted a personal essay to a publication where I didn't know the editor and had not previously placed one of my pieces. Less than 30 minutes after I pressed that “send” button, I got an email back.
Rather than my submission status, what appeared on my laptop screen was my submission being forwarded from this assistant to the acquisitions editor, prefaced with a demeaning, reductive note--about me. Clearly, the editorial assistant had hit “reply” instead of “forward.”
I won’t detail that email’s content here, but the word “ugh!” caught my eye. Then, the rest of the commentary was so unrelated to my essay’s actual content that I wondered if this was actually meant for some other writer.
Then I read that remark about my national origin (I’m Irish born) and an accusation that I was attempting to use my nationality as an affirmative-action-styled tactic to gatecrash this particular publishing party. This email was never intended for me, but it was about me.
I re-read my submitted essay, alert to those places where someone could infer something so different from what was written on the page.
As an ex-elementary school teacher, I could only conclude that my work had been skimmed. And, just like my kiddie students who fudged their reading homework, or who were struggling to read at grade level, this person had simply filled in the blanks with what she believed or wanted to be there.
Before I typed my response, I took deep breaths and regressed to that heartsick 20-year-old.
The truth? The error here was really mine.
My mother was right. Just like with lovers and friends, we writers need to be selective about the editorial company we keep.
Don’t get me wrong. Getting rejected is part of the writing life. If we are so conceited or naïve to believe otherwise, then this isn't the profession for us. In my case, I've also been super lucky in that, at least 85% of my editorial and literary agent interactions have been professional and respectful.
In any artistic genre, there is an assumed power imbalance between those who create and those who sell or showcase our art.
Some writers wallow in this power imbalance to the point of rarely or never submitting. A handful of editors interpret their curatorial status as a free pass or exemption from the norms, ethics and practices of the rest of the business world.
The bottom line: We wouldn't hire a sketchy or unknown contractor to build an extension onto our house. Equally, we writers need to fully vet any publication to which we submit our work. I wish I had.
5 Red Flags That This Publication Is Not For You
1. Google the publication's listed editors: Anyone with blogging skills can set up a journal and put out a call for author submissions. A quick online search of the editors’ own works and credentials will reveal their eligibility (or not) to judge your work. If a Google or Amazon search throws up a dossier that’s sketchy or 100% self-appointed or -published, then pass on this publication.
2. Look beyond the front-page hype: Read most or all of the journal’s published pieces. Trust your own values, standards and literary poetics.
3. Click bait titles: Compare each piece’s topics with the editorial titles. Do those titles scream SEO, Google searches or amped-up controversy? If so, keep researching to find a more thoughtful journal.
4. Poor mastery of language: Are you reading something that’s riddled with incorrect grammar or usage, or gimmicky and slangy language? If so, then nobody (or someone incompetent) is in charge here, and those boo-boos will ultimately reflect on you and your byline.
5. The refrigerator magnet rejection: Rejection notes that come with editorial feedback will make you a better writer. But never re-query or resubmit to that editor whose note reads like a set of refrigerator-magnet word games—a randomly chosen set of phrases that makes little or no sense and leaves you scratching your head and asking, "Huh?" This is a lazy response from someone who doesn't take the time to craft a standard, writer-rejection template.
An Irish native, Aine Greaney has lived in the U.S. for 26 years, currently on the North Shore of Boston. As well as her four published books, she has placed personal essays in Salon.com, The Boston Globe Magazine, Forbes, The Daily Muse, Writers Digest and Books by Women. Her how-to writing book, Writer with a Day Job, was released by Writers Digest Books in 2011. As well as writing, she is the communications director for a local non-profit, and she teaches and presents on creative writing at schools, universities and arts centers. Her author website: www.ainegreaney.com.See other articles by Aine Greaney