Now for the fourth instalment in my writing workshop series. I’ve covered the short story ending as well as the opening and last week I gave you a dialogue refresher course. This week, it’s all about the importance of taking time to do things properly:
Don’t Become A Sloppy Writer!
Writing is a little bit like driving – when you’re learning, and first starting out, you’re full of enthusiasm and keen to get everything just right. Then, once you pass your driving test, ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ soon goes out the window and before you know it, you’ve picked up numerous bad habits, which can cause all sorts of problems.
It’s also easy to pick up sloppy habits in your writing. Whilst these won’t have as serious a repercussion as poor driving may, they’ll certainly reduce your chances of having your work published. Here are some common bad habits you could find yourself falling into and how to avoid them:
When you first start writing, you know you need to analyse your target market carefully in terms of readership so you know who you’re writing for, the length of articles/stories the publication uses, the type of article/story the editor is likely to accept, the style you need to write in etc. Perhaps you make a careful record of everything you need to know, or you make mental notes as you study the market carefully.
Fast forward a few months/years and it might be the recorded research notes that go out the window first and soon you find yourself just quickly flicking through a publication to get the general gist of what they’re looking for. You might even dispense with that. Perhaps you’ve been published by them before and feel certain you know exactly what they’re looking for. But, even if you have, if you don’t look at your market carefully, how will you know that the slot you wrote for last time has been replaced by another? Or that the magazine no longer publishes stories shorter than 1500 words? Send in an article aimed at an old slot in the magazine or a story of 1000 words and the editor will know you haven’t bothered to take look at the magazine. It doesn’t look very professional, does it?
Thorough market research is a must.
Use the editor’s name
At the beginning, when you’re still in the habit of carrying out thorough research, finding out the name of the editor you need to address your work to is pretty straightforward – it’s usually found just inside the front of the magazine where most have a short introduction from the editor. So that’s great, but if you’re writing something for the same publication a few months or even much longer down the line, that magazine will be out-of-date. The editor may have changed. Do you keep your fingers crossed and hope the editor is the same or do you just address your covering e-mail/letter ‘Dear Sir/Madam?’
It doesn’t take five minutes to put a call through to the editorial desk to find the information you need. It shows that you have taken an interest in the magazine and that you have made an effort to find out the right name. ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘Dear Editor’ looks like you can’t be bothered. Even worse is to address your e-mail/letter to an editor that left three years ago. If you can’t be bothered with the editor and his magazine, why should he be bothered with you and your work?
Facts and statistics are used in articles all the time. They often enhance an article, adding authority to it as well as interest. But those facts have to be right. You may have a deadline you need to meet, or it might be Friday afternoon and you want to get your article off before the weekend. That final piece of vital information could be proving to be elusive but you have a reasonable idea of what the figure/date/place/person is, so what do you do?
Even if it means a delay in submitting your work, you must check anything you’re not 100% sure about. An editor won’t thank you for making him look silly with information that’s incorrect and he’s unlikely to accept anything else from you again.
Check, check and check again
How important is it to send an error-free script? Some publications demand one and if your script is full of mistakes it’ll be rejected. Others are more lenient but it’s best not to wait and find out.
Put your work aside for a few days, then print it out and read it aloud. This is an excellent way for showing up any missed words or for highlighting a sentence that doesn’t sound quite right. Any omitted full stops or speech marks are also easy to spot this way. A script peppered with simple mistakes is sure to get the editor’s back up.
By e-mail or post?
More and more publications are accepting work by e-mail but some still prefer postal submissions, especially from someone writing for them for the first time. Even if you have had a few pieces published by a magazine, if they ask for submissions to be sent by post, send your work by post. You could always send a query e-mail asking if they’d be prepared to accept future work by e-mail. If you just go ahead and send your full piece by e-mail, the editor may have a policy where any submission sent this way is automatically deleted so you could find your work isn’t even looked at.
When you write for a specific magazine, you only send your work to that publication. But some editors take months to come back to you. This is so frustrating. From past experience you know how difficult it is to get your work published, so surely it’s okay to offer your work to several magazines at the same time? If you’re lucky one magazine might take an interest. But what happens if, say, three editors want to use that one piece of work? You will have to turn down two and those two editors won’t be very impressed. You may have something else to offer them but they won’t put their trust in you again.
Becoming a published writer on a regular basis isn’t easy but it’s possible; as long as you don’t take shortcuts, you’ll be giving yourself every chance.