I receive a lot of pitches and queries for submission here at Craft Your Content, for my own writing, and on a number of the client websites we help to manage.
Most days, going through these submissions is a highlight for me.
I love finding pieces that are genius and should be published and read. I adore finding pieces that need a bit of work, but I know are going to be pretty damn amazing after some polishing. I even enjoy working on pieces that have a great story and concept, but need a lot of heavy lifting to get it ready for public consumption.
Though I was sassy and snarky when talking about bad submissions on the podcast, The Managing Editor Show, the truth is that I would rather publish a submission someone has put effort into than reject them.
Lately, though, the submissions I’ve been getting in our various slush piles are…making me stabby. Not wanting to always be so pessimistic and apathetic about things that annoy me, I’ve begun sharing to the hashtag #querytip on Twitter with notes on how to get my attention. Last week, I shared this one:
Daily I send rejections that include some version of “I cannot publish this as our site has NOTHING to do w XX.” DAILY. Pls stop. #querytip
— Elisa Doucette (@elisadoucette) January 31, 2017
Almost immediately, my lovely podcast co-host and managing editor partner-in-queries Jess Ostroff shared this hilarious reply:
— Jess Ostroff (@jessostroff) January 31, 2017
Which got me to thinking. Maybe all of us writing and talking about queries and pitches aren’t actually getting through to folks when they send submissions. What if there were an internet tool that everyone loves and uses to understand the simplest concepts.
Enter the GIF.
I went back through notes for the show and my own inboxes to see if I could group replies into some sort of “most common mistakes” and offer a quick glimpse into an editor’s internal monologue and psyche. (Note: Not all editors and content managers are as snippy as this…but you would probably be alarmed to learn how many are; or at least how many WANT to say this to you but never would.)
To be honest, this might be more cathartic for me than it is useful for you.
This is number one, and the focus of my #querytip above, because it is the reason for at least 60% (if not 70%) of my rejections. You send a submission for our site here at Craft Your Content about wedding content.
Aside from the fact that this is obviously you just pitching anyone with a Submissions or Write for Us page with hopes of someone foolishly saying yes, it going to get you blacklisted and spammed pretty damn fast.
Protip for your serial pitchers out there. When you bold my website name in the body of your email, and the rest is a generic template, you aren’t personalizing shit. You aren’t being brilliant and getting past some gatekeeper – we know what you are doing here.
This isn’t what they mean by building rapport and a relationship.
I get it, you are a lone wolf who operates outside the norms and makes things happen.
Congratulations. If you want to not immediately get thrown into a rejection pile, follow the directions for submissions and queries. Those directions are there for a reason, and aside from the fact that not following them almost always indicates you are going to be a super pain in the ass to work with, editors are often looking for additional information in those “requirements” that will give them a reason to say yes.
I’m here to do the work most of the time as an editor. Choosing pieces, managing calendars, overseeing revisions, getting pieces publishing ready – that’s kinda what the gig entails. But you gotta meet us halfway. Most editors and editorial staff are not here to be your VA.
Reviewing and accepting our revisions for you because you can’t be bothered, pulling graphics from docs instead of sending them, explaining to you how you should write your entire piece if you only have an idea…these things do not bring me happiness.
I get it, you want to branch out and get those bylines on new sites and niches. So you send a pitch to a tech blog you really like. In which you send writing samples and links to your articles on health and beauty.
You pitch an article about SaaS accounting principles. And don’t think to mention once “I know this is outside my prior body of work, but here’s why I am fully capable of writing about something new…”
I’m not one of those grammar folks who freaks out at the tiniest typo in an email. It happens. I send emails with typos ALL the time.
But when your email is filled with bad grammar, typos, and errors, it tells me one of two things: 1) This is going to be a long proofing process (not necessarily a dealbreaker) or 2) You don’t care enough about this to spell thing correctly.
As much as I want to believe in Option #1…
…past performance has taught me Option #2 is more common.
Bonus Tip: if you can’t be bothered to spell my name the right way, I have no desire to talk to you. At all. Ever.
I know, writers all over tell new and fledgling writers that your story is worthwhile and interesting to people because it is your story any no one else can tell it like you.
This is true.
But shockingly, if I don’t know you from the guy who sat next to me on the subway this morning, I have no idea what is unique and interesting about you. I know this is scary, especially if you are rockin’ some serious imposter syndrome, but you gotta get over that if you are putting yourself out there. So you need to tell me – and “Well, I’m me and so I’m the only person who can write about this in this way” is not an answer.
You’re right, editors plow through submission piles like I once hit a sleeve of Oreos from the Circle K after a 5-day yoga retreat and juice fast. Voraciously.
We are looking for a few key factors and concepts that make us perk up and think the piece might be perfect for our site or publication. So yes, things like bullet points and short paragraphs with quick information are helpful.
But they should still have substance. They should get to the point, tell me why you are qualified to write about this, and give me an idea of what you are going to write about it. Not just 100 words that basically give me no reason to say yes.
You can disagree with me. You might even be right – shockingly, I am not always perfect and correct. I know, I was distraught when I learned that about myself as well.
If you think an editor is not understanding your submission, or you really want to write for the site or publication, you’ll be surprised to know how many people will reply back to a well-written follow-up that you’ve put time and thought into.
Then there are folks who write back to tell me that I’m wrong, we’re missing out for not including their writing, and they don’t care about our stupid content.
News flash delicate flower, I don’t care either. Well, maybe I did a little. But I definitely don’t now.
Ok. It felt good to get that out of my system.
But I don’t want you to leave here on a negative note, because (contrary to popular belief) most editors are not the enemy and most content managers are not in the business of rejecting your submissions.
We want to publish your writing. We want to work with you. We want to put great writing out in the universe.
So sit down and think out what would be a great piece for your favorite website or publication (heck, maybe it’s here at CYC)
Write it out in an email or submission that will blow the editor’s mind
Psych yourself up and hit send
Don’t be discouraged if the editor asks for more information or clarification
Write back, keep the discussion constructive, and give them what they need while letting them know you are the person to write this piece
Trust me, you’ll start getting more approvals and bylines than you know what to do with
You got this.
Elisa Doucette is a writer and editor who works with professional writers, entrepreneurs, and brands that want to make their own words even better. She is the Founder of Craft Your Content, and oversees Client Strategy and Writing Coaching. Her own writing has been featured in places like Forbes, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yahoo! Small Business, and The Huffington Post, among others. She also hosts the Writers' Rough Drafts podcast here on CYC. When she isn't writing, editing, or reading words, she can usually be found at a local pub quiz, deep in a sun salutation, or binging TV shows for concept ideas and laughs.