10 Things You Are Doing As a Writer That Piss Off Editors (And Could Get You Blacklisted)

Writers are the second hardest working people in the lit mag industry. The hardest working? You guessed it: the editors. And guess what? They get a lot less “reward” out of it than the writers do.

Yes, writers spend hours and hours writing, editing, researching, and submitting. Add in the countless hours of bitching and crying about rejections, and you have a pretty full schedule. It’s a wonder that any writers have enough time for a job. Of course, all this hard work eventually culminates in the ultimate reward of getting published, which makes up for every second of sweat and pain.

Editors, on the other hand, spend hours and hours reading the writing of others, responding to submissions, editing, dealing with hate mail and other attacks from writers, and a lot more. Their reward? More whining and bitching from the 99% of submitters whose stories weren’t published.

Okay, maybe it isn’t quite this bad. However, it is important to know that editors are spending their own time, often in addition to their full-time jobs, publishing your work. They usually do all of this for no pay. As human beings, the last thing editors want to do is put up with shit from ungrateful writers.

Yet writers give editors plenty of reasons to go insane. Here are ten things that piss off your editors that you need to stop doing right now.

  1. Not following guidelines.

No matter how trivial the guidelines may seem, do what they ask or don’t submit at all. Editors have their reasons for asking you to follow specific formats.

  1. Addressing your cover letter incorrectly.

Editors usually know you are submitting the exact same story to a few dozen places. They know you are copying and pasting the same cover letter. At least pretend you care about this particular submission and get the name of the magazine correct. And never address the staff as “Gentlemen.” This isn’t 1923. Most staffs have women on board.

  1. Bitching about rejections on social media.

Yes, you get rejected a lot. If you are like any other writer in the world, you get rejected around 90% of the time. You don’t need to whine about every one of them.

  1. Saying derogatory things about specific lit mags or editors anywhere on the web. finger-422529_1920

The other day I actually saw a writer post a picture of herself giving a specific editor a double middle finger for giving feedback on her submission. Although you may think you have privacy online, this image is going to get around. No editor will want to deal with you after this.

  1. Submitting too often.

We all know that person who’s asked us twenty-seven times to hang out. No matter how many times we say we’re busy, he just keeps asking. Don’t be that person. If you’ve been rejected twenty-seven times by the same magazine in the past two months, then give them some space. You probably aren’t that close to cracking them.

  1. Sending submissions littered with typos.

Are typos forgivable? Sure. But sloppy manuscripts aren’t. If it isn’t the most perfect version you can create, then don’t submit it.

  1. Sending arrogant cover letters.

Yes, editors all love hearing that you have seven MFAs and four hundred publications in lit mags that had dozens of readers before they closed down after two issues. They know you’re better than Faulkner and Atwood and everyone else who’s ever written words. If you’re that damn good, just prove it with your story.

  1. Arguing with rejection letters.

If you must respond to an editor’s rejection letter, your response should contain nothing more than “thank you for taking the time to read my work.” Don’t bother telling editors they didn’t understand or that what you wrote is way better than what they publish. And definitely don’t refer to a magazine’s staff as “fuckheads.”

  1. Sending your previously published work and pretending it isn’t previously published.

Sure, some journals accept previously published work, but most don’t. Most lit mags want to publish fresh work, and they don’t want to mess with complicated rights issues. If your work has been published anywhere before, be upfront. This is true even if the venue that published your story closed down two years ago. Trying to hide it only makes it worse. Editors will find out. Ever hear of Google cache or Wayback Machine?

  1. Not reading the journals before submitting.

That’s great that you want to be published in a journal. Can you at least commit yourself to reading an issue or two? Maybe spread the word about the stories you like? If you’re just after a quick publication credit, then no one really wins. Your story doesn’t get read by a big audience, the magazine doesn’t gain any readership. Do the writing community a favor and participate a little more.

Not pissing off an editor won’t guarantee an acceptance letter, but it certainly won’t hurt your case. Editors work hard publishing your work. The least you can do is try to make them happy.

Now, it’s your turn to sound off. Editors, what do writers do that pisses you off? Writers, do you think editors or too uptight these days?

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11 thoughts on “10 Things You Are Doing As a Writer That Piss Off Editors (And Could Get You Blacklisted)

  1. The one I see often is writers including a long and detailed explanation of the subject, or origin of the story / poem / work they have submitted, within their submission letter. Never mind that the letter you submit with your piece of writing should be short, sweet and nothing beyond what info is asked for via submission guidelines – more importantly, the reason doing this is a mistake is because one of the greatest things about reading is being able to absorb, reflect, and take away from the writing itself. When a submission is given with a full background explanation of the story by the author, it’s in a small way like telling someone how the movie ends before they’ve seen the movie. What’s worse is it robs the reader (specifically the editor in this case) the chance to interpret the story for themselves, and gain the individual perspective one gains in having that chance to connect, relate, interpret, etc. by the writing, which is unique to each reader. The chance to uncover the layers, depth and meaning behind the writing is a great part of how it is evaluated by an editor, and when that is handed to the editor before they have the opportunity to discover those things from the work itself, the editor also loses the opportunity to grasp the quality and level of creativity / skill the writer possesses – the editor does not have the chance to gain that insight about the writer through the work itself, by reading and connecting with it from a place of objectivity (something which is very important for an editor to have in reviewing a submission). In short – it’s best not to tell an editor what your story is about before they’ve even read it. A good editor will encourage the writer to have faith in their voice and telling of their story. In other words a good piece of work shouldn’t need any preliminary background if it is written well. *A writer should allow their work to speak for itself.*

    1. I think this is an excellent point. While we may need to include a synopsis when submitting a novel, the short story submission requires no detailed explanation. Of course, even with a novel synopsis, you need to be careful not to take away from the reader’s experience of the actual work.

      As a writer, I keep my cover letters polite and brief. As an editor, I usually don’t read a cover letter until after reading a submission.

      Thanks for commenting and reading!

  2. Your blog is great by the way – extremely helpful, and just what any writer trying to get their work out there needs to be informed of. Happy you are blogging for, and in support of writers.

    1. Thank you for the positive feedback. Honestly, I was worried that some writers would take offense to this particular piece. Inevitably, some writers will read this and think it’s editors who are doing everything wrong. As both a writer and an editor, I tried to take a balanced approach. Ultimately, I posted it because I believe writers are often blind to their own mistakes. I know I have made a few of these mistakes before.

  3. A few points on lists like this often make me think, “Wow, do people actually do that?” – Specifically I’m talking about complaining about rejection to the editors here.
    About number 4 … Well, I think it can be appropriate if there is something ridiculously, inherently wrong with the rejection (let’s say you really tried your best, were polite, followed the guidelines, etc. and got, “Your story sucks and so do you. Go die in a ditch!” back). But then it’s more about warning other writes about a certain tone from that mag than bitching about them.
    The only time I really cringed at a rejection letter and wished that the editor had taken just one more moment was one directed at “Mr. Howet”. – But I laughed too.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. Unfortunately, I have firsthand experience with every point on this list. Yes, people really do all these things!

      I have never received a rude rejection letter (although I did receive a rude response after withdrawing a piece once). For the most part, I think editors try to be sensitive regarding the feelings of writers, if for no other reason than to avoid the hate mail.

  4. The journals though exist only to give someone credits to pad a cover letter for a query to an agent so they can publish a novel or some other massive ouvre……they are guardians, trolls,and ultimately, stepping stones, are they not? It is unfortunate, of course. As are most things.

    1. I can’t say I agree with anything you’ve said here. Most of these journals exist for the sake of publishing quality work, not for helping writers get to a bigger point in their writing careers. Very few agents care about publications in lit mags. Very few lit mag publications lead to published novels. Trolls? This couldn’t be more inaccurate. I pity your pessimistic view point.

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