The 7 Deadly Sins of Submissions

by Laura Belgrave

Yes. Editors really do read the slush. And yes, if you write brilliantly your chance of getting published rises to stratospheric levels, even if you are a newbie. But brilliance aside, you can still shoot yourself in the foot if you fall under the spell of The 7 Deadly Sins of Submissions.

Here they are, the sure-fire ways to make editors roll their eyes:

1. Sending your manuscript or query on paper in screaming colors. . . . Ditto the envelope.
Also forego smiley faces, cutsie stickers, photos of your family and homemade bookmarks. None of these will show how clever you are. What they will do is mark you as an amateur.

2. Including illustrations if you aren't really, truly and absolutely a bona fide artist--or at least a darn good amateur.
First of all, you don't have to be an artist to sell a book for children. Nine times out of ten, publishers find their own illustrators. Secondly, it isn't your artistic ability you're trying to sell. It's your writing ability. If an editor likes your work, you'll have plenty of time later to discuss the kind of art you think would work best with it. But when you're at the submission stage a poorly drawn sketch can cast a pall over the whole enchilada. An editor blazing through a fat stack of unsolicited submissions may well assume that where there's poor art, there's poor story. Ouch.

3. Telling the editor in your cover letter that your kids absolutely love the story. (Or, if you're a teacher, that the kids in your classroom do.)
They're your kids! Of course they do! (Well, hopefully they do.) They probably love a lot of things you do. And for that matter, they may love your story because it genuinely is fabulous. But editors get paid to think about kids in broader ways, and conversely, in more specific ways. Few will be swayed by the affectionate people within your own orbit.

4. Explaining in your cover letter that until now, the only thing you've ever written is a grocery list or the monthly updates in your church bulletin.
This is a case where less is more, so if you've got relevant writing experience, by all means say so, but if you don't--don't. As much as editors admire enthusiasm, most will nevertheless assume that if you're submitting through the slush, the odds are high that you're new to writing for kids. It doesn't bother them. Don't let it bother you.

5. Stuffing your envelope with a bunch of submissions.
The rule is one at a time, so don't throw everything you've got at the wall to see what sticks. Send your best work, and only your best work. Trying to make an editor figure out what you couldn't is almost certain to boomerang. In fact, the editor might just send the whole package back to you unread.

6. Comparing your work to that of famous authors.
There's nothing wrong with trying to mimic an author's style. Actually, it's almost a time-honored strategy for learning the craft. But resist announcing that your work is like Dr. Seuss' or Judy Blume's or . . . whoever's. It's yours, and it's on that basis that an editor will judge it.

7. Not including a self-addressed, stamped envelope--known in the biz as "SASE."
Kiss of death. If you want an answer, pony up. It's that simple.

Copyright © 1997 by Laura Belgrave

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