Learning From My Mistakes


English: Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tale...

Note: In one of my recent posts “Seven Tips For Dealing With Rejection Slips“, I shared advice gleaned from my own miserable writing experiences in the hopes that my sad tales would assist other writers and would-be writers when they, too, receive rejections.

It is in this generous spirit that I’m posting another blog entry along similar lines to that one.

So, please, fellow writers, please learn from my mistakes; don’t do what I have done, don’t follow in my footsteps.

Research, research, and research again when you decide to submit an article or short story or poem to a magazine or journal.  Research the magazine to which you are submitting, research the name of the CURRENT editor at said market, and research the CURRENT address of said magazine or journal. Do your homework, even if it means a long-distance call to the magazine to confirm these important details. Please.

This is my story:

Envelope
Envelope (Photo credit: cynicalview)

A few years ago I mailed an unsolicited, eleven hundred word humor article to a well-established Canadian literary magazine.

Later, much later than I thought showed a reasonable response time, my self-addressed return envelope…returned.

Inside the envelope was my article, along with a three-paragraph letter from the magazine’s editor.

In the first paragraph, Mr. Editor informed me that not only had I addressed my submission to an inappropriate editorial department, but the particular editor that I’d picked at that department hadn’t worked for the magazine for a long time.

Chagrin.

In the second paragraph, Mr. Editor wrote that the address I’d used in my submission hadn’t been home to his magazine for a long time, either.

Shame. Humiliation. Degradation.

I forced myself to read on to the last paragraph, masochistically expecting a further raking-over-the-coals.

Surprise, Surprise (TV series)
Image via Wikipedia

Surprise.

I don’t know if my submission simply caught Mr. Editor on a good day or if he’s one-heck-of-a-nice-guy all the time, but he went on to say that my article finally arrived on his desk, and if I thought that I could be just as funny in six hundred words or so he’d like to see my piece again, to consider for his front-of-the-magazine section.

Hope.

I began the arduous task of pruning my essay almost in half–a slow, painful process akin to chewing off one of my own arms, or plucking myself bald, one grey hair at a time.

Discard. Keep. Adverbs. Adjectives. Nouns. Condense a twelve word sentence. Slash a nine sentence paragraph by a third. Weed words. Maintain thought flow. Don’t forget humor.

A day and a half later I triumphantly held a six hundred word article in my sweat-stained hands, and I prepared my cover letter.

In my first paragraph, I apologized for the mistakes I made in my previous submission, and I thanked Mr. Editor for being patient with me.

Dignity on my knees.

In my second paragraph, I said that I didn’t know if anyone could be funny in six hundred words or so, but I’d be crazy to not try.

Humor.

I ended my letter by saying I looked forward to hearing from Mr. Editor soon.

One week later I fished a thin return envelope from my mailbox mish-mash of junk fliers and bills.

“Nice work,” Mr. Editor said. “You’ll receive galleys before publication,” he said.

Cartwheels. Dance-around-the-kitchen-table. Pin nice Mr. Editor’s acceptance letter on my bulletin board. Head back to my computer, rejuvenated, ready and determined to spend the rest of my life writing.

***

green tick graphic
Image via Wikipedia

I learned several valuable lessons from this experience.

I learned that it’s extremely important to at least double-check submission information; I learned that some editors do have a sense of humor and will occasionally overlook submission mistakes if they think the material warrants; and I learned to tighten my prose to meet specific requirements, to edit excess verbiage, and to not be too shy to share my embarrassing experience with other writers who might learn from my mistakes.

By the way, this blog post started out as a one thousand word essay; I incorporated what I learned from my experience to pare it down–a slow, painful process akin to…

Now all I have to do is quadruple-check blog guidelines to ensure I post this entry in the appropriate categories with the appropriate tags, to the appropriate audience–hopefully an audience with a sense of humor.

Please, please, please…learn from my mistakes. I beg you!

English: A close-up of a Four-leaf clover.

Best of luck.

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11 thoughts on “Learning From My Mistakes

  1. Thanks for the tips, Sylvia. I think the biggest failure is to send articles to magazines without becoming knowledgeable about their formats and tastes. Keeping that in mind, I decided that nobody has my style or taste. SO I will have to start a magazine of my own!

    Ronnie

  2. That`s the good thing about the net, you can share experiences and help others to do better. In your case, it had a “happy ending” !!! And it cannot be stressed enough to check and double check, specially with online publications. Two years ago, I started to look for a freelance job as a second source of income. I was sent a piece to translate into Spanish as a “sample” of the quality of my translation. Long story short, I translated an article for free.

  3. OMG, you have me howling here. I hear you and so glad the editor liked your humor, I love it as well. On the note of rejections, if it wasn’t for rejection letters I’d get no mail at all, lol 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing, Sylvia. It’s so easy to overlook some seeming tidbit or other and shoot ourselves in the foot. It’s so nice to see the human side of “no thank you-s”.

    1. It sure is, Tess–sometimes we blindly follow the guidelines in the books/magazines we buy, without double-checking addresses, editors, and facts. I certainly learned my lesson, and I don’t think I’ve repeated it since that time. But then again, I was extremely fortunate that the editor who received my article had a sense of humor that apparently mirrored mine. I hope other writers can learn from my errors and enjoy a chuckle along the way!

  5. Great post Sylvia, with a lot of important information! Congratulations on having your article accepted. You rock girl!!!! I’m so glad you are human and make mistakes like the rest of us. That way I can learn from your mistakes as well as mine and get brilliant faster!

  6. That is not nearly as bad as when I sent the wrong essay to Smithsonian, and it was a humorous artcile about weight loss. I cringed for days when I realized my mistake. I received a nice little rejection slip, and Then I breathed 🙂

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