I’ve worked for editors, with editors, and I am an editor. My colleagues and I often can tell from the first two lines of a pitch letter or an article that we don’t need to read any further. Here are the five most common mistakes that beginning – and sometimes not-so-beginning – writers make in submitting their work.
1. Communicate to the editor as though you were members of the same generation – or best friends, (e.g. skip the salutation and dive right in), like: “Whoa, dude, your mag is sick. I would be so stoked for you to read my article on my trip to Thailand.” Your better bet is to approach it as the intelligent writer you are, like: “Dear Mr. or Ms. (name), I’d like to submit an article on finding the best local craft boutiques in rural Thailand. I’m just back from a buying trip with a friend.”
2. Don’t proofread your work. You have grammar/spell check on your word processing program, Grammarly on-line and, by the time you think you are ready to send your work out you should have strong command of the English language. But, hey, why bother with all of that. So, an editor reads these opening sentences and hits Delete: Dear Ms. Sojirnir, Id like to sumbit a peace for your fine magazine. It’s about my time in Cleveland as a bar-tender.
3. Begin an article with dialogue. That way the editor or reader has no idea where they are. They are unmoored, but not enough to not hit the Delete button. “Get out of there,” he said. We backed away. This is a bonus example. Not only does the editor not know where “there” is, s/he doesn’t know who he is or who we are. Try this: My best friend Mike and I stood at the edge of Tsegi Canyon in Northern Arizona. A Navajo rancher pulled up next to us in his quad. “Get out of there,” he said. We backed away.
4. Don’t bother to read the magazine or web-site you are pitching. Dear editor, I believe that Good Housekeeping is the perfect venue for my article on skate-boarding the Silk Road. I’ve attached it. Hope to hear from you soon. Editor gets as far as skate-boarding, sighs and disappears you and your fabulous article.
5. Pile on tons of information: about you, your article and who you know in the industry. Dear Ms. Sojourner, My good friend (name your writing instructor you once had in college), suggested I write you about a proposal s/he just know you will like. I’m a 35-year-old mother/father of three delightful kids, though my article isn’t about them. It emerges from the years I spent as a corporate executive (corner office) in the pharmaceutical industry. Went through a divorce, but my kids and I now live in Portland, where I free-lance writing. Just getting started, but all writers had to.
My article, Life with Little Travelers, is about multiple adventures which Tomas, Lily, Davidson and I have had in and around the faceted city of Portland. I write about child-friendly restaurant, dog parks, children’s theatre and every so much more….
Try this: Dear Ms. Sojourner, Here’s an article on undiscovered child-friendly restaurants and parks in Portland. I’m a local with three kids.