No matter how well you know the Internet, submitting your work to an agent or editor poses a great potential for error. You need to know how to make successful online submissions via a submission form (the usual choice of literary magazine editors) or by e-query (the preferred method for agents).
Follow these guidelines to avoid common errors when submitting online:
Take your time. Move through the steps carefully and follow the submission guidelines—don’t submit the wrong type of file or a work that goes over their word limit. Make sure all the fields are filled out correctly. If there’s a preview option, use it! It’s there for a reason.
Send a professional cover letter or biography. Don’t send anything sloppily written or more than one page long. Proofread and format carefully, and follow the journal’s submission guidelines. If a bio isn’t necessary, then don’t send one. It may seem obvious, but when you’ve been pasting your letter into field after field, you may forget to look at the details. Here's more information on how to write a well-crafted cover or query letter.
Remember to hit “submit” or “continue.” The preview form doesn’t mean that your submission is complete. Make sure you hit that last button, or all your work will have been for naught! You should see a confirmation or get an email if everything went through all right.
Pay attention to formatting. If you’ve cut and pasted text into an email, send the email to yourself first, in order to spot any formatting problems. Check the spacing—single-spacing is the standard for cover and query letters, and it looks good to boot. It’s also a good idea to stick to standard fonts and sizes. Twelve-point Times New Roman or Arial are the most common. Stay away from graphics, colors, and Comic Sans.
And no matter how great your writing is, certain mistakes stand out more so than others. Don’t let these major errors happen to you, or you’ll be giving agents and editors reason to immediately dismiss your submission:
Typos. Proofread, and then proofread again. Maybe proofread a third time for good measure.
Getting the agent’s or editor’s name wrong in your salutation. It’s much safer to use his or her full name instead of going with “Mr.” or “Ms.”—you’ll avoid embarrassing gender errors. And while a misspelling or gender error is pretty bad, sending the submission to the completely wrong person is worse. If your carefully crafted letter mentions that specific agency within the body of the letter, don’t copy and paste that same letter for the next agent.
Using slang or lazy abbreviations. Don’t say “OMG u will luv this plz repli.” You want to be taken seriously, don’t you?
Spamming multiple agents in the same email. You’re trying to find an agent who will recognize you as an individual among hundreds of submitters. You won’t make a good impression if you first treat him or her like just one of the many fish in the sea. Send a separate email to each agent you submit to. It’s just common courtesy.
Remember: A quick email to a friend is completely different than an online query to an agent or an e-submission to a literary magazine. Keep your submissions professional so that editors and agents will take you seriously. And don’t forget to hit submit!
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