Working for a magazine straight out of university is my dream gig.
A teenager obsessed with reading and writing, my goal in life was to be the next Carrie Bradshaw. That dream came true less than a year ago when I was hired as an editorial assistant at a local magazine. And after an entire week at my new job, I’d successfully pitched my own column where I got to talk all things love, sex and relationships. In between writing my column and being Carrie Bradshaw, I also found myself editing a lot of submissions.
While the quality of writing was always high, I found that the same mistakes were being made repeatedly. They weren’t spelling and grammar errors but they still demanded a certain amount of energy and attention. The quality of writing was always great, but if the writer had fixed up a few simple errors, then it would have been perfect. These tips are for the seasoned writer who wants to take their submissions to the next level and get published EVERY time.
The English language is complicated and interesting, but when writing submissions for your dream website, it’s always best to keep it simple. Commas, full stops, brackets, colons, semicolons, hyphens, en dashes and em dashes. We have a world of variety and it’s easy to pepper your writing with all of the above. But as my writing teacher once told me, when in doubt ,just use comma! The reason that over-punctuation annoys your editor is because they have to trawl through the masses of squiggly lines and determine what is necessary to the sentence structure and what can be replaced. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the time, punctuation is used incorrectly. Honestly, I still don’t know when it’s appropriate to use a semicolon and so I like to stick to the humble comma instead.
One of my favourite tricks for beating a bout of writer’s block is to change the font, size and colour of my words on the page. There is nothing more dooming than a blank white space, but filling it with creative words always allows the writing to flow. While it’s okay to write in weird and whacky ways when it comes to submitting an article, make sure the page is whistle clean. Editors simply aren’t impressed with fancy headings and Wingdings type font. All that they’re looking for is great writing without the distraction. Most of the time, the bizarre formatting will only detract from your writing and make it difficult to read the words. Weird formatting can sometimes just happen so to make sure your final submission is clean. Select the ‘Clear Formatting’ option in the Microsoft Word toolbar.
While the previous mistakes are quite simple and straightforward to fix, tone and style gets a bit difficult and can take some time to get right. As a starting point, you need to get clear on the format of your article. For example, blog posts are written in a very different style to a magazine article. Online magazine articles are also written differently than if they were to go to a print magazine and while blog posts can be quite conversational and friendly, magazines demand a hint of professionalism. If all of this is going over your head then don’t stress, most large blogs and magazines will have a style guide with lots of tips to writing your submission. Print this out and use it as a checklist before submitting your article. If the publication doesn’t have a style guide then make sure you read a number of their articles and attempt to identify the style and tone. Are the articles written in a serious tone or are the other submissions playful and cheeky? Is there a soulful undertone or is the publication more professional? What kind of format are other articles? Do they use research to underpin the main points? Are they ‘how to’ style posts or lists? Maybe they’re more focused on telling a story?
As a writer and editor, I get to see both sides of the coin. I know how nerve-racking it can be to write for a big publication but I also understand the reality of being an editor. My greatest advice would be to always write in a method and style that’s good for you. These errors that I’ve mentioned can be fixed after you’ve written the heart and soul of your story. I’ve found the best way to write is to write for yourself first, and then worry about what editors want. Stressing about the right punctuation, formatting, style and tone can be stifling to your creativity and there won’t be anything to submit if you can’t put pen to paper.
I hope these tips act as motivation to improve your writing and not as a block for creating your best work. Eliminate these three errors from your submissions and I can guarantee that you’re making it 100 percent easier for an editor to say yes to your article.