Writing and Publishing

Common Submission Errors

Here are the three biggest mistakes people make when submitting content for publication. Avoid these common submission errors :

1. Not Following Submission Guidelines

The first submission error is not following directions.

Adhering to submission guidelines helps increase the chance of them publishing your work. Each deviation lessens the likelihood of success.

Common mistakes include missing deadlines (a huge no-no), submitting content not accepted by the publication, and having a piece that’s the wrong length. Too many writers ignore the directions for submissions.

2. Not Proofreading Their Work

The second submission mistake is not proofreading their submission.

Most editors will overlook an error or two, but when it’s clear that the author never even ran spellcheck, it’s obvious they haven’t bothered to send their best work, and they expect me to clean it up. Sometimes I don’t have the time, but it always irritates me,

3. Not Adhering to Writing Conventions

The third submission error is using non-standard formatting.

Some writers must think that creative formatting equals creative writing. It does not. They use odd fonts or switch fonts within the piece, various point sizes, multiple colors, and lots of bold, italics, underline, all three, and ALL CAPS.

All these things require work to clean up. Make it simple for editors by submitting a clean copy with no embellished formatting.

To have the best chance of success, avoid these common submission errors.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Writing and Publishing

A Creative Way to Deal with Rejection

Rejection hurts. We’ve all heard stories of popular books that had scores of editors or publishers reject them before someone realized the potential and published them. The rest is publishing history.

Since writers deal with a lot of rejection, Writer’s Digest had the idea to provide a creative outlet for them to vent their frustration. They called it “Reject a Hit.” The popular feature ran for many years.

The premise was to pick an immensely successful book and write a fictitious rejection letter. It offered a safe way to allow authors to poke fun at the gatekeepers who blocked their path to publication. You can read some of these letters online.

I sent them my contribution, but the magazine shuttered the column about the time I made my submission. It never ran, and there is no suitable outlet to share my prose.

So, I’ll post it here:

Reject a Hit: The Bible


I was a bit surprised to receive your submission for the Bible. Though I had lofty expectations, the writing left me disappointed, and the substance perplexed me.

First, this is an anthology—sort of. Anthology contributors should be contemporaries, not span several centuries. And you must pick one genre. Jumping from historical nonfiction to poetry is a stretch, and the prophetic works are repetitive.

Though I like the biographies of Jesus, do you really need four?

Dystopian is hot now. Could you rework it?

The writing styles are also jarring. Paul’s rhetoric annoys me. John’s words have a lyrical flow but confuse me. David’s poems seem bipolar. Luke’s writing is solid, though he does switch perspectives in the middle of Acts.

Also, there are too many layers here. It would take a lifetime to grasp; no one will invest that much time in one book.

Plus, the Bible is no place for violence, incest, and rape. Your characters must be wholesome if you want acceptance by religious book buyers. Additionally, I suggest you remove “Song of Songs.” It borders on erotica.

With great trepidation, I must reject your submission—all the while praying you don’t strike me dead. From a business standpoint, I don’t see an upside to this. I can appreciate that you expect the Bible will become the most popular book ever, but that’s unrealistic. Not even your contributors will buy a copy—they’re all dead.

Though I don’t see any future in this as a book, you may want to consider movies. There are a couple of good stories hidden in its pages. With some poetic license and the right director, you may be able to salvage some of this.


Rev. Uptight Preacher, PhD

Religion Editor, Pharisee Press

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Writing and Publishing

How to Format Your Submission

There are two main points for the proper way to format your submission.

First, there are common basic criteria that almost all people agree on.

Second, most publishers and editors will tell you what else they expect in their submission guidelines. So, follow these basic formatting expectations in all your work, and then tweak it as needed for specific instances.

Here are the basics:

  • Times New Roman font: 12 points, black
  • Double-spacing between lines
  • Only one space to end a sentence
  • Flush left and jagged right (that is, left-justified but not right)
  • Indented paragraphs, usually a half an inch (Use the indentation setting in your word processor; don’t use a certain number of spaces or set a tab.)
  • One-inch top and bottom margins
  • Equal side margins (usually either one inch or one and a half inches)
  • Don’t have a hard break (that is, a “carriage return”) at the end of each line.
  • Don’t add an extra line at the end of a paragraph, except for a scene break or transition).

If you follow these basics, few editors will object, and most will consider you a pro.

Here are some bonus considerations:

  • Don’t format the margins differently on odd and even pages (as you would see in a book).
  • On the first page, include your name and contact information (email, phone, and mailing address) at the top, along with the word count (and with articles and short stories, indicate the rights you are offering). Some publications will specify that you put this information in the top right and others, the top left. Some will say to put this in the header and others will specify the top of the page, so expect some variation, but the key is to not omit this critical information.
  • For all other pages, add a header with your last name, short title, and the page number. There may be some variations on this too, but the main thing is to have this key information in a header (or footer), not on the page itself.

Last, don’t let formatting paralyze you. In almost all cases, editors will fix a minor deviation or two without complaint. They generally want you to succeed. Following conventional formatting—along with great writing—will help get your work published.

Writing and Publishing

Should You Expect Submission Feedback?

Many writers wish editors, agents, and publishers would give feedback when they reject a submission, but they don’t. As a writer, I share this frustration. As a publisher, I know the reason why they don’t provide submission feedback.

After trying in vain to give writers feedback and wasting way too much time in the process, I’ve simply given up. I can better spend my time working with the submissions I accept to make them the best they can be.

When I reject a submission, it’s usually with a short message: “I have decided to pass. Sorry.” This is curt, but anything more, especially to tell them why, inevitably spirals into a series of email exchanges, which are time-consuming and seldom productive.

Few people who’ve asked for my feedback truly want to improve. Instead, they hope they can talk me into changing my mind.

If a person submits something clearly outside the type of content my publications use, I just delete their message. This may seem harsh, too, yet they didn’t even bother to read the submission guidelines and don’t have a clue about what we publish. I owe them nothing.

By the way, I get ten or more unsolicited submissions a day, along with several hundred spam emails. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference. It takes too much time to wade through them. I, like every other publisher, editor, and agent, am pressed for time. I need to make every minute count.

Instead of hoping for submission feedback, use other resources to improve as a writer. Then submit your best work according to the submission guidelines. That’s what I do.

Writing and Publishing

What Does It Mean When a Publisher Rejects Our Book?

No one likes to hear “no” but it’s part of writing, and we need to understand it

We work hard to write a book. We edit, seek feedback, and hire professional help. It’s our baby, and we love it. We cherish each word. We send it into the world with high expectations, but someone shoots it down by rejecting it. We must learn how to deal with rejection and we must learn what rejection means:

The Book Isn’t Ready: Sometimes our book isn’t as mature as we thought. It may require more work, or we may need more time to improve as a writer. If we push our book into the world before it is ready, we’re bound to hear “no.” Yep. I’ve done that.

The Concept Isn’t Good: Other times our writing is great, but the concept behind it isn’t strong. Excellent writing seldom salvages a weak idea. I’ve had my share of bad ideas.

The Execution Falters: Another possibility, despite good writing in support of a great concept, occurs when the implementation falls short of expectations. I’ve had great ideas I wasn’t ready to pull off.

The Platform Isn’t Big Enough: The sad reality of writing is that writing a great book isn’t enough. We also need the means to promote our books. That means we need a following. The publishing industry calls this a platform. Though our book can contain great writing around a unique premise with superb execution, we might still hear a “no” if our platform is deemed inadequate. Yep, I’ve heard that, too.

The Timing is Wrong: Publishers strive to publish books that people will buy. Sometimes readers grow tired of a certain genre or want to move to a different experience. That’s when publishers will stop producing one type of book in favor of another. The book we just finished may be a victim of a changing market. Perhaps in a few years, the pendulum will swing back.

They Don’t Know How to Market It: Even when we hit all of the preceding items, the publisher may not know how to market the book. They reject our submission, not because it’s bad, but because they don’t know what to do with it.

It’s a Great Book That Doesn’t Fit Their Vision: Last, everything with our book could align, but it’s not what the publisher wants at this time. There could be a number of reasons for this, and each one falls outside of our control. Just because a publisher won’t publish a book, doesn’t mean it isn’t quality work. Their rejection doesn’t automatically mean our book is no good. It could suggest something else. 

As writers, we need to understand the various causes of rejection. Although I don’t know for sure, I suspect all of these have happened to me.

Though we have no influence over some of these reasons for rejection, we need to do all we can to avoid the ones we can control. This starts by submitting our best work and continues as we seek to improve our writing. These are the two keys to success.

Writing and Publishing

7 Tips to Successfully Deal With Rejection

Being a writer means developing a thick skin, which is easy to say and hard to do

Part of being an author is putting our work out there for other people to see. Sometimes this means sharing our writing with other writers, passing it out to family and friends, or posting it on a blog. Other times we self-publish (more on that later). But eventually most of us get to the point where we submit our work for publication.

When we click “send” to deliver that email or “submit” to complete an online form, we do so with trepidation. We hope to hear “yes” but we fear a response of “no.”

I’ve heard both. Acceptance sends our spirits soaring, filled with excitement and packed with affirmation. Rejection spirals us downward, filled with deep despair and packed with self-doubt.

I’ve been there. Every writer has.

When someone rejects our work and tells us “no,” here’s what we need to remind ourselves:

It’s Not Personal: The rejection isn’t rejecting us; it’s rejecting one piece of our work, nothing more. Though it rarely happens, if they attack us personally or make broad statements about all of our work, then we need to reject them because they don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s One Person’s Opinion: We all have opinions and sometimes we can be wrong. The same applies to those who evaluate our work. They just might be in error. (Though hearing the same thing repeatedly may signal an opinion to consider.)

It Doesn’t Define Us: Hearing “no” to one piece of our work doesn’t apply to us as a person or as a writer. The rejection of one piece is nothing more. Our body of work is more than one item of writing, and we are more than our body of work.

It Brings Us Closer to Publication: Salespeople know that “each ‘no’ gets them one step closer to ‘yes.’” They know selling is a numbers game, so they push forward until someone says “yes.” Guess what? Submitting our writing is sales.

If it Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It: Writing is hard work. Most people want to write a book or wish they had, but few actually do. We are the few who have written. This automatically makes us part of an elite group. The fact that writing is hard actually serves to reduce the competition. That’s a good thing. 

It’s Like Life: Life has its ups and downs. We need the bad times to appreciate the good. Writing is the same way. If we heard “yes” on every submission, we would fail to appreciate it. Plus when we hear “no…”

It Makes Us Strive to Do Better: While we could let rejection break us, we’re better off using it to make us stronger. We work harder to write better. We should use the noes of writing to motivate us to improve.

Rejection sucks. It truly does. When it happens we need to mourn the loss for a time and then move on. When we do this we move toward publication.

Don’t let the noes of writing stop you from hearing the yeses.

Writing and Publishing

3 Reasons Why Writers Need Deadlines

Having a firm due date provides authors with three essential benefits

Few people enjoy being confronted by a deadline. And due dates apply to writers perhaps more than most others. Deadlines harass us; they make us write when we’d rather do something else, something fun, important, or beneficial. Due dates force us to make sacrifices, too. But deadlines are not our enemy. They are our friends because of the offer us three key benefits.

1) Avoid Procrastination: Most people put off doing things, even important, essential tasks, such as a writer putting off writing. We call this procrastination. The reasons for this are many, and those who struggle with procrastination should explore the reasons behind it. Regardless, having a firm due date provides the motivation to avoid the ugly threat of procrastination. For example, I post on this blog each Saturday. This is my deadline—no excuses.

2) Avert Perfection: Another characteristic of many writers is an inner drive to make every word, phrase, and scene be exactly correct, to be perfect. Without deadlines, writers will continue to edit and tweak without end, day after day. A friend recently completed writing her novel. I asked how long she would spend editing it. Her simple answer spoke volumes: “Every day until it’s due.” Without a firm due date, she would have continued an endless pursuit of perfection.

3) Advance Production: When we hit deadlines we produce content, one piece at a time. Our writing production grows. Sometimes we see our submitted work published; other times, not. Regardless, these annoying, inconvenient deadlines cause our writing output to soar. Deadlines serve to expand our portfolio.

To realize these three advantages assumes that writers take deadlines seriously and don’t miss them. Otherwise, a due date becomes nothing more than a nagging distraction. We need to embrace deadlines for the benefits they produce and thank them for pushing us forward.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Writing and Publishing

Sometimes Rewriting Our Old Work Isn’t Worthwhile

The amount of time required to rework a piece is often too great, and it’s best to let it go.

I once read the debut novel by a YA author. I was quite taken by it. I loved her humor and writing style. I wanted more, but since it was her first published novel I would need to wait.

I later learned something surprising: she had written five other novels, all unpublished. True, few novelists land a publishing deal on their first novel. Or their second or they’re third. I understand it typically takes four or five before they find their voice and hone their craft. I heard of another author who wrote nine novels before he sold one.

Since I don’t write novels (yet), I wondered why authors give up on their initial attempts. Just fix the flaws in their back material, and it’s good to go. However, this may be naive thinking.

I recently pulled out a short story I wrote several decades ago. It is the oldest one that I still have. I read it. The premise was good. I grabbed readers with the opening, surprised them at the end, and had an interesting arc in the between part. All it needed was a simple edit to incorporate what I now know.

It wasn’t that simple.

First, I had written it in third-person omniscient. This was fine in 1977 but not acceptable for today’s market. Publishing’s gatekeepers now deem head-hopping verboten. I picked a point-of-view (POV) character, the mom, which required I rewrite all the scenes that included the dad’s, daughter’s, and boyfriend’s thoughts; this accounted for most of the story. Plus it took too many false starts to home in on the right POV character. 

Next, my narrator’s voice was a juvenile’s, which makes sense because I was a teenager when I wrote it. I needed to update that as well. Last was a pleasant reality that I’m a much better writer now and had scores of novice errors to fix.

After several rewrites and the investment of too much time, my once unacceptable short story was now acceptable: good but not great. An editor told me as much in his rejection email when I submitted it for publication.

I suspect I spent four times the work trying to fix this old short story as I would have spent writing and polishing a new one. I should have thrown it away and focused on new material.

Now I understand why some first novels aren’t worth the effort to fix.

Writing and Publishing

How to Submit an Article for Publication

Common sense tips, that most people skip, to increase the chances of having your writing submission accepted in magazines and websites:

As a magazine, newsletter, and website publisher, I’ve received thousands of article submissions over the years. Some of the writers are easy to work with and others are more of a chore. If you hope to see your work published, don’t be a pain when you submit content.

While I’m willing to work with a writer who tries hard, I’m much less willing to work with a writer who hardly tries. Follow these tips for your best chance of success.

  • Know the Publication or Website: Read their past content. As you do, envision if your idea is a good fit. If not, don’t force it. Seek another topic or a different outlet.
  • Look for Submission Guidelines: Find their submission criteria on their website. If they don’t have anything posted, they aren’t likely to open to receiving unsolicited submissions. If you can’t find their instructions, even after double-checking, look for articles from non-staff writers or guest posts. Contact those writers to see how they did it. Maybe they’ll make an introduction for you. As a last option, email the publication and ask if they’re open to receiving submissions.
  • Do What They Ask: If they ask you to pitch your idea (sometimes called a query or an abstract for more academic outlets), then do that. Others (like me) ask for finished pieces only. Never ever send a draft and ask for feedback.
  • Write the Best Possible Article: You know the drill: write, re-write, edit, spellcheck and proofread. You only get one chance with this article at this publication, so give it your best effort.
  • Follow their Requirements Carefully: Reread their submission guidelines and meet every requirement. Though most editors won’t disqualify you for making a tiny blunder, it could count against you, and too many will result in a rejection.
  • Be Patient: Most publications will acknowledge they received your submission. If you haven’t heard back in a week or so, ask—politely. If your piece is accepted, be patient. It can be a while for them to post it online and several months for print.
  • Promote It: Most print publications post their content online. When they do, promote your piece. Post the news and a link on social media, your blog, and in your newsletter. If you can drive enough traffic to the publication’s website for them to notice, they will be eager to consider more of your content.
  • Thank Them: Most writers skip this step; don’t be one of them. Once your piece has run, thank them—even if some aspect of it wasn’t to your satisfaction. If you have an idea for another piece or are open to receive an assignment, this is the ideal time to mention it.

Following these steps will not guarantee the publication of your work, but they will move you ahead of most writers. I wish you the best in your writing.