How to Make Your Writing Stand Out to Editors

As a freelance writer, much of your time will inevitably be spent sending your work out to various publications. Whether you’re a poet, blogger, or journalist, much of your career will involve submitting samples to editors/editorial boards for consideration.

And it can feel intimidating — especially when you’re a new writer — to send your work out into the world in the hopes of getting published. I touched on this briefly in my first blog post, 3 Free Ways to Get Published as a New Writer, but today’s article will dig into more specifics on this entire process.

As someone who’s been on both ends of this — as an author seeking publication and as an editor selecting pieces for publication — I’ve got some handy tips to keep in mind.

I also recognize that the best advice will vary depending on the type of writing you do. So, I’ve divided these tips up based on genre:

Tips for creative authors submitting literary work

This advice will be best-suited for authors of poetry, creative non-fiction, and short stories. Most publications you’ll submit to will be literary magazines and journals which ask for pieces of polished, high-quality writing during their call for submissions. If you’re a poet, this will usually be around 1-3 poems. If you’re a fiction writer, this will usually be one piece of approximately 1000-3000 words. 

Here’s how to make your work stand out:

1. Know your audience. 

Try to get a good sense of what kind of publication you’re submitting to. Do they typically publish experimental work, or are they more “high-brow”? 

Better yet, have you submitted to this publication in the past? If so, did they accept or reject your submission? Let that guide you; if you’ve been successful before, aim to take a similar approach. 

If you’ve been rejected by their editorial board in the past, make a conscious effort to tailor your selections to the kind of work they do publish. This doesn’t mean that you need to change your writing style altogether. It just means looking at your catalogue of work and selectively picking the pieces that seem to suit their tastes. 

For example, if you submitted a long-form poem to a publication in the past and they rejected it, take a look at their past issues. Do they seem to prefer snappy, short, and minimalist poetry? If so, next time, pick one of your shorter pieces to send instead.

2. Make note of how much they pay upon publication (if they do at all).

Next, you’ll want to be sure that you understand exactly what publication entails. Read the call for submissions carefully.

Will contributors be paid for their work? If so, how much? Will contributors receive free copies of the publication? If so, how many copies? 

If the publication doesn’t offer compensation (which is quite common), ask yourself: Is it really worth it? Will this specific publication look good on my writer’s CV? Does this publication offer a wide reach in terms of their audience? If so, it may still be worthwhile.

You should also keep in mind that when you later go to apply for writing programs, residencies, or grants, many review boards will refuse to count publication credits as “professional” unless they involve some form of payment. So, choose carefully. The most realistic strategy is to submit to a mix of both paying and non-paying publications.

3. Follow their instructions closely.

Again, I’ve touched on this in a previous blog post, but it’s absolutely imperative that you follow the guidelines listed in the publication’s call for submissions. 

It’s useless to send your work out if you’re rushing through the process and ignoring specifications like font style, font size, file format, length, or title format. Messing up just a single specification can immediately disqualify you from consideration. Some editors are more lax than others, but there’s no way to tell how forgiving a certain editorial board will be. Always play it on the safe side by following the rules.

And, as mentioned before on the Writing Advice blog, you’ll want to make note of whether or not a magazine/journal allows simultaneous submissions. If they allow you to send your work for consideration to other publications at the same time, they’ll likely ask you to reach out and let them know if — in the meantime — it gets accepted elsewhere. 

If they don’t allow simultaneous submissions, then don’t send your work to other journals while waiting to hear back. Of course, this rule can be restrictive for authors and make you wait long periods of time to send your work out to multiple places, therefore limiting your chances of getting published in general. If this bothers you, simply don’t submit to publications who maintain this policy.

4. Take your time, and then be patient.

It doesn’t make sense to rush through this process. Don’t try to bang out 10 different tailored submissions to various journals in one day. Take your time to carefully choose the right publications, understand their compensation rates/guidelines, and prepare your writing sample for submission. 

Many magazines and journals only accept submissions from the same author once per year, so you need to make your one shot count! Put adequate time and effort into your submission. 

But once you’ve done the work and sent your submission in, try to be patient. Editors are often strapped for time. Many publications take several months, or even up to a year, to respond to submissions. 

Try not to take it personally if you’re left waiting — and many calls for submissions will include an estimate of how long it will take to hear back. If it’s been a while and you’re unsure of the status of your submission, you can (politely) follow up with the editors. But — again — try not to take it personally if they don’t respond for a while.

I know that — as an author — the waiting period can feel grueling and frustrating. But I also know that — as an editor — it’s a really lengthy and complicated process to sort through submissions, read them, and correspond with all the potential contributors. Try to have a little grace with us, if you can!

Tips for submitting/pitching your non-literary work

This advice is more applicable to freelance writers of articles and blog posts. You’ll likely be pitching to websites, magazines, or newspapers. This differs from literary work in one very important way: submitting creative writing usually involves sending a sample of “finished” work, whereas pitching an article for a website involves sending an overview of a proposed concept (before even writing the article). 

Here’s how to master the pitching process:

1. Figure out the voice of the publication you’re submitting to.

Your pitch will be most effective if you’ve read several different articles from the publication in question. Get to really know the tone of their writers, and get a sense of what topics they generally cover. There’s no use pitching a light, fun lifestyle piece to a website that solely focuses on tech.

Keep in mind that you want the pitch to both fit in with their current overall voice while still adding something unique to the conversation. Search their website to make sure they haven’t published a story like yours in the past. 

2. Keep it brief.

A pitch should feel snappy, concise, and interesting. You want to pique the editor’s interest while not overwhelming them with excessive details. This is a pitch — not a full article — after all. In general, a pitch of 100-300 words is a good starting point. Be sure to include a potential title (or two) and a summary of your article concept as a whole. 

3. Make sure you’re contacting the right person.

The biggest mistake you can make when pitching is to send it to the wrong person. A pitch is doing nothing if it sits in the incorrect inbox. Take the time to figure out who you need to contact. Checking the “submissions” or “guidelines” page on their website is a good place to start.

Their website will likely list a specific person (like a managing editor) to send your email to, or will simply list a centralized email address that they use to accept submissions (without mentioning who you’re sending it to exactly). If you can find a specific person, all the better! That way, you can address them directly in your email. 

Think of it like applying for a job — you want to get your work in front of the right person, and if possible, you’ll want to address the hiring manager (or, in this case, editor) directly to show that you’ve put in the effort. This is not necessary, but it certainly helps.

Wrapping up

There you have it — my top tips to get noticed as a freelance writer. I hope you found them helpful. As always, be sure to subscribe to the blog to be notified of each new article.

Happy writing!

And let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite way to make your writing stand out?

How to Write Your First Ebook: Tips From a Professional Ghostwriter

With people staying home now more than ever, ebooks are having a moment

Just today, The New York Times released an interesting article about how the COVID-19 crisis has shifted American spending habits. The piece notes that, while many forms of entertainment/media have seen stark drops in sales, those of ebooks and audiobooks have actually increased.

So, if you’ve ever flirted with the idea of writing an ebook, there’s no better time to get started. And as a professional ghostwriter, I know a thing or two about the process.

When I ghostwrite an ebook, my job is to take a client’s rough work and turn it into a cohesive publication. They might give me a full outline or simply a working title. Then, I step in to research, organize, and write the text of the ebook itself.

I’ve ghostwritten over 100 projects for various businesses and authors, and I’m going to let you in on my top tips for writing yours:

Start with brainstorming.

The first step of any good writing project is to brainstorm. And if you don’t have a topic in mind yet, try asking yourself the following questions: 

  • What is the purpose of this ebook? If it’s to promote my business, what kind of industry am I focusing on? What do my potential clients need to learn? What kind of knowledge gaps am I equipped to fill?
  • What am I really knowledgeable about? What are my strengths? What am I interested in?

The goal of your ebook should be to teach the reader about something you’re an expert on. Look at your own background and skills to find a good topic to narrow in on.

You can also take a bit of time to research popular ebooks. For example, you can check out the Amazon Kindle Store to see which titles are selling well at the moment —  both in general and in your specific niche.

Pick a particular topic, and try to come up with an interesting title. (This can always be edited later — it’s just to get things started.)

Make a thorough outline.

With a title/concept in mind, the next step is to get organized. Consider the following:

  • How long do I want my ebook to be? 3,000 words? 5,000 words? 10,000 words?
  • How will I structure the book? What are some potential titles for my chapters?

With that in mind, start creating an outline for your ebook. You can always change this later, but start planning out different chapters.

For each chapter, you’ll need to conduct research. Using the internet or print books you have at home, find reputable sources in your field. 

Treat it almost like an assignment you’d write in school; come up with your topic/thesis and find some sources to reference. Your outline should have plenty of notes and links to various relevant articles.

As with writing a homework assignment, you don’t want to be caught plagiarizing anything. Keeping a handy outline with all of the links to your references will make it easier to cite them within your ebook itself. Even if you’re just paraphrasing something you’ve read, you need to link back to the original source.

(An added step is to later use Copyscape Premium as a final plagiarism check to make sure you haven’t missed any citations. I’d highly recommend this.)

Set a timeline/schedule.

After you’ve got a good handle on what you’re writing about and how you’ll actually organize it, you’ll need to look at when you’ll get it done. So, open up your calendar and see what your next 1-2 months look like.

Make a timeline for completing your first ebook draft. Schedule in work sessions (ideally at least 1-3 hours at a time) across several weeks. Figure out when you’ve got the time to write, and make a plan to do so.

Of course, if you’re writing a super short ebook, it might only take you a week or two, but if it’s more extensive, you could be looking at over a month’s worth of work. 

Whatever the length of your project, staying organized will help ensure that your project gets done.

Start piecing everything together.

Once you’ve made your schedule and are starting work on your ebook, you need to put a few basic things in place. Using your chosen platform (I often use Google Drive to write drafts of ebooks), get the skeleton of your ebook worked out.

Create a simple title page; write a table of contents; find some free stock images to include with each chapter. (Pexels and Pixabay are both excellent sites for finding images that are free for commercial use.)

It doesn’t need to be perfect, but getting down a bare-bone version of your ebook will allow you to fill in the blanks with your writing.

Complete your first draft.

Over time, you can start actually writing your ebook. Using your outline as a starting point, draft up your chapters. Be sure to properly cite each source.

When it comes to the quality of your writing itself, don’t stress too much about making it perfect — your first task is simply to get it written. You can edit everything later.

Keep things simple to read; most ebooks meant for the general public should feel quick and snappy. Your job isn’t really to create a highly-dense piece of writing — the tone of an ebook is typically short, sweet, and to the point. 

You want to communicate helpful information to your reader, but you also don’t want to bore them with complicated jargon and lengthy paragraphs (at least not in most industries). 

In a way, you can think of an ebook as an extended blog post. If you’re already an experienced blogger, you’ll know that writing for the web involves breaking complicated concepts into simpler terms. Your job is to streamline reputable information into a breezy, digestible format.

Get editing.

Congrats! You’ve finished your first draft. The next step is to start editing. You can obviously do this by yourself at first, but you’ll want to get a fresh set of eyes on your ebook, too.

Ideally — if it’s within your budget — the next step is to hire an editor. If you’re on a shoestring budget, sites like Fiverr or Upwork can connect you with low-cost freelancers, but the quality isn’t always the best.

(For reference, I’ve used Fiverr as both a freelancer and a customer, and the whole thing is really hit-or-miss. The extremely low rates aren’t ideal for sellers or buyers; the result is an oversaturated marketplace with many inexperienced freelancers essentially racing to the bottom/seeing who can do the most work for the lowest rate of pay.)

For this reason, I’d suggest researching freelancers on sites like LinkedIn, or simply through a Google search. Try to find somebody who’s experienced in digital content and has a thorough portfolio.

But if you don’t have the funds to spend on a professional at all, you can try asking family and friends to give you their feedback. Try offering them something in return, even if it’s just a small favour, for their time.

Start looking at next steps.

Once you’ve finalized your draft, you can start looking at next steps. If you have the funds, you can look into hiring a graphic designer or book designer to help with the formatting/layout of your ebook. 

Alternatively, sites like Canva offer free graphic design tools, and you can do some online research of your own to find technical tips on your ebook layout (like choosing between PDF or EPUB format, creating a clickable table of contents, etc.).

Personally, I usually opt for a PDF format and use free Google Drive templates to get my basic formatting done. But I’m not an expert on that side of things — I’m just the ghostwriter — so definitely do your own research to see what makes sense for you.

After that, you’ll want to look into distribution: Will you sell it on Amazon? Will you offer it as a free download for subscribers of your email list? Figure out the best way to get it to your potential readers. (A designer can often help you optimize the ebook for various platforms.)

Wrapping up

There you have it: a basic guide to writing your first ebook. I hope you found this article useful, and that you’ll consider drafting up your own title.

And if you’re ever looking to hire a ghostwriter or editor for your ebook, I’m also available to hire as a freelancer. Visit the Contact page to send me a message and get started.

Thanks, as always, for reading my Writing Advice column, and be sure to follow the blog if you’d like to keep up with future posts.

Happy writing!

How to Edit Your Own Chapbook 

Introduction

In my last blog post, How to Write a Chapbook of Poetry, I went over the process of completing a short manuscript. I briefly touched on the revision process, but today I’m going to get into the exact steps of self-editing your own book.

1. Decide where to submit.

I’d recommend self-editing your work before sending it out to publishers—this way, you’ll put your best foot forward during the submission process. 

Then, after you (hopefully!) get to work with a publisher, you’ll be assigned an editor to polish your manuscript with.

If, however, you’re planning on self-publishing your chapbook, I’d strongly encourage you to hire a copyeditor.

If it’s within your budget to hire a professional to help you out, I’d recommend it. Nothing beats the process of working with a trained editor to perfect your chapbook for publication.

2. Read over your own work.

Once you’ve assembled your first draft, carefully read through the poems. Pay close attention to spelling and punctuation

Ask yourself: Is everything spelled correctly? If not, are the misspellings made thoughtfully and intentionally? How much punctuation have I used? Am I aiming for a minimalist approach or a formal tone?

Read your poems out loud, repeatedly. Listen to the flow of each piece. Dive deep into the minutiae of the work. Take your time honing the voice of the speaker. 

3. Seek advice from respected colleagues.

As I touched on in my previous blog post, it’s a great idea to ask others for their thoughts. If you have writer friends, ask if you can take them out for a coffee and get their feedback on your work. 

Writer friend relationships are often reciprocal—if you met in a workshop or class, you’ve likely both helped edit each other’s work. This is an awesome part of finding a writing community—people are often very willing to help each other out.

If you’re lucky enough to have a poetry mentor, such as a professor/instructor you’ve become close with, see if they’re willing to read over your work. Many professionals are very busy, so this may not necessarily be possible—but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Try to offer something in return, such as a coffee or meal, to show your appreciation for their time. Remember that they may be willing to do this out of the goodness of their heart, but they deserve something for their efforts.

If you’re consulting an outside editor (who you’re not friends with), don’t ask them to read your work for free or in exchange for a meal. Pay them. Always.

4. Review the feedback you’ve received, and decide which suggestions to implement (or not).

Once you’ve gotten some solid feedback, ask yourself which of these edits actually make sense. At the end of the day, it’s your book

No matter how much you respect a colleague, they don’t necessarily understand your complete creative vision. Consider each suggestion carefully, but don’t feel obligated to accept every single one.

Thoughtfully implement the edits you find useful, and set aside the rest.

5. With your new edits made, return to step 2.

After consulting your peers and making some changes, read over the new versions of your poems thoroughly. Read them aloud again, and pay close attention to spelling/punctuation.

Once you’re pleased with the draft, submit it to publishers. If you’re self-publishing, move onto the phase of finding and working with your copyeditor before moving to print. 

(Check out my previous blog post for more specifics on the process of finding small presses to submit to.)

Conclusion

I hope you found this blog post helpful. If you want to read more of my Writing Advice posts, don’t forget to click the Follow button!

And, if you’re looking to hire a ghostwriter or editor for your next creative writing project, I offer freelance services. You can reach me at services@mercedeskilleen.com to get a quote.

Thanks for reading!