Strychnine…a stiletto dagger…an AK 47. Texas chain-saws…hit-and-run…the toxic liver of a Japanese blowfish. A noose dangling from cross-beamed rafters…manual strangulation…suffocation by plastic bag. Quicksand…cut brake pipes…hairdryer in the bathwater. Stampeding herds of wild elephants…poisonous spiders…man-eating Bengal tigers.
When starting out, many writers experience rejection. Although it’s tempting to fantasize about the monster behind the editorial desk coming to a gruesomely sticky end, it’s a waste of time and energy. Believe me, sticking pins in Haitian voodoo dolls does not work.
You need to ask yourself why your articles are getting rejected. If your writing is really good, it could be you’re doing something you shouldn’t…
For example, that article on Venice. Did you submit it in a ring-binder accompanied by a date-stamped snapshot of you, Mom and Auntie Gladys in a gondola, all grinning like village idiots? And was your photo in a glass-topped silver frame?
Articles encased in ring-binders…framed family-album snapshots? Yes, it sounds like something that only a brain-dead writer would dream of doing. Thing is, it happens. It certainly happens to Randy Curwen, travel editor of the Chicago Tribune. At last year’s Great Escape Publishing’s Travel Writers’ Workshop in the Windy City, Randy entertained us with a whole bunch of editorial horror stories.
We learned that all editors have their own pet peeves. (And some editors are more peevish than others.) If you get on their wrong side, it doesn’t matter if your article is absolutely brilliant. There’s every chance it will be rejected.
Here’s my own personal pick of 11 ways to really kill an editor. (And kill off your chances of publication.) If you want to paper your spare bedroom with rejection slips, be sure to follow these tried and tested rules.
1. Never address him or her by name. i.e. Always use “Dear Editor” instead of “Dear Ms Sensitive.”
Some editors also get very grouchy if you misspell their name or you address your cover note to their predecessor of five years ago. This reveals that you’re not up-to-date with the publication. Bingo! That’s one rejection slip in the bag already.
2. Ensure your full name and contact details remain a secret. Leave the editor guessing who the heck is Jane with the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Better still, don’t even give an e-mail address.)
Most editors receive hundreds of articles each week…and they certainly don’t keep a writer’s introductory letter in a scrapbook. Now, this might not result in obtaining one of those prized rejection slips, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your story will remain unpublished.
3. Pepper your story with spelling mistakes.
One editor says she immediately rejects a manuscript when seeing the word ‘accomodation’ instead of “accommodation.” All computers have a spell-check. So make sure you never use it. Ever.
4. Stick to those clichés!
Start off your story by describing a place as “a paradise,” “an Eden,” or a region’s “best-kept secret.” The phrase “When we told friends we were going to XXXX, they said we were crazy!” is also likely to see your story heading straight for the trash can. Using clichés invariably results in automatic rejection. If you’re in search of rejection slips, here’s another thing to note. Most editors also abhor “azure-blue waters,” villages that “nestle” and trade winds that “caress.”
5. Pitch a query or submit an article on a recently featured destination. Hint: The more recent, the better.
Again, it clearly shows that you don’t read the publication. Last month’s cover feature focused on California’s National Parks…and along comes your story on exactly the same theme. Excellent!
6. Be bone-idle.
You don’t need to get the magazine’s Writers’ Guidelines before submitting that 12-part series of 5000-word articles about your 3-month trek across the Kalahari Desert. If you’d read — and followed — the guidelines, you’d know the editor doesn’t accept personal journey stories. And that all articles run to 1,200 words, maximum.
7. Get incensed when your story isn’t acknowledged straight away.
Editors do not appreciate abusive phone calls. In fact, they generally don’t want to be harassed by any phone calls. It may be six weeks or eight weeks before you hear back about your story on the Loosest Slots in Las Vegas. So phone up at frequent intervals the day after you sent it…and be sure to curse like a Liverpool docker.
8. Make suggestions about how the travel section could be greatly improved…and how you are the one to improve it.
The editor undoubtedly does not want to hear why shoestring travelers like yourself believe the publication’s regular feature on up-market hotels is a waste of space. So be insistent. Contact the publisher and go over the editor’s head.
9. Try selling an outdated story as something new.
I’m sure the title “Back in the U.S.S.R.” hasn’t been used for quite a while. Moscow’s miserable hotels where you can only get cabbage soup and the bathtubs come without a plug…being stalked by KGB agents…tractor maintenance on a Soviet collective farm. All wonderful stuff! I can guarantee you haven’t got a prayer of selling this story.
10. Include a cover letter that is basically a blow-by-blow account of everything in your travel article.
If your story is 2,000 words long, your cover note should be even lengthier. Obviously it may need some padding. Tell the editor about your first day at school, your mad uncle in Australia, how your dog vomited into the next-door-neighbor’s goldfish tank. A 15,000 word cover letter is definitely good for another rejection slip.
11. Be negative. Extremely negative.
“10 reasons not to go to Dublin” is a sure-fire loser. “The worst places to stay in San Jose” sounds pretty good too. When you’re on the rejection trail, this approach works for all kinds of articles. Stress how the natives are unfriendly, the food is diabolical, and the accommodations are all flea-pits. Works every time.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]