Thursday, February 4, 2010

How to Make an Editor Groan

If you intentionally wanted an editor to reject your manuscript, what would you do? Should you warn the editor in a cover letter that God wants your story printed? Perhaps you could blatantly plagiarize? Actually, there are quite a few techniques for getting a manuscript rejected.

Nowadays I do more freelance writing than editing, but for five years I was a project manager for a Christian publisher. During that time I often saw manuscripts that repeated the same ancient errors. So here’s a tongue-in-cheek peek at how to write only if you want to make an editor groan—and then reject your submission. (By the way, I’ve seen these gaffs committed by both novices and Ph.D’s.) Applicable to cover letters, fiction, or non-fiction:

1. Make your opening as unimaginative as possible. For instance, cite a sterile definition from a dictionary. Or use stale, worn-out quotations attributed to an unknown “someone.”

2. Go overboard with mechanics. USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS! Employ multiple punctuation marks!!!!!!!! Use exotic fonts and various type sizes to get attention.

3. Don’t proofread for spelling. Use groaner misspellings such as:

- “There are grave dangers in roll-playing games.”
- “Bob and Hank bought wenches, hooked them to the minivan, and hauled the truck out of the ditch.” (Hint: this is slavery!)

4. Use an undefined “we” in your cover letter.
- “We find that highly successful individuals read their Bible daily.”

5. Concoct illogical imagery:

- “I blessed his heart from head to toe!” (Huh?)
- “Has God become so common that our hectic thoughts do not even skip a beat when placed face to face with Him?” (Do thoughts have beats? Do they have faces?)

6. Dangle modifiers:

- “As former evangelists, their travels had proven the need for such a ministry.” (Literally, this means the “travels” had once been evangelists.)
- “A graduate and longtime friend of ______ _____ College, the Lord has truly blessed Pastor Hanson.” (Wow, the Lord is one of their graduates?)

7. Get cocky. Insist that you wrote it perfectly the first time and refuse to change a thing. Miss your deadlines – and then blame someone else. Get snooty now that you have become one of the elite – a published author.

Of course you would never want to follow such mock advice. But those are true examples of literary pitfalls that budding writers commit. Please never give your editor a reason to groan!


  1. That's funny - but so true. I enjoyed having a good laugh today. Should I warn the editor that God wants my story printed? Of course.

  2. Donna, in your case I'm sure it's true. If you got a laugh out of this, then it served its purpose. Looking back, I've had to laugh at myself when reading some of my earlier works because I, too, have been guilty of some similar groaners! Who hasn't?

  3. I'll have you know the Lord graduated from MY alma mater, Bethel College!!!!!!!

    Seriously, great advice, Rick. I'll need it till my transfer to heaven.

  4. I can dangle a modifier with the best of them. I'm not even going to tell you what my level of education is.