Editor Confessions: Dispatches from the Inbox

By An Editor

At submissions@harlequin.com, we receive several hundred emails a year. That’s a lot of mail!

In that giant virtual stack of mail, there are some things that crop up frequently, including letters and requests that can needlessly take an editor’s time (because the information is readily available on our submissions page, for example), or make her downright cranky—especially before her first cup of coffee (requests for extra advice, assuming she’s a man, explaining why she’s wrong, and so on.) So we thought you might like a few submission inbox Dos and Don’ts.

You don’t want to make an editor cranky, do you?

Let’s start with the basics. Before you submit:

Read the guidelines! We won’t reject a submission based on poor grammar (although, you should proofread your work), the purple italic font you’ve used, or a manuscript slightly exceeding or falling below the word length (+/- 1000 words or so.) But we will reject if it doesn’t have the elements we ask for. Each line is committed to delivering a brand promise to its readers. So if your manuscript isn’t genre romance, or it’s about two college students in Baltimore and you’ve submitted to DARE, the story’s told through poems, letters or diary entries, or it’s twice the required length, or you’re submitting to a contemporary romance category but the story’s set in the past, then, yeah, we’re gonna reject.  (And yes, the 80s and 90s are the past.)

Don’t send your submission by email (or mail!) because it doesn’t fit into any of our categories on Submittable. Look for the best place for your manuscript and submit there. Not sure if your book is a good fit for us? Read the guidelines. We get a lot of requests from authors asking which category they should submit to. I suspect the reason people do this is that they know their book doesn’t meet the guidelines and they’re hoping if they email and ask, the answer will be different.

And please don’t send hard copy manuscripts in the mail; writing, editing, printing and publishing is electronic now, so polish your computer skills if they’re rusty.

If we haven’t specified requirements, then they probably don’t matter. How long should my chapter be? Should my manuscript be double spaced? What size font should I use??

Breathe! We’re not going to reject a fantastic story based on any of that,
ok? Your submission should cause the least amount of friction possible for a busy editor. Pick a standard font and make it legible.

Be professional. We’re not sticklers for business letter format and there’s nothing wrong with being informal, but you are corresponding with a business. Avoid sending one-line text message style questions from your phone, edit out emojis and LOLs, save pet and grandchild information for your friends and instead showcase your qualifications, and use an email address with your name instead of relying on someone else’s. (And don’t use “Dear Sir” in your salutation, either.)

Do your research for general information about publishing and writing. An editor’s job is to find, acquire, edit and publish fantastic books for our readers. It’s not our role to provide advice on getting an agent or choosing a pseudonym, to explain copyright, rights, and royalties, to read your draft and offer an opinion, or to “sell” you on the benefits of publishing with Harlequin vs. another publisher or self-publishing. If you need help with the business of writing, there are agents and author support groups who can assist, and you can find many of these with a quick internet search.

Been rejected? Don’t be cry. Read these tips!

It’s not necessary to answer a rejection letter. Even with a thank you. But if you do, don’t burn your bridges. Think before you hit “send” on that email explaining how the editor didn’t understand your character’s motivation, or how sorry they will be when your book becomes a bestseller. (Yes, we do get responses like this.)

Unless an editor has asked you to revise and resubmit, please don’t ask if we’ll look at your submission a second time if you fix all the things. Editors are, generally, very, very nice people and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Sometimes their diplomatic “No thanks” can sound like a “Maybe.” If you’ve received a rejection, set your manuscript aside for a while before you decide that it needs further work. In the meantime, tackle a fresh idea, continue to read from the line you’re interested in, seek support from other writers and stay positive.

Please don’t respond to a form rejection by asking for more feedback. We get hundreds of submissions a year and couldn’t possibly provide detailed feedback on each. And, quite frankly, it’s not our job to offer one-on-one editorial advice to uncontracted authors. (Want to know how editors do spend their time? Read this post.)

We get it: you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into a book, and a rejection is crushing. It can be good to remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place. Then, keep reading, take courses, kill your darlings, do the work and get the support you need to keep you going in this marathon of writing. Good luck!