Ten Things No Writer Should Ever Do


There are a lot of things writers shouldn’t do, but there are some things that a writer really shouldn’t do. Here is a list of ten things no writer should ever do:

Send a long-winded biography not limited to your writing career.
Not only do we (editors) not give a crap, but your query letter or cover letter should be short and sweet, telling us only the things we need to know to assess your manuscript. Most editors don’t even need a cover letter, but a good story is a good story, regardless of where someone was published or not published before. Sometimes a quirky fact about yourself is cute, but beyond that, we just don’t care about your life story!

Send files in formats not specified.
If the guidelines say send your submission in .doc or .rtf form, then send it in .doc or .rtf form. More than likely, the editors can’t open other file types, or have no clue what those others are. I’ve received everything from .docx to .odt to .pages, the latter two of which are for programs I don’t even have on my computer. If it can’t be opened, it can’t be read!

Demand to be paid in a form that isn’t specified in the guidelines.
Generally speaking, if the guidelines say “paypal only,” that means “paypal only.” But sure, demand to be paid by Western Union (or whatever it’s called now). Coincidentally, the person who demanded this also told us she was a forty plus year old woman, and our guidelines specifically stated that twenty-five was the cap. What can you do?

Argue about a decision.
If we don’t want your submission, arguing with us about it isn’t going to change our minds. In fact, it might make us turn to disliking you. Take a rejection like a man…or a woman. It’s part of the writing life.

Forget to attach your submission.
Okay, so this one isn’t as bad as the others, but it’s a silly mistake that you really shouldn’t do, for obvious reasons. Usually we laugh about it, but after a while it gets tiresome to send the same email out over and over.

Send an insulting email.
Something about someone emailing you to tell you that you’re a scumbag for rejecting their submission and that you should burn in hell forever is truly uplifting. People still do this, and it puzzles me why. I thought the object of submitting was to get published. How does one expect to do that if he or she insults everyone who rejects them?

Stalk someone and post hateful comments on their email.
Remember that Cole A. Adams incident? Don’t do that. Seriously. It’s bad news for you and anyone around you. It’s also a good example of career suicide, and if you can’t help yourself, then seek psychiatric help. They have pills for that kind of thing.

Send dead animals to a publisher or editor.
According to a rather epic story, Harlan Ellison did something like this. But Harlan Ellison got away with it because he was/is Harlan Ellison. Nowadays, I don’t think even J. K. Rowling could get away with that. This applies to any sort of shipment of illegal or unorthodox items to a publisher or editor, including, but not limited to, razor blades, pipe bombs, letter bombs, bricks, cocaine, marijuana, poison food items, anthrax, and rotten fruit.

Tell someone about your criminal convictions or crimes you’ve committed and have yet to get caught for.
I suppose this one would fit on a list of stupid things people do in general, but there’s really nothing stupider than admitting to someone who might be inclined to publish your story for kids that you are a convicted pedophile. Honestly. It’s also not a good idea to tell an editor that you killed a man once and never served any time. That’s not information editors want to be burdened with. If you must confess, do so with a police officer. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to help relieve your burden.

This is the big no-no, and no matter how many times people say don’t do it, there is always someone willing to take the risk. Sometimes they can get away with it, and others times not, but when you consider what happens to you if you don’t get away with it, why would you ever take the risk? I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly fond of hefty fees or jail time. I like eating and my apartment is cozy…

What about you? What do you think are some things that writers shouldn’t do? Let me know in the comments!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

8 thoughts on “Ten Things No Writer Should Ever Do

  1. I've tried to find info on the Ellison incident but my Google-Fu is weak today. If you wouldn't mind sharing I would love to hear it, it sounds quite hilarious. Ellison strikes me as quite unhinged.

  2. I expect any variation of not reading the guidelines would be an annoyance. I'm not involved in publishing but even in my line of work, if you send someone a brief and they return some work and you are left scratching your head looking for exactly how it relates to the brief, it's a bad thing!
    I'm guessing in publishing where lots of people are competing for publication the endless piles of irrelevant submissions are an annoying timesuck.

  3. Nick: Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Hagelrat: We actually got tired of people sending us stuff that we explicitly asked them not to send, and so put in our guidelines that, in certain instances, we'd just delete the submission, unread. If you don't have the time to read the guidelines, we don't have the time to read your submission :P.

Leave a Reply