Five Ways NOT to Attract an Editor's Attention

Will Rogers wisely said, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.” As an acquisitions editor, I read proposals and manuscripts from authors every day. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve read thousands of submissions in my years in publishing. Besides my work at Morgan James Publishing, I’ve acquired for two other publishers.

In minutes, I can scan your submission and see if it is going to move forward or be rejected. This may sound harsh because of the work and energy writers poured into their submission. Here’s the reality, every year our publishing house receives over 5,000 submissions and we’re going to publish about 150 books this year.

In spite of these large rejection numbers, I’m actively looking for quality work and daily interacting with authors and literary agents. Here’s five ways not to stand out:

1. Unprofessional appearance. Are you using a serif font like Ariel that is the default for most writing programs? Change it to Times New Roman or a serif font because it is easier to read and shows you care. This small change makes a huge difference to editors.

2. Untargeted submission. Many cover letters begin “Dear Sir or Madam” yet it is sent to my email address. It is an instant red flag. You want to write a particular editor or agent and address them in your submission.

3. Not specific for my publishing house. Every agent or editor is looking for certain subjects and types of books. Research online (big hint: use then follow their guidelines.

4. Incomplete with the basics. An email address is not enough contact information. Many writers forget to include their mailing address and phone number. Without  this information, I can’t get the submission into our system nor can I easily reach you to engage you about your work.

5. Lack a memorable title or opening sentence. We read the opening and if compelling, we continue. If not, it is rejected. It is business and not personal but one way to handle the volume of submissions. Some of my agent friends receive hundreds of pitches every day. Make sure you start with a bang.

Every editor and agent is actively looking for the next bestseller. Your manuscript or proposal will stand out if you are professional with quality work. If you follow the basics and persist, you will be published.
W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. A former magazine editor and literary agent,

Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. To help writers, he has created 12-lesson online course called Write A Book Proposal. Get his free Ebook Book Proposal Basics and teleseminar at His website is located at: Terry has over 161,000 twitter followers and lives in Colorado. 


Kathleen Moulton said...

Mr. Whalin, thank-you for these straight forward, concise tips. I am printing this off. Such valuable information.

Karen Cioffi said...

Great tips, Terry. Professional and quality is key to getting past you gatekeepers! :) Thanks for sharing this - it will help many authors.

Heidiwriter said...

Excellent advice. I'm going to share this with all my writing friends and editing clients.

Melinda Brasher said...

The problem is #5. I've spent so much time on first lines of query letters, 25 word pitches, tag lines, query letters in general...and still nothing earth-shattering. I think writing the novel may sometimes be faster. And easier.

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