It doesn’t matter if you write the most intriguing query letter and it doesn’t matter if you write the perfect article, if you’re making any one of the mistakes I’m about to share with you.
The hard truth is, the best writers don’t necessarily get the best writing jobs.
The best writers don’t necessarily get any jobs. Talent alone will not get you hired.
What This Truth Means for You
Depending on how you feel about your own writing skills, reading that might have made you feel better or worse. But whether you believe writing skills are the product of inherent talent or years of practice, there are simple steps you can take to ensure you score regular gigs. These steps really don’t have anything to do with talent, but they do indicate whether you are a professional.
As a managing editor of a major website, I sought out professionals. Typos, misspellings, factual errors, and sloppy writing are all hallmarks of unprofessionalism. You don’t want that label.
You want to be the opposite of that. You want to stand out from the crowd because you do care and you do comb through every detail of your work. Remember, an editor is typically overworked and overwhelmed. He or she is likely primarily looking for a reason to delete emails, and secondarily looking for quality materials.
6 Things to Look for Before You Hit Send
Here are six things you should look for in your article, manuscript, pitch, or query before you hit the send button. These might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I see them in my inbox. And let’s be real, we all know we’ve committed at least a couple of these.
- Spelling – Misspellings are an instant reason for an editor to hit “delete.” Keep an eye out especially for things that spellcheckers won’t recognize, such as “their” instead of “there.”
- Adjectives and adverbs – These should not be the heart of your writing. Superfluous use of them is the sign of an immature writer (in years or in experience). Delete as many as you can.
- Grammar – I don’t expect all writers to be grammar nerds, but I do expect them to have a general understanding of their craft. Look for non-sequiturs and noun-verb agreement in particular.
- Repetition – Repetitive use of the same word is another sign of either a young writer or someone who hasn’t reread and refined her draft. If you see the same word popping up, it’s time to bust out your thesaurus.
- Clichés – By definition, clichés bring nothing new to your work. Delete them all.
- Incorrect clichés – It is not a “mute point” and there’s no such thing as “intensive purposes.”
Aside from all that technical stuff, there’s another level editors look for in potential writers. They look for people they actually want to work with. People they might even enjoy working with. This is something you should seek out, as well, because if someone enjoys working with you, he or she may hire you again.
If you can handle that on top of having an excellent query letter and article, then you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with a small percentage of capable people any editor would be eager to hire.
Photo of “Monkey-typing” by New York Zoological Society – Picture on Early Office Museum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.