Lesson No. 2: Dress for Success (unfortunately looks really do count) with Chelsey Clammer, Nonfiction Editor with The Nervous Breakdown

Scene: It’s been one of those days. One of those days in which you were done with it within the first hour of waking up. The coffee that sloshed onto your shirt, the prying and belittling email from your mother. The shoe you couldn’t find and the phone charger you couldn’t find and the keys you couldn’t find. Highways clogged with two different accidents and too many drivers trying to get a peek of who knows what. And then the work day. More terribleness. So, you get home, you’re tired, but you can’t quite go to sleep what with all of the frustration that has built up inside of you throughout the day. Since you can’t sleep, you decide to hop onto Submittable and catch up on all of those submissions you’ve been dying to read these past couple of days. Maybe you’ll find something inspiring. 

In less amount of time than it took you this morning to recognize how much you already hated this day, you open five different submissions that all make your brain hurt, and so you decline them without reading every page of each piece. You know there might be some life shining later on in the work, maybe even on the third or fourth page, but what you see when you open each document makes you recoil. And a recoiling editor is never a good thing. 

What could have been so terrifyingly terrible?!? 


1) The Cover Letter 

 ultimate path larger

5 reasons why this is a terrible cover letter:

  1. Salutation
    1. Whom isn’t concerned with this submission since it’s obvious the author didn’t take the time to look up an editor’s name or even make the greeting just a tad more personal with at least the journal’s name
  2. Over-formality
    1. Be polite, not sterile. Submitting is not an act of asking the editor for her daughter’s hand in marriage, thus the superfluous formality needs to just go
  3. The author tries to sell herself
    1. If the submitter is as a good of a writer as she claims to be, shouldn’t the editor already know who she is? And since the editor doesn’t know this writer, the only way a writer should “sell” herself is through her actual writing
  4. Pompous
    1. Oh ick. ‘Nuf said.
  5. Explaining the work
    1. The summary of the submission should not have a higher word count than the work itself

Which brings us to our next factor: 

2) Length 

Good Essay Is Too Long

“Oh hey, this story sounds pretty interesting. I’m only on the second page and already it looks really promising. Wait, what?!? What does that say? IT’S 45 PAGES?!? What the… 

Word count maximums are there for a reason. They should always be respected unless you contact the editor directly and ask if you can submit something longer than the guidelines state.

Next up:


The Baker and the Gardener

No typos.

(Though I do have to admit there is an incident in my work history in which I applied for an editor position and the first sentence of my cover letter said, “I’m a freelance writing and editor in Denver.” Needless to say I didn’t get that job. So, yes, typos happen. But do everything you can to thwart each one of them before you submit a piece.)


4) Font Size 

A Large Problem

Just looking at this makes my eyes hurt.

And finally:

5) No really, I’m serious about this. Font size is key. 

Good Essay Hard to Find

Just looking at this makes my eyes hurt.

So, in summation, keep these three questions in mind while making a submission:

  1. How are you presenting yourself?
  2. What does the submission actually look like?
  3. Are you following the guidelines?

Now go submit that excellent writing of yours!

Sally forth.

IMG_0918Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago, and is currently enrolled in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. She has been published in The RumpusEssay DailyThe Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review (forthcoming) among many others. She is an award-winning essayist, and a freelance editor. Clammer is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a columnist and workshop instructor for the journal. She is also the Nonfiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Her first collection of essaysThere Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Winter 2014. Her second collection of essaysBodyHome, is forthcoming from Hopewell Publishing in Spring 2015. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.