Five Ways NOT to Attract an Editor’s Attention

© 2013 W. Terry Whalin

Will Rogers is credited with saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” As an acquisitions editor, I read book 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 books for two other publishers.

In minutes, I can scan a 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 submissions. Here’s the reality: every year Morgan James receives over 5,000 submissions, but this year we will publish about 180 books including 40 novels—less than 4 percent of annual submissions.

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

  1. Unprofessional appearance. Use Times New Roman font because it is easier to read. This small change makes a huge difference to editors.
  2. Untargeted submission. Many cover letters begin “Dear Sir or Madam,” yet they are sent to my email address. This is an instant red flag. Write to a particular editor or agent and address that editor by name in your submission.
  3. Not specific to my publishing house. Every agent or editor is looking for certain subjects and types of books. Research online through a search engine like and follow the guidelines.
  4. Incomplete contact information. An email address is not enough. Many writers forget to include their mailing addresses and phone numbers. Without  this information, I can’t get your submission into our tracking system, nor can I easily reach you about your work.
  5. Lacking a memorable title or opening sentence. I read the opening and if compelling, I continue. If not, I reject the proposal. It’s business and not personal, but it’s one way for acquisition editors to handle the volume of submissions. Some of my agent friends receive hundreds of pitches every day, so make sure you start yours with a bang.

Every editor and agent is looking for the next bestseller. Your manuscript or proposal will stand out if you are professional and offer quality work. If you follow the basics and persist, you will increase your chance of getting 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 a 12-lesson online course called Write A Book Proposal. Get his free ebook, Book Proposal Basics, and teleseminar at and find many helpful articles at Terry lives in Irvine, California. Terry_Whalin.1c8a554.1


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