Publishing Tips

The Benefits of Brevity, a Strong Bio, and Not Burning Bridges

Robin Richardson

In the October 2017 Publishing Tip, Robin Richardson tells us what not to include in our biographies and submission letters, and reassures us that everyone gets rejected.




Robin Richardson is the author of two collections of poetry, and is the Editor-in-Chief at Minola Review. Her work has appeared in Salon, Poetry Magazine, The Walrus, Hazlitt, and Tin House, among others. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, has won the Fortnight Poetry Prize in the U.K., The John B. Santorini Award, Joan T. Baldwin Award, and has been shortlisted for the CBC, Walrus, and ARC Poetry Prizes, among others. Richardson's latest collection, Sit How You Want, is forthcoming with Vehicule Press.

Bio Writing

Before an editor sees your work she sees your bio. It is very important that you use this opportunity to make an impactful and professional impression. A strong bio is simple, to the point, and leads with core points of your career. List your past publications first, followed by your MFA and awards, if applicable. Finish off with where you currently live. Your bio should be easy to read, unembellished, and concise. Do not list your hobbies. Avoid being clever, cute, arrogant or modest. No one needs you to tell them what kind of writer you are. Your work will do that. All an editor wants to know when looking at your bio is how far along in your career you are. Any further sense of who you are will likely work against you. Avoid listing irrelevant jobs or familial relations. No one needs to know how many children you have, or the name of your dog. If you do advocacy work for underprivileged people or communities it can sometimes help to list this, but mainly I would advise against any flourishes that veer away from a simple statement of your literary accomplishments to date.

If you are a big fan of the publication you’re submitting to feel free to say so, and to wish them well, but don't write too much, as you may risk drowning out the primary points of your bio. Brevity goes a long way.

If you don't have much to provide by way of education and publications, still keep it simple. There's nothing wrong with saying "So and so is an aspiring writer. This is one of her first submissions." I personally love seeing these bios. As an editor, there is a great joy in being one of the first to discover a new, unpublished voice. A lack of bio content should never stop you from submitting your work. After all, you have to start somewhere.

Corresponding With Editors

It is important to remember that the writing life is about the long game. You may be rejected from a journal seven times before you are finally accepted. This is no reason to be discouraged. Pay special attention when editors write personal rejections, or ask that you resubmit. We mean it. Always be gracious and concise. A “Thank you” goes a long way.

Unless you have been asked to specifically never contact an editor through their personal email.

Unless you’re willing to pay for it, never ask for feedback. Most editors are overworked and underpaid. We do it because we love it, but in very rare cases is it a means of subsistence. We dedicated a great deal of time to reading and responding to submissions, and receiving your request for feedback, or your email wondering how much longer it will be before you hear back from us, does not endear us to you. Be patient. Don't take rejection personally. Just keep working. Keep getting better. Keep submitting.

If feedback is something you’re serious about you will find that most editors offer feedback at an hourly rate, and will be pleased if you approach them for paid work or mentorship.

When is it Okay to Follow Up on a Submission?

Most submission guidelines state long it takes for a response: usually between three and six months. It is not okay to write in before this time is up in order to check up on your submission. Nowadays most publications are okay with simultaneous submissions, so continue to submit while you’re waiting, and of course, let the editor know the moment your work is accepted elsewhere.

If a website lists a six month response time, and seven months have passed, it is okay to give a little nudge, checking up on the status of your submission. It does happen, though rarely, that submissions get lost. Always be gracious and polite when doing this. The fewer bridges you burn the better. 

Social Media

I very frequently see new writers take to social media to air grievances about one or other rejection, sometimes even naming the magazine they were rejected from. This is a very quick way to ensure said publication will think twice before opening your next submission. It is best to stay as quiet as possible about any negative publishing experience you have. Social media can, of course, also be used to your advantage. Follow the magazines, editors, and authors you love. Retweet them, post details about your favourite issues or books, and show the community that you are an engaged and invested member of it.

Submission Letters

The most important thing you can do for yourself when submitting is to ditch your ego. Everyone gets rejected. The point isn’t to get a perfect record, but to slowly and steadily move forward in your career, learning what you can from each setback and making the necessary adjustments.

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The Malahat Review posts "Publishing Tips" as a bimonthly guest column on its Publishing Tipswebsite and in Malahat lite. Follow it in order to learn how to improve your professional skills, from the writing of cover letters, to what house style means, to choosing a rhyming dictionary, to having an author photo (as opposed to a selfie) shot. If you have a Publishing Tip you'd like to share, email The Malahat Review at, with "Publishing Tip Idea" in the subject line. Tips should be 750 words or less. If yours is accepted, you will be paid an honorarium of $50.