Dispatches | April 04, 2011

I have been a secret agent, a.k.a. student intern, at The Missouri Review for over nine months now, and during this time I have steadily been collecting and storing information about the inner workings of a successful literary magazine. Consider me a sponge, soaking up all the trade secrets hopeful submitters wish to know.

Of course, we interns are not at the top of the food chain. We are not editors or people whose name you would want to highlight on your resume. We are not the people who will make you famous writers. But we are still the most important people you may never meet in publishing.

We are the first ones to pull out your carefully crafted story from its manila envelope and turn a fresh page. We are those who sit for hours, clutching a cup of coffee, reading manuscript after manuscript until they all run together into one double-spaced, paper-clipped mountain of prose and metaphors. We are the unavoidable first step in the publishing process.

As the doorway to the editors, we read dozens of pieces, week after week, and in this endless cycle we’ve noticed that quite a few arrive with some bizarre additions to the expected manuscripts, cover letters and SASEs. Although we might not have a lot of power, we gain a lot of knowledge, and it’s time we share our wealth of information with writers everywhere, for your sake and ours. If you want to win the gratitude of interns everywhere, and have a better chance of a higher-up seeing your work, then please abide by the following.

Ten Things Every Writer Should NOT Include with a Manuscript

10. Photographs

We like your words, so please use them instead, although pets in furry sweaters are always adorable.

9.  Perfume

No subliminal scent messages please. Unless you would like your manuscript to sit at the mercy of our potential sneezing, refrain from spritzing it with Calvin Klein’s Obsession.

8. Instructions

Please do not inform us of how to read your story, especially with diagrams.

7. Burnt Toast

That’s right. No toast in the envelopes, please. It makes us sad that we didn’t have time to eat breakfast because we were trying to devote more time to reading your work. If you cannot avoid sending toast, at least include some jelly.

6. Traditional Envelopes

A big shout out to the writers who provide return envelopes with their own self-adhesive. We are eternally grateful. Do you know how much spit we go through in a given week? It’s obscene. Do us a favor and spring for the self stick envelopes and save a few lowly interns’ precious saliva.

5. No SASE (Self Addressed and Stamped Envelope)

We barely have time to finish the inordinate amount of reading we are assigned each week, so please, for the sake of our sanity and scant social lives, please provide a return envelope (for bonus points, see above) so we don’t have to waste hours that could be used reading your work by tracking down a way to contact you.

4. Confetti

Unless it’s New Years. Or we’re drunk.

3. Wet Ink Smears

Writing a story on a typewriter is a time-honored literary tradition. Jack Kerouac did it, Sylvia Plath did it; however, they probably waited a while before stuffing their pages into an envelope and mailing it off for someone to read. Please take a few minutes and let your ink dry so we can read your work. If we wanted a Rorschach test we would have been Psych majors.

2. Insults

Do not insult the person reading the work you want published. It’s seriously unwise to tell us that although we may not be capable of comprehending or appreciating your brilliant, groundbreaking narrative, it is still the greatest piece of literature since James Joyce picked up a pen. We don’t care for it. If you can’t say anything nice…

1. Death Threats

To clarify, several of us are writers ourselves. We love working at a magazine that promotes exemplary literature. We want to find quality work and we want to publish you, but that means we can’t accept everyone. As difficult as it is, do not take a rejection letter personally. Besides, we don’t like writing them any more than you like reading them (unless you violate rule #2). Threatening to come after us or destroy our careers will not do you any good. Besides, we’re interns; we can’t fall any lower on the office food chain, so please, save the drama for your stories.

There you have it, ten steps compiled from months of stealthy observation that will earn the undying gratitude of a team of interns and potentially help land your piece on the desk of an editor. We love when that happens! It’s intensely rewarding to have something we helped find actually get published. Simply follow these tips and you’ll have a significantly higher chance of navigating your manuscript through the treacherous publishing waters. Just remember, interns are people too, even if we occasionally work like dogs, so if you really want an edge, instead of insults or perfume, send cookies. Kidding!

Well, maybe…

Hannah Baxter is an intern at the Missouri Review.

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