All around the world, wherever their presence is tolerated, editors are notoriously cranky and unreasonable. Some are so ill-tempered, they’re like wild animals. Can you blame them? They would rather be writers to begin with. Instead, these stunted authors toil in bumpy office chairs, sip stale coffee, and cultivate eye strain and stooped shoulders … while they pore over a seemingly endless pageant of manuscripts. Their profession is based almost exclusively on spotting others’ errors—in short, being insufferable curmudgeons. And this wretched life stamps its mark all over a person’s demeanor.
Right about now, you may be thinking: Thank goodness I’m not an editor. Most reasonable readers would agree and share your relief.
But here’s the bad news: If you’re a prospective author for The ASHA Leader, editors not unlike the ones we described above will decide whether your carefully crafted proposal is accepted or rejected. Like hungry (and angry) lions locked in a cage too long without Starbucks coffee, these ferocious editors seek out any signs of weakness in your proposal … and pounce. Call it instinct.
On the other hand, nothing is as soothing to these savage editorial beasts—nothing shines so bright a ray of light into their cluttered lives—as a well-crafted, compelling story proposal. Editors feel satisfied when they find an error, but finding a storyteller fills them with joy. It’s like catnip for editor lions.
So how can a prospective author brighten a downtrodden editor’s life? How can you find a path to safety—and publication—through the famished, circling lions? We’re about to arm you with the chair, whip and confidence you’ll need to tame a pack of wild editors.
In the Leader’s general guidelines, we ask prospective writers to submit a proposal form before they spend time completing an entire manuscript. This is designed to save everyone some time, rather than writing an entire story that may not be suitable for the Leader, or for its upcoming content. And the proposal form includes a checkbox for authors to affirm that they’ve read the Leader’s writer’s guidelines.
The catch, however, is that reading the guidelines typically isn’t sufficient. The Leader’s editors look for proposals that exemplify the guidelines: lively, entertaining stories that provide practical advice or enlightening information about communication sciences and disorders. Every story needs a “hook” to draw the reader in, and should be conversational enough to keep them reading. Write sentences in an active voice. Avoid technical terms, jargon and overuse of acronyms. And per the Associated Press Stylebook, don’t include parenthetical citations in the text.
In short, if an author checks the box affirming he or she has read our writer’s guidelines, we expect the proposal to demonstrate the guidelines. If it doesn’t, the author’s chances of being invited to submit a manuscript are greatly diminished.
Some have wondered whether the Leader is still a science magazine. It absolutely is. But it is not a scholarly journal. As far back as April 1962, James Jerger declared in Asha Magazine his belief that scientific writing can be readable—that it can inspire and inform while appealing to a wide audience. (The full article [PDF] is worth a read.) The Leader’s editors share Jerger’s belief. Instead of presenting concepts only to fellow clinicians, using specialized language and tangled verbiage, we see the redesigned Leader as a vehicle for clinicians to show the public and other professionals (those in CSDs’ many and varied areas) what they do—in language most readers can understand.
So what are the most important things you can do to ensure your proposal’s best chance for acceptance? The first four come straight from Jerger’s article:
- Write short sentences. Use a new sentence for each new thought.
- Avoid artificiality and pompous embellishment. Write it the way you would say it.
- Use active verb construction whenever possible. Avoid the passive voice.
- Use personal pronouns when it is natural to do so.
Most important, craft your proposal so its inspiring, informative qualities jump off the page. Use a hook. Include sample content that whets the appetite for more. Make the Leader’s editors sit up, take notice and demand to know where your story is going. At the very least, take pains to follow the writer’s guidelines in your proposal.
After all, when you’re fending off wild animals it’s usually best to throw them a bone.
Matthew Cutter is a writer/editor for The ASHA Leader.