You’ve heard it before. Prior to even making a first impression, the other party involved is already taking a visual account of you. From there they have formed a conception of what they think you’re all about.
What if your visual presentation was the only thing you could use to make a good impression? What if you weren’t allowed to say anything, and the employer interviewing you, or the attractive group by the bar had complete jurisdiction over whether they liked you or not?
This is what happens at the literary magazine where I intern. It is clearly obvious when submitters have not read our directions, or have just consciously chosen not to follow them. It’s not so much the folded corners on papers, or using a stapler versus a paperclip. It’s the coffee stains, the line spacing (single-spaced submissions are quite a sight for an already-overwhelmed editor or intern), the lack of a clearly articulated cover letter, or the lack of a cover letter altogether. Resulting from these follies and more, we have already formed an opinion of the writer. I am less eager to read a thirty-page, single-spaced story simply because it looks too dense to get through. It could be very well written and engaging, but I might not make it far enough to find out.
Cover letters that don’t say too much about you in general, much less as a writer, are also a turn-off. I mean to address the letters that basically say, “Here is my submission, I don’t really care what you do with it.” Instead of just having your contact information and the title of your piece as your cover letter, try making the reader interested in what else you have to say. Even if you have no prior publications, give us a sense of your personality. I like to have at least somewhat of an idea of the person whose work I’m about to read. That being said, don’t be too presumptuous!
Like any other company or group of people, at the magazine we’re human, too. We like to laugh, we like to poke fun, and sometimes it happens at other people’s expenses. Don’t give us the opportunity to do that. Make yourself as professional as you can be and that’s what will put you ahead. Of course, even professionals can have their share of bad writing, but if their cover letter and physical submissions are done well, they’re one step closer to polishing off the rest of it.
I wouldn’t want to walk into a bar and be judged just on how I was dressed. It happens to people every day, of course, but just take note of the fact that it’s an important factor. Presentation is key, whether we like it or not. Being aware of that guides us further along the professional and social lines of where we live.
So next time you submit your poetry to a literary magazine, a resume to an employer, or even a friendly text to the cutie from last night, be sure to realize that everything you’re presenting is an extension of yourself. Turn those extensions into the beginnings of showing everyone else exactly what great qualities you have to offer.