6 Call for Submission Mistakes that Earn You Heaps of Half-Baked Works (And How to Fix Them)


Modern publishers face many fresh and frustrating challenges. And arguably one of the worst is the time-consuming requirement of wading through piles of half-baked submissions. In the digital age, the submission quantity is up, but the quality has fallen. How can you minimize low-quality work, incomplete applications, applications that don’t follow the guidelines, non-standardized submissions, and applications with missing critical information?

The answer is to look at the very beginning of your publishing process and optimize it for the best possible results. This means customizing and streamlining your call for submissions and submissions collection processes.

Are you making one of these six submission mistakes?

submission mistakes low quality submissions

Mistake #1: Using the wrong submissions platform

Using a clunky, restrictive platform can cripple the submissions process. When choosing a submissions funnel, think about the following:

Who is your typical submitting author?

Demographics, including age, can determine how familiar submitting authors are with different common types of software and formats. Using a simplified, intuitive platform can increase the number of submissions you receive while cutting down on errors in the submissions process.

What devices are your submitting authors using?

Choose a platform that is fully compatible with mobile devices. Having a submission fail halfway through because an expandable field fails to do so or a drop-down field won’t drop-down can be maddening, discouraging the person from making a second (or third, or fourth) attempt to submit.

Mistake #2: Making your submission form too long and complex

Beware of making your submissions process so expansive that submitting authors give up. (This is similar to the job application process: 60% of applicants will abandon the process if the forms are too complex or arduous to fill out.) Instead, create a list of potential fields, and then move as many as possible to the “unnecessary” column. Think ahead to the user experience of your publication staff, and focus on ease of content management.

Is any of the data you are requesting restricted?

If any of the data you collect could be classed as personally identifying information, you’ll need to make sure your data security is in line with the appropriate regulatory guidelines. A good rule of thumb is, if you don’t need a piece of information, don’t ask for it.

Are you asking for too much unrestricted data?

Even if the data you request isn’t restricted, too many fields can clutter your submissions process making it hard for reviewers to find what they are looking for. Your process will benefit from limiting requests to genuinely essential information.

Mistake #3: Making your submission form oversimplified and basic

A submission form that leaves you without the information you need is worse than one that overwhelms you with too much information. How you structure your form can improve the quality and accuracy of the data you receive helping to reduce inconsistencies.

Are you asking for enough data?

Don’t overlook the pitfall of neglecting to ask for enough data. Think back over past submissions calls and look for repeated incidents of having to reach back out for specific missing data. Did you have to follow up to get someone’s address? Did they include a short bio? Make these questions part of your initial automated collection process.

Are you using the right types of fields?

Using a text field for every section of the submission template can lead to chaos with accidental text entries where contact numbers should be. \Your submissions platform should allow specialized fields for specific types of information (such as names, dates, and email addresses) as well as drop-down lists and checkboxes. This not only limits user input, but it ensures all submissions conform to your predetermined settings.

Making your submission form oversimplified and basic

Mistake #4: Not providing backup for submissions; failing to archive

A submissions process that disallows progress to be saved and prohibits returning to the submission after some time has passed to resume input will result in losing high-quality submissions. Likewise, failure to maintain an easily accessible archive system can cause frustration for publication staff who may need to retrieve old submissions later.

Submissions saving

Your chosen platform should allow progress to be saved at any point, not only for convenience but to safeguard against lost progress. This can be helpful in the case of a spotty mobile connection or a submitting author taking advantage of breaks in their schedule to use public wifi to continue the process. Saving mid-process also provides for further review of content before hitting the ‘submit’ button, improving the overall quality of manuscriptsƒ you receive.

Submissions archival

Make sure your submissions can be downloaded in an easy to organize format and save for future reference as needed. Archives can also make it possible to flag repeat submissions or submissions from users you know aren’t an ideal fit, thereby raising quality and saving you time.By maintaining a complete archive, you have a backup for your published material (which could be invaluable for a completely digital publication in case of massive server failure or other data loss.)

Mistake #5: Allowing anyone to submit without restriction

If you make your submissions access too limited, you’ll discourage submitting authors. If you make it too open, you’ll end up with spam. Access management options should be a prime consideration when choosing a submissions platform.

Access to the submissions form

You can avoid spam and invalid submissions by limiting who can submit your form. You can either require an account setup and login to be created, set up CAPTCHA that requires a human verification to be completed after saving and before submissions, or both. Account setup can streamline future submissions process for submitting authors, and encourage resubmission.

Submissions fees

Another potential route is to charge fees for submissions. These can be set per author, per project, or submission. A small, reasonable submission fee can be an effective preventing submitters from flooding your call for submissions with low-quality, ill-suited material. Alternatively, a high submission fee can be a substantial barrier for many, so if you decide to institute a submission fee, consider the financial resources available to your target audience (unless you are running a contest in which case, submissions fees can significantly offset prize costs.)

Mistake #6: Failing to consider workflows after submissions collection

Many publications fall into the trap of focusing solely on getting submissions in the door before their close date. Equally important is the process that kicks in once you’ve received all eligible submissions.

Post-submission review

The system you use for submissions should naturally transfer to and support your review process. When submissions are standardized, reviewers can quickly sort and identify submissions that have met briefs and other qualifications, and those that have not.

The editorial process

Choose a system that will plug into your own publication templates, allow multi-user access, and permit documents to be uploaded, downloaded, and reuploaded as needed. Your editorial process can benefit from submissions that are all formatted identically and contain the same vital information which can be stripped for blind reviews and added back before publication.

Ways to improve submissions processes

Ways to improve submissions processes

By streamlining your submissions process, you cut costs and improve the quality of your publication. When considering a submissions technology solution, review its ability to provide the following:

Consolidation of information

You can detach from the email inbox and other multiple tools formerly used to manage your process, and bring everything together in one dashboard. Having one system from which you can call for, collect, review, and manage submissions will streamline your entire process from content submission to publication.

You can simplify submissions while making the process more intuitive for submitting authors by using custom submission forms, limiting requested data to that which is strictly necessary and providing an option to save at any point or if the user loses connection to the platform. Archived author data can allow submissions to be solicited on-demand from specific writers or those who meet specific criteria.

Constant communication

Each submitting author should be kept in the loop with automated replies that let them know their submission has been received, was accepted, is in review, or requires revision. This increases user satisfaction helping to improve their experience of the process rather than leave them feeling as though they’ve just sent a submission into the ether. By improving the overall experience, you’re letting users know they are a valuable part of the process. That value comes back to you in the form of improved submission quality.

Internally, action steps can be identified to move the editorial process forward, and the next task in each chain can trigger a notification to the reviewer or editor assigned to it. Improved communication leads to an enhanced publication flow. This automation can significantly reduce the amount of time each submission stays in the editorial funnel cutting publication costs publication.

Every publication is unique. And while each will undoubtedly have a favorite way let contributors know they’re accepting submissions, the simplest and most effective methods for improving the overall quality of those submissions comes down to putting out improved calls and implementing a good submission platform.

If you are seeking a way to cut down on half-baked submissions, acquire high-quality content from qualified authors, and streamline your editorial process, contact Submittable today.

Freedom Ahn
Freedom Ahn

Freedom Ahn, MBA, is an expert business and technology writer; a self-professed supply-chain geek; and an award-winning short-fiction author and playwright. She is also a freelance American-Japanese translation/transcreation consultant.