What An Editor Looks For

posted in: Blogging, Bonbon Break, Writing 40 comments

Recently, I (re) joined BonBon Break (an awesome online magazine with something for everyone – from recipes to DIY tutorials, personal essays to play ideas for kids, beauty and fashion tips, to gardening and all things outdoors), and this time as the Editor of Mom Cave. I also read submissions for syndicated and original content (mostly personal essays), and help decide on what would be a good fit for our site. This means I get to read a ton of writing. 

I’ve learned to skim through posts I know will not work for us, and when there is a gem. I know now, in just one paragraph, if this is a post I think we can help polish into something more amazing. As much as personal preference comes into play, I believe that there are some universal truths to what essays get accepted, and what don’t, at least on BonBon Break. Here they are.

What an editor looks for


1. Hook me in right away

Personal essays do not have to be chronological, because writing things in the order they happened, is too journal-like, and frankly, boring.


“Last Tuesday, I came home from work, tired and grumpy. My phone rang just as I was about to step into the shower. It was my father. I knew something was wrong. He sounded like he’d be crying, and could barely bring himself to tell me. He said that my mother had died.


“Your mother . . .” he gasped. 
“Dad? What? What’s wrong?”
“She . . . she’s gone.”

This Tuesday will stick in my mind as the day I realized I’d been carrying the burden of shame and guilt too long. My father’s words released a weight off my heart.”

Which paragraph will hook you in? Which one makes you want to read on? I would venture to say that the second example is the story you want to read. 

We don’t want to read a diary entry. Tell us a story. Use dialogue. Start dramatically. Make a statement. 

2. Don’t ramble

Despite a great hook-in paragraph, sometimes, I still click away from some stories. Because halfway in, I find my attention drifting, and I wonder when the writer is going to come to her point and/ or conclusion. Readers on the Internet have notoriously short attention spans, and are inundated with information/ stories/ quizzes/ lists online. Make it worth their while. Yes, while long-form essays do very well in many mediums, they are not always appropriate for all sites. 800 to 1,500 words usually work very well. That said, if your story is compelling and written well, we won’t say no. When I say ramble, I mean that you may have digressed, or used too many parentheses (I am guilty of this sometimes).  Or you overuse words like “very”, ïndeed”, “so” (these ones are just my personal pet peeves).

3. It’s too general 

There are only so many parenting <insert genre> topics/ issues one can write about and read. However, if you write it in your voice and offer your unique perspective – whether it’s advice for new mothers, or thoughts on the tween years, or how you deal with the empty nest – it will have universal and specific appeal. I recently read a post on a new mom’s perspective on how she didn’t think she was a good mother, which then concluded that, heck, yes she is. Could it have been a great story? Yes. Was it? Not really. It was too general. Many moms feel that way, especially first-time mothers. The easy conclusion, wrapped up in a pretty bow, was also too convenient. I felt like I’d read this post before, at least a dozen times. These kinds of posts are great for personal blogs, but not so much for bigger sites. 

4. Proof read and spell check

Don’t spoil what could be an amazing essay with grammatical or spelling errors.

5. A few other things about submissions

Val Curtis (Editor-in-Chief of BonBon Break) offered a few more tips when it comes to submitting your writing:

  • Don’t submit the same post to 5 different websites at the same time. It’s generally good manners to submit one at a time, in order of your personal preference/ priority. Only submit to the second (or third, fourth) website of your choice, after you get a rejection from the first. It is a tedious process, because some sites do take a while to get back to you. Generally, if you don’t hear back in two weeks, it’s perfectly okay to send a follow up email. At BonBon Break, we strive to get back to people in 2-3 weeks. 
  • Do not submit five different posts to the same website at the same time. This is applicable to BonBon Break, though I imagine not many editors want to be inundated by one person. 
  • Do not submit posts that are not written by you i.e. a guest post on your blog.

6. What I look for in other types of posts

  • DIY/ craft posts – original and creative ideas, great pictures, easy-to-follow tutorials, preferably with step-by-step instructions
  • Food posts – amazing pictures, easy-to-follow-recipe, specific and accurate measurements (for example, it’s better to say two medium eggs, rather than two eggs, because the difference one egg makes to a recipe is significant).

That said, want to submit your writing to BonBon Break? Do so here!

Alison Lee is a former PR and marketing professional turned work-at-home mother. After a 10-year career in various PR agencies, and of the world’s biggest sports brands, Alison traded in product launches and world travel, for sippy cups, diapers, and breastfeeding. Alison's writing has been featured on Mamalode, On Parenting at The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Everyday Family, Scary Mommy, and DrGreene.com. She is one of 35 essayists in the anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. In 2012, she founded Little Love Media, a social media consultancy specializing in blog book tours, and because she doesn’t sleep, is an editor at BonBon Break, an online magazine. Alison lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/ girl twins).

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  • March 30, 2015 Clare

    What a valuable post, thanks Alison. I often think about how best to submit writing and where to.
    Clare recently wrote…Six Word SaturdayMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Happy to help, Clare!

  • March 31, 2015 Julia

    Thanks for sharing your insights it is really helpful to someone like me who is just starting to submit places.
    Julia recently wrote…Spring Decor MakeoverMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Good luck with the submitting, Julia!

  • March 31, 2015 Elaine A.

    I agree with Clare, very valuable info! It is great that you are willing to share your perspective. Thank you! And of course, congrats on the new gig!

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Thank you, Elaine! Always happy to help 🙂

  • March 31, 2015 Charlotte

    I have been out of the editor realm for so long but this post totally rings true for me and is a good reminder for when I am confident enough in my writing to send out some submissions. You’re incredibly right; it is a tedious process to submit and wait and keep fingers crossed, follow up and wait before floating the sample around to the next publication. But the reward to having work published is well worth the effort!

    Hope all is well with you, momma! XOXO
    Charlotte recently wrote…The irrational thoughts of a woman on the cusp of her 36th birthdayMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      All is well! And the submission process IS tough. For both the writers and editors in different ways. I’m on both sides of it!

  • March 31, 2015 Tove Maren

    always the best advice coming from you! Thanks for sharing and best of luck with this new venture!
    Tove Maren recently wrote…Awesome LEGO Technic Helicopter Review and ModificationMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Thank you so much, Tove!

  • March 31, 2015 Allie

    This is fantastic! Thank you for the insight and heck yes I want to submit!!! And, do people really submit guest posts? Yikes!
    Allie recently wrote…The Rundown – Stay the CourseMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Um yes, lol.

  • March 31, 2015 My Inner Chick


    My favorite thing in the world is when a writer can say an abundant amount w/ LESS words!

    What a gift, darling.

    xxxx kiss from Duluth.
    My Inner Chick recently wrote…10 Lies Abusers Will Tell YouMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Less is more definitely applies! xoxo

  • March 31, 2015 Christine

    Yay for rejoining BonBon Break! That’s so great. This is such great advice. I often feel like it’s a total mystery, the whole submission process and like some secret society so I appreciate you sharing this!
    Christine recently wrote…Finding Your OKMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      No secrets! Glad to crack the door open 🙂 And thank you.

  • March 31, 2015 Kim

    Awesome tips, Alison! These are so good to know.

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Happy to help, Kim!

  • March 31, 2015 Adrienne

    This is such valuable information, Alison! Thank you!
    Adrienne recently wrote…4 Simple Things That Are Helping Our HomeschoolMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      You’re welcome, Adrienne!

  • April 1, 2015 Nina

    These are great tips and I could not agree more about the issue of some things being too general. I try to critique my own work with what I call the “so what factor.” If I ask myself, “So what?” and do not have a good answer . . . then that post stays in a draft for a very long time.

    Congrats on the new position, Alison. They are lucky to have you!
    Nina recently wrote…Wondering Why the Seder SurvivesMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      I love that – the “so what” factor – yes, exactly!

  • April 1, 2015 Colette Sartor

    Wonderful tips, which I’m going to share on my website’s Writers’ Resources page. One question: Normally I tell my students submitting to literary magazines to submit to numerous venues, except if a particular venue specifically states that it doesn’t allow simultaneous submissions. This is the generally accepted practice among lit mags and, I had assumed, for more commercial websites. Is it different for more commercial websites acceoting personal essays?
    Colette Sartor recently wrote…A Rose by Any Other Name is a Different Friggin RoseMy Profile

    • April 1, 2015 Alison

      Thanks for sharing, Colette! I’m not sure how traditional magazines work, not having worked for one before. But online sites don’t usually like publishing the same material at the same time, because of SEO reasons and usually, writers submit to sites that have the same audiences. It’d be cannibalizing the same readers. Hope that answers your question!

  • April 1, 2015 Tamara

    I love Val Curtis! I had a post on the site once, but I hadn’t submitted it. They found it and asked to syndicate it and I was thrilled! That said, of course I’d love to do the work on submitting something too in the future!
    Tamara recently wrote…This Is My Constant.My Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Yes, you absolutely should! We would love to share your writing.

  • April 1, 2015 Chris Carter

    I love that you are back at BonBon Break Alison! Good for YOU! These are great tips, thanks for your help! I hope I can get more focused on submitting my best pieces there. I need to work at this more…
    Chris Carter recently wrote…I Don’t Have Tough SkinMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Thank you, Chris, and you’re welcome!

  • April 2, 2015 Sandra

    These tips are awesome. I love Bonbon Break, but I’m afraid, these days with three mouthy teenagers, my essays would end with one or all of my children being threatened to “get your own home if you aren’t happy here.”
    Seriously, this was great advice. I’ve wanted to submit to Val, but my post are about mental illness awareness, and I don’t know if Bonbon Break would find the subject matter relevant to the readership. Any advice or if you know of any online columns that deal with topics such as this one I’d appreciate your input.
    Sandra recently wrote…Rapid Cycling Has Nothing To Do With My BicycleMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Sandra, we absolutely would love to feature writing and perspectives on mental illness. I do hope you’ll consider submitting to us!

  • April 2, 2015 Christy

    What a fun new job, good for you! I love the more simple task of proofreading, and have been seriously thinking about submitting some pieces lately. Thanks for these, I even utilized some tips for my post I’m publishing today 🙂
    Christy recently wrote…Hotel Hotel: Where to Stay in Fremont, SeattleMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      I’m glad to be of some help, Christy!

  • April 3, 2015 Amber

    Awesome. I wish I could write food posts but alas, I burn things. I could submit a post on things that I’ve burnt 😉
    Amber recently wrote…Things That Annoy Me Thursday: Children On Shoulders When I’m Trying To WatchMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      That would be funny, and humor is always welcomed at BonBon Break 🙂

  • April 3, 2015 Tonya

    Great tips! Thank you. I will be pinning these and sharing everywhere. (:

    And, congratulations on being back on Bon Bon.
    Tonya recently wrote…Then vs. NowMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      Thank you, and thank you, Tonya!

  • April 4, 2015 Erin

    All very true. As a reader I admit, I definitely end up skimming a lot of articles because they lose me somewhere in the middle. As a writer, I try to keep that in mind when I create something new, but I’m a “Newb” at this and still finding my personal flow! This is good advice, so thanks for sharing it! 🙂

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      The only way to get better at writing, is to keep writing. So keep writing! 🙂

  • April 10, 2015 Rebecca

    I love it! Free advice from Bon Bon’s Mom Cave editor! THANK YOU! The don’t submit to multiple channels at the same time is something I am dreadfully having to accept. lol
    Rebecca recently wrote…A Week of Silence: Day 3…Starting to Go CuckooMy Profile

    • April 23, 2015 Alison

      You’re welcome! It’s difficult to be patient when waiting for websites to get back to you, but that’s the way it goes. Just keep submitting!

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