Friday, February 4, 2022

The View from the Other Side of the Desk: What I Learned as Editor of The Mitten Blog by Kristin Bartley Lenz


During my tenure as editor of The Mitten Blog, I read hundreds of submissions. The blog team is all volunteer, but we represent our SCBWI professional organization and our Michigan chapter specifically, and we take our jobs seriously. Sarah LoCascio is the new editor (Yay, Sarah!), but I’m stopping by to share a peek behind the editor’s desk, so you can put your best foot forward when submitting your work — whether it’s to a blog, magazine, book publisher, or literary agent.

In many ways, our SCBWI-MI blog is a training ground for our community. We’re all learning together. 

Here are my Dos and Don’ts based on my experience with real-life examples

Do: Read and follow the submission guidelines.

Yes, this should be obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many writers do not take the time to do this. You’ll often find a wealth of information on submission pages, such as wish lists, links to editor interviews, and how-to articles. It was always very clear to me when someone had read our guidelines, and I thanked them for sending me such a professional package. 

Let’s break down some of the steps.

  • Don’t send a post/article/story that’s way over the recommended word count and say, “Please feel free to cut.” For The Mitten Blog, the recommended word count is 400-600 words, but we’re flexible if a writer needs more space. If your post is 750 words, no problem. If your post is 2000 words, a discussion is needed.

Trust me, you do not want the editor to cut your words. Cutting writing is not like snipping paper with scissors. It’s a time-consuming, thoughtful process that often involves rewriting along with the cutting. Do the work, and your writing skills will grow. 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Some writers asked me for guidance when their word count was very high. I was often able to see areas that were repetitive, but other times the writing was strong and the content engrossing. In those cases, it made sense to publish the extra-long post, but other times we chose to break it up into two parts or even a series of posts, such as our seven-day MFA series. Working together in this way is what makes being an editor fun!

Do: Query with a specific idea.

For me, the hardest part of being an editor was coming up with fresh content. I always appreciated when someone reached out with a specific idea or several ideas. Again, this kind of collaboration is fun.

  • Don’t query and offer to write “anything you’d like!” 

  • Don’t query without first reading the publication to see what topics have recently been covered.

  • Don’t send a press release for your book or event. Press releases and even artwork sometimes showed up in my inbox with no explanation. I’m happy for you, and of course I enjoy looking at the art, but what exactly would you like the editor to do with this information? 

Do: Have an author photo ready. 

It doesn’t need to be a professional photo, but it should be clear and appropriate for the publication or related to your bio. Some publications only want a head shot. Others allow a variety of informal poses including pets or scenic backgrounds. 

  • Don’t send a busy photo with strangers’ faces in the background.

  • Don’t send a family photo and ask the editor to crop it for you.

  • Don’t send a selfie taken in a bathroom with your reflection in the mirror. Save those shots for your personal social media accounts!

Do: Be prepared to revise. 

I often received polished blog posts that needed no editing, but just as often, posts benefited from a small amount of revision. I tried to be careful not to interfere with the writer’s voice, and instead asked questions to guide their own revising.

Here’s an example: 
Kris Munroe submitted a book review of Wild Words: Rituals, Routines and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path by Nicole Gulotta. Her blog post was well-written and informative and would have been fine published as is. But I was especially intrigued by the author’s suggestion to choose a “word of the year.” I asked Kris if she had chosen her own word, and if she’d be comfortable sharing. Her word was uncomfortable, and she added an additional paragraph to explain her choice. This extra bit of personal information elevated her writing and made it more meaningful. See for yourself:

(If you’re intrigued, Kris’s 2021 word was honor, and she chose celebrate for 2022. What about you?)

Are you feeling more prepared to submit your best writing? I hope so! You can start right now by reading The Mitten Blog submission guidelines. Editor Sarah LoCascio is looking forward to hearing from you.

I'll be cheering beside you in the query trenches!
Kristin Bartley Lenz

Kristin Bartley Lenz was The Mitten Blog Co-Editor from 2014-2021. Her debut young adult novel,
The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was a Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize winner, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and a Great Lakes Great Books Award honor book. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and articles have been published by The New York Times, Writer's Digest, Hunger Mountain, Great Lakes Review, The ALAN Review, Literary Mama, Women On Writing, the SCBWI Bulletin, and more. She also writes freelance for Detroit area nonprofits and teaches creative writing for teens and adults.


  1. Thank you, Kristin, for all your work on The Mitten and making the transition process so easy for me!

  2. Kristin, this post makes me think of "a rising tide lifts all boats" coined by former President John F. Kennedy. YOU are a rising tide. We are grateful for your generosity over the years and also for this helpful information!

  3. The Mitten is a fantastic part of our chapter. Thank you Kristin and Sarah for making it possible.

  4. Such helpful information for how to approach queries in general! Thank you Kristin for taking the time to share these tips and for your continued dedication to SCBWI.

  5. Thanks for sharing all the tips you learned. I've learned a lot from reading agent interviews and debut author interviews and guests at my blog Literary Rambles too. Thanks for all you do for SCBWI.

  6. Thanks, everyone! It was great working with you over the years, and now it's so fun for me to see the new ideas being implemented.