Find out what the phrase “over the transom” means when it comes to publishing and what it means for writers.

Writers and editors care about words, especially the meanings of words. When it comes to publishing, there are many new terms that have spread since I started working as an editor more than 20 years ago, but the phrase “over the transom” is actually one that started well before my time.

(Common Publishing Terms.)

In fact, I can remember having it explained to me when I was fresh out of college, and I still see it pop up here and there around the industry. So let’s look at what “over the transom” actually means in publishing.

What Does Over the Transom Mean?

In nautical terms, the word “transom” refers to a small boat. So it would not be a shock to learn that a mariner conjures up an image of someone sending a submission over the transom as someone sending a submission by sea “in a transom” (or perhaps by airmail “over the transom”). But that would be wrong, because a transom is also a lintel or crosspiece over a door and usually between the door and a window that opens.

In this sense, a writer who sends in a submission “over the transom” is sending in a submission through that little window that opens over the door unsolicited. And that’s the true meaning of sending in a submission over the transom: It’s another way to say its an unsolicited submission.

(What Is the Slush Pile?)

So if you come across the phrase in the future, you’ll now know what it means and how to explain to those who are hearing it for the first time (and/or are seafaring folk).


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