Two of my very dear friends run a small but respectable publishing company. We catch up for dinner and they regale me with tales of writers who, instead of writing a one page cover letter, will write a five page letter about why the submission guidelines don’t apply to her/him. I always think this is an interesting choice.
Perhaps people get confused by the word ‘guidelines’ – they assume that it’s like The Pirates’ Code and not really there for any purpose but to offer, well, a guide to folk who don’t know any better, those in need of, say, guidance. They also seem to assume that they know better than a publisher, and that they can ignore the guidelines the publisher has spent a lot of time formulating. This is not wise.
I would like to propose a renaming of the guidelines – let’s call them The Rules. Each particular publisher (or indeed, magazine or journal) has their own set of rules. It is best to follow these. Why? Okay, let’s look at the balance of power. As a writer, you are the supplicant – you come to the publisher with your novel/story and the hope that someone will want to buy it from you. The publisher is in the driver’s seat at this stage – they have the mechanisms for getting your manuscript into the form of novely goodness. In life, when you ask anyone for anything, are you rude about it? Do you demand it? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these questions, then I suspect you’re beyond help.
Yes, you have a creative product. Yes, hopefully it is unique and wonderful. Are you the only writer out there with a unique and wonderful creative product? No. Why offend the very people who have the means to get your work out there? To get it noticed? To, hopefully, make you some money?
Submission guidelines are generally very simple to follow: A4 paper, printed one side, one inch margins, no staples, etc. Submit the first fifty pages or first three chapters, with a brief (i.e. no more than one page) synopsis, and your bio with a covering letter. What is so hard about that? Why would you spend your time annoying the publisher by telling them that their guidelines don’t apply to you? Why would you annoy the publisher by telling them what a favour you are doing them by allowing them to see your manuscript? Why? Shoot yourself in the foot much?