A Note on Submission Guidelines

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?

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12 Responses to A Note on Submission Guidelines

  1. Steph says:

    I’m helping some friends out with starting a magazine, and we’ve been having long discussions about developing our own submission guidelines, which tend to go along the line of
    them wanting everyone to submit in some particular font (Century Gothic?) so that everything is entirely anonymous, and me saying, well, it’s more about readability and professionalism. I’m looking forward to getting random non-compliant subs, though I’m not sure how everyone else is going to feel about my zero/low tolerance towards formatting.

    I was holding out for e-submissions, too, but I lost that fight 🙁

  2. girliejones says:

    Heh. A submission telling me why the guidelines don’t apply to a particular sub saves me time – there’s no point reading the work. I already know it’s not what I am looking for aka the guidelines and the writer will be a pain in the ass to work with. All a quick thanks but no thanks rejection from me and I am happily on my way.

  3. fave says:

    yes! excellent point Angela. Submission guidelines are actually there to help the writer – make it easy and simple – also help us work out it is the right place to send our work.

  4. fave says:

    I mean work out IF it is the right place…. need coffee

  5. angelaslatter says:

    Absolutely – but some writers don’t seem to get that they are painting a big “L” on their foreheads … it’s like “slowest, most difficult and annoying gazelle in the herd” kinda thing …

  6. angelaslatter says:

    It may be that you get someone who submits an entire ms in Copperplate in CAPS … I did see an entire ms with about 12 different fonts and font sizes in it … this wasn’t important to the story … the author just thought it looked pretty … mental note: you’re not submitting your grade 4 assignment and no amount of glitter glue will help.

  7. angelaslatter says:

    Go! Have coffee 🙂 x

  8. Nicky says:

    What????? Glitter glue won’t help???? Dammit! I bet you’ll be telling me next that if I draw fancy borders in texta around the 1″ margins (to show how good I am at making the margins) won’t be allowed either.

    Dang nabit! LMAO

  9. Ben Payne says:

    True. However, there are a few magazines with guidelines that I find my brain hazes over trying to read… I’d really like to submit but it’s just too complicated….

    Anything which takes more than, say, five easy steps to alter my manuscript is like… meh… I’ll send it somewhere else…

  10. angelaslatter says:

    Also true: acts of evil are committed by publishers and mag/journal editors as well as by writers.