Saturday, August 19, 2006

Following Submission Guidelines

James Buchanan

Two things bring me to this topic. One is thread on a form when an editor of the Homoerotic E-zine Forbidden Fruit complained about having to wade through heterosexual content submissions. The stories were absolutely inappropriate for the market. Any one who had read their submissions page would see this line, “What we're after is well-written gay male fiction” first thing. Obviously somebody just didn’t bother to read the guidelines. The other was Lawrence Schimel’s LiveJournal where he discusses his headaches over trying to figure out who submitted what for the “Best Date Ever” anthology he’s editing because people didn’t follow basic submission guidelines.

Submission guidelines are there for a reason. You need to read them before you submit, as you’re formatting your submission and double check it again before you hit the send button. Authors who regularly sub to a specific market go back and read the guidelines periodically. Know why? Things change. Maybe a publisher has been hit with so many viruses they no longer accept anything but RTF or TXT attachments (it’s harder for viruses to embed in those formats). They may have added a new category where your work could fit. Or they may have a moratorium on certain genres due to an overload of submissions. Whatever the case, those guidelines are there because these are things the editors do or do not want to see. At the very least it tells editors that you have a clue about being professional.

If you don’t submit your prized MS in the way they want… 90% chance it’s headed for the round file cabinet. So, if the publisher says put the first chapter in the body of an email. Do it. If they want it hardcopy on pink paper. Do it. This is not about what you like, it’s about following the rules. You want to at least make the slush pile.

Some Basics

You must/should have on at least the first page of every attachment you send:

• Your Name (the real one)
• Address (I suggest a P.O. Box)
• Phone Number (Cell numbers work fine)
• E-Mail Address (make sure it’s reliable and doesn’t filter out important things)
• Title of the Work
• Your Pen Name
• Word Count

This is important because your manuscript and required attachments may be separated from your e-mail. Nearly every submission guideline I’ve ever read requires at least those. From what I hear, it is staggering the amount of people who don’t do it.

Name your document so it can be found easily. Think about it, if you had 200 submissions of Submissioncall.rtf you’d go nuts. So for this article, since it has a long title, I might use SubGuide.rtf. If this publisher wanted a short biography and marketing plan those might be named SubGuideBio.rtf and SubGuidePlan.rtf. This way the publisher knows exactly which submission they go to and can differentiate them from the thousands of other submissions they have.

If it’s an e-mail submission, put “Submission: Title of Work” in the subject line. If it’s for a special call, add “for X Anthology” after the title. This way the receiving editor knows immediately that they are looking at a submission, not spam, and which specific editor it should be routed to.

If the publisher does not specify a preference, use a common readable type face. I write in 12 point Times New Roman. The two other most common are Courier and Ariel. Why do you want to use those? Because if you use an obscure font and the publisher does not have it on their system your document will be reformatted by the system to whatever default font is used. Other fonts may use special characters or encoding that doesn’t survive the reformat, so you end up with strange characters in your document. This is especially true on quotation marks and punctuation. Of course, if the editor wants 10 point Arial, I change my MS. Some people grouse that it's only to make the edior's life easier. Good, make their life easier, it's about getting published not about being an indvidual in style.

Save that for content.

Again, if no preference is specified use common paragraph formatting. Use either block style (how this article is written) or first line indent. Both of those generally translate into any word processing program without problems. But some publishers ask for 1.5 spacing, some for double. Even for the same press, if a specific editor is handling an anthology he/she may have guidelines that are slightly different then the general press guidelines. Creativity needs to come from inside the story not how it’s set up on the page. If it gives the editor too much of a headache trying to read that’s going to impact how they view your story.

And always, if you see something you don't understand go to the source. Who is the best person to explain to you what they meant by the words “intensive outline,” or "marketing hook?" The person who wrote the guidelines. If you have a question e-mail and ask. Most publishers would much rather explain what they wanted rather than get something they didn’t.


JD said...

Great reminders!

Like you, I've never understood the need to be "creative" with submission guidelines. I can be as stubborn and rebellious as the next person, but I try to avoid the nose-cutting, face-spiting routine.

Miranda Heart said...

It's about time people realized this. Never could understand there rationalization there. Thank you.

Kis Lee said...

I never understood why a writer would put so much effort into a piece and then ignore the guidelines. weird.

Great piece!

Vincent Diamond said...

All excellent points, James. Thanks for reminding us about the how and why of sub guidelines!

I ponder what I may be getting when I open for an antho later in the year. Gulp.


December Quinn said...

This is a great article, James. It always amazes me how many people think they can disregard or ignore the guidelines.
Do you think that's because of ignorance, or arrogance?

James Buchanan said...

Or a combination of both

Eden Bradley said...

Hey there James! Some great info here!

Barrie Abalard said...

Excellent post, James.

I've never understood writers who, in one breath, claim to be serious about their work, and, in the next breath, say they can't be bothered to format their manuscript to "suit some fussy editor".

I say, eliminate every possible reason for an editor to reject your work.

Pardon the heresy, but I think that such self-proclaimed "serious" writers really aren't. It's certainly not professional to flout the rules. Follow the rules, whatever they may be.