Are Submission Guidelines Important?

“Writers who don’t follow the rules aren’t worth our time.”

This is what most editors think and you should listen to them. Why? Because you’ll never get past the submission pile into the pile of stories they are seriously considering for publication.

I’ve heard editors say that they won’t even consider a story if the author hasn’t submitted it according to their guidelines. Writers think this sucks. Why should the way it’s presented mean anything? If it’s a good story, it should be considered on the plot merit, right? Being a writer I tend to agree, but we have to look at it as a job. If you were going to a job interview, you wouldn’t wear stained pajama pants and a bleach-spotted Kama Sutra t-shirt, even if you were a Harvard grad with excellent references. Think of the submission formatting as your foot in the door. Once you’ve dressed it up, then it’s up to your writing to break out of the pile and wow them.

Now, I am by no means a pro. I am still stuck in the pile like the rest of you. However, I did run a ‘zine called DarkLives for ten years. Nowadays, I receive on an average, 20-30 pieces of work a month from various collaborations, critique groups, and for my new podcast Having read hundreds of submissions I can tell you some things that make them difficult to handle.

First, always read the publishers website to see what their guidelines are and follow them precisely. Yes, they will notice if they asked for an outline and you give them a synopsis instead.

Second, don’t email them the next day to find out how they liked it. Especially if you are emailing another writer or a small publication, they probably have a “real job” and family that they have to work their writing dream around.

Third, if no guidelines are listed on their site or you are sending a manuscript to someone in the industry who doesn’t have submission guidelines (like another writer), PLEASE follow the standard submission format. I always change stories I receive into the proper format before I print them.  Mostly because someone will send me a twenty page story with no page numbers on it. If I drop the story, I’m in trouble. Trying to piece together someone else’s rough draft is insane. The author’s name and story title should also be in the header of each page.

So what is the “standard manuscript format”? Let me reiterate that you always need to follow the submission guidelines for the publication you are submitting to. If none are stated, go with these guidelines below:

  • Number pages in header or footer. It’s also nice to put the number of pages like so: 1/13
  • Courier font, 12 point, never in italics or bold
  • 1 inch margins all around
  • Double spaced
  • Use the # sign (centered) to indicate viewpoint change
  • Use left paragraph text (never justified)
  • Include your name and story name in the header of every page. 
  • On the first page, list your name and a way to contact you. I don’t feel you have to include the info below if you are sending it to a critiquer, a simple email address should suffice, but if you are submitting to a publishing house, unless otherwise instructed, you should include: your name, address, phone number, email address, what type of story (Horror Novel or Fantasy Short Story), computer word count, and if it is recyclable (meaning they can shred it versus sending it back to you).

There are more detailed formatting descriptions on publisher’s sites, in writing books, or online. If you are thinking about submitting, I strongly suggest you do your homework first so that you are put in the pile to read and not the recycle bin. If you don’t format it correctly, it won’t be read, and you might as well save yourself the trouble and cost of sending it out in the first place.

One word of encouragement.  You'll never be published if you don't send it out.  So... WRITE, SUBMIT, WRITE, SUBMIT and repeat as often as you can.