Follow the Guidelines, Stupid


By Greg Herren

When you are applying for a new job or interviewing for a promotion, you put your best face on. You dress in your nicest and most professional clothes, right? You don’t go in wearing a paint spattered T-shirt and ratty old jeans.  You want to give the impression of competence, professionalism, experience, and maturity. You emphasize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. You are trying to convince them you, and only you, are the best choice for the position.

So, why don’t writers do the same thing when submitting a manuscript?

In a job interview, you are trying to sell yourself. When you submit a manuscript (be it a short story, an article, a proposal, or a full length book), you are doing the same thing. It is in your best interest to at least give the impression you are a competent professional—even if you have never published anything in your life. Yet, in all the years I’ve been editing—magazines, anthologies, and now a line of fiction books—I am constantly amazed at the sad lack of professionalism some writers exhibit in submitting their work. Why on earth would you want to give the editor reviewing your work the impression that you are going to be difficult to work with?

            Editors are often maligned, and sometimes rightfully so. As a writer, I often forget what it’s like to be an editor and have been known to malign a few on occasion—usually after a few drinks. But editing is very hard work, and every time I put on my editor’s cap I groan and think, “Why the fuck did I agree to do this again?” As I start digging through the submissions pile, the temptation to take a razor blade to my wrists is always there. (Don’t get me wrong. Editing can be very rewarding. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of discovering a new writer with a lot of talent who has never published before.) And I will sit there and read every single submission, no matter how bad the grammar, how one-dimensional the characters, how implausible the story, or how trite the dialogue—on one condition. I will read every single submission from beginning to end—if they followed the guidelines.

            Editors don’t set up submission guidelines just for the hell of it. They set up guidelines because it makes their job easier. As I mentioned before, editing is hard work and very time-consuming. I can’t speak for other editors, of course, but I know that I try to be as efficient with my time as I can—and so I set up guidelines to make my job as simple as possible. So, it really irritates me when someone feels that they don’t need to follow my guidelines. I don’t think it means they’re a bad person, or a bad writer, but it tells me they are amateurs. And I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to work with amateurs. At the very least, it tells me the writer did not bother to read my guidelines; at worst, s/he felt the guidelines did not apply to him/her.

So, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to explain my guidelines.

I do not accept electronic submissions for anything because early in my career as an editor, I did and got a virus that ate my hard drive. I was without a computer for two weeks, and then had to reconstruct all the work that hadn’t been backed up.

I want the manuscripts in Times or Courier font because my eyes are failing, and those particular fonts are easiest for me to read—and likewise, anything smaller than a 12 point font is too hard on my eyes. I spend most of my days—seven days a week, 52 weeks a year—either reading manuscripts or working on my computer for at least eight hours a day, sometimes more. So, I won’t read something that isn’t in a font style and size that is easy on my eyes.

I don’t want the submissions to be bound in any way other than, at most, a paper clip. This is because I want to be able to look at the pages side by side at times; if it’s bound in a folder or stapled, I have to take it apart…and sometimes, no matter how careful you are in removing the staple, the page will jam a copy machine…which is an enormous pain in the ass at Kinko’s.

And since I don’t like the submissions to be bound, it is imperative that the author’s name and the name of the story be in the upper left hand corner of every page, and the pages be numbered—in case they get separated. My cat loves to knock stuff off my desk—and there is nothing more frustrating (and time consuming) then putting pages back in order that aren’t numbered.

So, whenever you are submitting work, read the guidelines, and follow them. It’ll show the editor you are a professional—and every little leg up will help get you one step closer to making the sale. Remember, editors have guidelines for a reason, and you should respect those reasons—even if you think they are stupid. Bite the bullet and just do it.

You’ll make the editor very happy…and don’t you want the editor in a happy frame of mind when they are reviewing your work?

2 Responses to “Follow the Guidelines, Stupid”

  1. 1 Carol February 21, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    As a writer in the process of putting my first manuscript together for submission, I thank you.
    Very valuable, although what I consider common sense, information.


  2. 2 Kathleen February 25, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    But if I can’t put in pictures and print it in a color that reflects my emotional state in a script-like font, then you are SMUSHING my creativity!


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