Want to Get Published? Follow the Guidelines.

Are You A Serious Writer?

Once again there was one story needed to complete an issue of The Storyteller. It shouldn’t be a big deal. The mailman delivers six days a week, the much needed article would appear the next day. Wrong. For the next four days, all that arrived was either too long, single-spaced (one hand-written), or simply not something we would ever include.

If you are a serious writer, you should sit up and pay attention: editors will not read your work if you have not followed the guidelines. There is no, “the rules don’t apply to me.” Wanna bet your writing career on it?

Small publications average 300 + pieces of mail a week. Larger publications can sometimes reach into the thousands. Editors simply don’t have time to think twice about your work if you have not bothered to follow guidelines they so carefully set up.

The first thing an editor will look at is word count–if you have even bothered to include it. Anyone who has been at this a long time can tell immediately by weight whether it’s too long or not, so fudging or omitting the word count will not earn you friends. It will certainly influence editors, just not the way you wanted.

If you’ve managed to keep within their word count, they will then look at the manuscript. If it is single-spaced or handwritten, that’s as far as you’ll ever get. It goes immediately into the slush pile (or trash if no SASE is included) to receive the standard, “Not for us” form letter.

Thank goodness. You’ve passed both of those. The editor will then proceed to read your work. If you have ignored the guidelines and sent a cozy mystery to a magazine that prints only hardboiled, a sci-fi to one that asks only for fantasies or graphic anything to a family magazine, then you’ve just gotten another rejection letter for your collection. (If you are out to see how many you can get, then you are doing everything right.) Editors will not make an exception, no matter how good your story is, unless you are Dean Koontz or Stephen King, but starting out, they had to follow the rules just like everyone else. Because if it doesn’t fit the guidelines, they don’t care how good it is. They will not even bother to read it. Remember the lack of time factor.

All of the above applies to contests as well. Guidelines get ignored; writer is disqualified, but thanks for the donation, because that’s what your entry fee has now become.

I finally managed to get that one story I needed, but because writers continually refuse to go by the rules, several writers lost out on a publication credit. On top of that, they made a bad impression, something no writer can afford to do. Editors are not your mothers–you are an adult–you should not have to be told more than once to follow guidelines if you want to be published or win any contest.

This information is not new. Writers can find articles about following guidelines on a thousand websites and as many magazine articles and books. Are you a serious writer?

If so, and you want to see your work in print, then don’t ignore a magazine’s guidelines. Editors look at it this way: you’re not serious about following guidelines, you are playing at being one and there are hundreds of manuscripts by serious writers who pay attention and do it right waiting in the mailbox on a daily basis. Those writers will get the publication that should have been yours had you simply followed the rules.

Stop spinning your wheels and wasting editors time (not to mention your own) and follow the guidelines to the smallest detail. When you do that, you can rest assured the editor will read your submission and your acceptance letters may surpass your rejection letters.

Regina Williams is the editor of Storytelling Magazine. She’s been published in numerous local and national magazines and has also won numerous contests.