Russian Roulette or Author Guidelines

The last month has seen me increasingly busy over at Speculative Realm (which has now moved to its own website). The submissions are pouring in, which is great, but I’m seeing a pattern with the submissions which concerns me…yet also gives me (as a writer) hope.

I’m noticing that quite a few of the authors who have submitted have not read the guidelines. It’s frustrating for me and the other staff, as we are wasting time on stories that don’t even fit the theme. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, it has to be rejected because it’s not what we are looking for. The guidelines are not that long and would take only a few minutes to read, yet the author can’t be bothered and submits anyway. No wonder so many rejections are being sent out (I’ve calculated it to be 95%).

Not all rejections have been for that reason, of course, but I’d have to say at least 50% of them have been and that’s way too many. Every website that offers writing tips will clearly state “read the guidelines”. This is important and I would have thought it was common sense to do so. Obviously, I’m wrong.

Honestly, to ignore the guidelines is like playing Russian roulette. You are taking a huge chance with your manuscript; not to mention the time you are wasting while the manuscript is tied up with a publisher that may not even want that type of story. Editors receive so many submissions that they can be ridiculously horrid in the way they sift through the pile. For example, they can think to themselves “I don’t like green, so all manuscripts bound in anything remotely green will be rejected instantly” or “all emailed submissions received on an odd numbered day will be rejected”. You should be doing all you can to improve your chances.

I have received submissions with no cover letter too – not even a “here’s my submission”. Two submissions have been blank emails with an attachment. I feel that’s not professional and actually thought about rejecting both on the spot…but didn’t. However, I really do feel that sending in a submission like this is not good enough and will reject future submissions for that reason alone.

As a writer I have visited many published authors’ websites and have been told over and over again, that if you want to stand out from the crowd then you must treat your submission like you would treat any business transaction. Being naïve, I assumed everyone did this already, so how would that make my submission stand out from the rest of the slush pile. Now I know that a high percentage of submissions are done unprofessionally and that my manuscript would shine next to them. That gives me hope.

If you write and you want to be published, then take this one piece of advice and remember it always. Read the submission guidelines and give the editor what they want. The editor might be fussy, but that doesn’t matter. Do what they want. They will see that you’ve taken the time to read their guidelines and that might convince them to take the time to read your manuscript.

4 thoughts on “Russian Roulette or Author Guidelines”

  1. That’s just amazing that so many people would ignore the guidelines. When I prepare for something like this, I pore(?) over the guidelines, paranoid that I will be eliminated due to some technicality.

    Maybe you should call them the Submission Commandments. Maybe people will get the hint then.

  2. Trust me, people would still scratch their heads, shrug and cheerfully send in stuff outside the guidelines. Rules are for other people.

    It’s probably the cynical journalist in me, but I’ve always liked a line from the security chief in Babylon 5: “Always bet on stupid.”

  3. I’ve done editing and reading for collections before, Scribe, and you’re dead right. The number of submissions that come in that ignore the guidelines are massive. Usually a lot more submissions are a travesty of the guidelines than those that follow the simple rules. Look on the bright side – it saves you a lot of reading time. You have to be brutal like every other publisher. And now you know why they’re as brutal as they are!

  4. I always knew why editors were tough, but I never realised how many writers are stupid! No offense, but that’s what ignoring the guidelines is.

    On the bright side, it leaves a huge opening for those of us who are really serious. 😉

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