You Should Always Follow the Guidelines - Shouldn't You?

One of the most important pieces of advice for writers submitting their work for publication is - read the guidelines really carefully and follow them to the letter. It may seem petty and unfair to be penalised for using the wrong font or being a few words outside the word limit. But the quickest way to get rejected is to fail to follow the guidelines, as this gives the editor a very easy way to whittle down what might be an impractically large submission pile.

 

Up until this past weekend, I thought I had always been ultra careful in paying attention to the guidelines and making sure my submissions fit the bill. It’s very tedious reformatting pieces and preparing the relevant accompaniments, and it takes an inordinate amount of time, but I’ve always figured it’s the price I have to pay for my reasonably high acceptance rate.

 

Six months ago, I sent in one of my best pieces for an anthology that seemed like a really good fit. The response time quoted on the website went past and I’d heard nothing. I waited a few more weeks in case they were behind in letting authors know about selections, but still nothing. Eventually, I marked it off on my submission spreadsheet as a rejection and sent the piece somewhere else.

 

Yesterday, I woke up to the following email regarding the original submission:

 

“This is a beautiful piece.  I dearly loved it. I was re-reading it and preparing to send you a rejection.  However, I just can’t. So if you are up for it, I think this is a strong story.
That said, due to length, I’ll offer you the option of 2 cents a word and a share in the anthology  or an outright $25. Your call. Beautiful work.”

 

I experienced several emotions upon reading this. Joy and excitement at the prospect of seeing my story in print. Annoyance and guilt that I would have to contact the other publisher to remove the piece from consideration. Confusion and bewilderment at the reference to potential rejection, the length of the story and what was presumably a reduction in the offered pay.

 

I checked my submission spreadsheet and saw that the requested word count for this submission was “300-5,000 words”. At 650 words, my story is certainly short, but I was confused as to why it wouldn’t get the same pay as any other submission, because it was still within the word count window.

 

I was telling a friend about this over breakfast and he suggested that perhaps I had made a typo when adding the submission opportunity to my spreadsheet, and that it was likely the required word count was actually “3,000-5,000 words”. And then it all made sense!

 

The agonising of the editor over a piece he professedly loved. The mention of the length. The offer of a lot less remuneration than had been advertised. It’s no wonder the poor guy was torn, since I had sent in a story that was a good 1500 words too short, based on those all-important guidelines! What an idiot!

 

But, in this instance, I’ve really lucked out because of my mistake. Because I dearly love this story too, and it suits the anthology it’s going to be printed in so well.

So, the moral of this story is - don’t follow the submission guidelines and it may work out in your favour? I’m not sure I can endorse that message, as editors all over the world would hate me for it, and I’m pretty sure that 999 times out of 1000, it’ll land you straight in the rejection pile regardless of how good your writing is.

 

But, maybe an honest mistake occasionally deserves to have good consequences. I can certainly live with that.

 

And besides, as Captain Barbossa says, the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Right?

 

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