Literary Magazines: Submissions guidelines are not optional
The importance of following submissions guidelines when submitting to publishers and magazines.
Congratulations! You've finished a story, poem, essay, article. Now, how do you get people to read it? You could publish it on Hubpages or your personal blog. Or, you could submit it to a literary magazine, journal or newspaper and maybe make a nice pay day, build your resume and increase your visibility outside of your normal circle of readers.
So, you scour the web, you run searches on Duotrope, you thumb through literary magazines at your local bookstore and, finally, you find it! The perfect market for your work! Work you've birthed, loved, nurtured and cared for. You’re ready to let it go; to trust it with someone else. You click submit and send the work off, and wait.
You don’t wait long. An hour after you've sent it off, you get an e mail from the publisher. Wow! You’re really excited! You've heard that it takes weeks—even months!—to hear back from a magazine. They must really love your story. You’re going to be famous! You’re going to be rich! Robin Leach is going to do a special on you!
With bated breath, you open the email to read this:
“Thank you for sending us your work. Unfortunately, because you didn't follow our guidelines, we must reject your work. Please review our guidelines and resubmit.”
You just found the magazine and scrolled to the button that said “submit” and sent the work off. You didn't read all words preceding the submission button. Your face turns red with anger. “How could my brilliant work be rejected? They must be fools over there-- and with with bad taste! Who needs ‘em!?”
You submit to another market, and the same thing happens. “Why? What did I do wrong? My work is brilliant, it’s going to change the world, it’s going to be short listed for the Pushcart Prize, it’s going to win a Pulitzer. These magazines are operated by a bunch of hacks.”
What you didn't read were the submission guidelines. Every magazine, agent and newspaper has them, and they have them for a reason. Some are strict, some are lenient, some are easy to read, some are convoluted and confusing, but they’re all there. They are meant to be read and followed. Don’t treat them like the speed limit. Treat them like the rule of law that must be followed as strictly as possible.
As a magazine editor, I know when someone doesn't take the time to fully read the guidelines before submitting and, 99% of the time, this results in a rejection to the author. 100% of the time, it results in a red faced and angry editor. An angry editor isn't likely to publish your work.
Most magazines also have a “contact us” button. If you’re not sure about the guidelines, ask. This is not a case to act and then apologize. Magazines have guidelines to streamline the process so they can respond to your submission quickly and stay organized so they can get the magazine into the hands of readers.
Most editors work as volunteers or on a very small monthly, commission based salary. As a result, they’re not going to be too keen on spending extra time formatting the submission you should have submitted properly in the first place. Plus, submitters who do not follow guidelines are typically harder to work with during pre-publication and after publication.
One example of this, in ePoetry’s guidelines (a magazine I used to edit for) we stated explicitly that we only accepted submissions via submittable (which is a submissions manager used by many literary magazines) and that links to websites in lieu of submissions would not be followed. Yet, on one occasion I received a submission with no poetry, only a link to “thousands of my poems” via the authors’ website.
So, let me get this straight, the author wanted me to go to his website and scour through “thousands” of poems to find five I wanted to publish? Is his name Billy Shakespeare or Bobby Frost? How about this, I’ll reject his work and ask him to resubmit 3-5 poems in a single file as stated in our guidelines and then make an editorial decision. He may be one submitter, but he's one of thousands.
Magazines don’t ask for submission guidelines to make your life more difficult or to be hard asses or fascists (I've been called both these things by angry submitters). They do it because it’s a necessity. Hundreds of submissions are received each month and only a handful are accepted. Those that are properly formatted are more likely to be accepted because they are easier to read and access.
Editors remember names. Don’t let them remember your name as someone who fails to follow simple directions. Do yourself a favor and take a few extra minutes and read the guidelines, and make sure you’re submitting in accordance with them. When in doubt, ask questions.
You may have written the finest piece of writing mankind has ever known, but no one is going to see if you don’t follow the guidelines.
Good luck and happy submitting!