you're reading...
Writing Advice

Submitting Your Work Part 2: Read the F*****g Guidelines!

The Stinging Fly #21I thought long and hard before including the word ‘F*****g’ in the title of this second part of my occasional series on submitting work to publishers; reason being I didn’t want to be seen as potentially disparaging towards the vast majority of writers who do go the trouble of checking out the guidelines to a specific market before sending something their way. But, unfortunately, a sizeable minority don’t and the inclusion of the ‘F’ word is to demonstrate the level of frustration, and indeed occasional anger, that this lack of basic manners and cop-on induces in editors everywhere.

It may seem obvious to most writers that the first thing you do when you’re thinking of submitting to a particular market is visit their website and check out their guidelines. But a surprising number of writers don’t do this. After all, if you’ve written a science fiction story, why not just send it to a science fiction magazine? That literary opus you’ve completed surely belongs in the New Yorker, so just send it on in. So why should you bother reading guidelines before submitting? And why do writers who flout this prerequisite often bring editors to the very brink of apoplexy?

Different magazines, webzines, anthologies and book publishers have different requirements. These requirements have been arrived at for a variety of reasons, which range from specific market factors to the personal whim of the editor and/or publisher. Some markets will specify a particular sub-genre or cross-genre, such as SF horror, that is science fiction that has a large element of horror to it (a la the movie Alien). Other markets, such as anthologies, may be themed, such as the impending Steampunk Cthulhu, edited by Brian M Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass, which will be publishing stories that do what it says on the tin. No point sending this particular anthology a straight Cthulhu story. Or a general horror piece. Other markets, such as the New Yorker or the Stinging Fly allow only a limited number of submissions from an author in a given year, or are only open to submissions at specific times of the year.

Guidelines also include information on the required format of submissions, font, font size, spacing, margins, minimum and/or maximum word counts, etc. They specify payment rates, or lack of, rights bought or secured, and whether or not they accept simultaneous submissions. Writers who don’t make the effort to review guidelines risk wasting both their own time and the editors’. Outlined below are a number of particular examples of this time-wasting phenomenon.

As co-editor of Albedo One for many years now, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read a story that is plainly not the kind of thing we publish. On several occasions I’ve read a story that turns out to be a mainstream literary piece with no genre elements whatsoever. It may be beautifully written, with great character development, but I end up reading right to the end in search of the science fiction-, fantasy- or horror-related denouement and discover there is none.

More often, it’s clear the author hasn’t read a sample copy of the magazine to get a flavour of the kind of stuff we go for. Now I fully understand that writers, including myself, by the way, can’t be buying copies of every magazine they want to submit to. But most magazines will have sample stories posted to their websites or cheap pdfs or other e-versions of back issues available and writers should make the effort to review these. You mightn’t even have to go that far; many magazines, webzines and anthologies will include an extensive list on their guidelines webpage of what they don’t want to see.

Just because you’ve written a masterpiece doesn’t mean any magazine at all, randomly plucked from a hat, will publish it. Do the homework. Otherwise you risk tying up your story for three or four months or more with an unsuitable market, only to hear back that they don’t publish that sort of thing. Better to have your story considered on its merits by a market that might actually publish it.

We often receive submissions that don’t adhere to our guidelines on format. Albedo One isn’t too fussy on font or font size (within reason!), but it is on line spacing. Other markets are very particular on font, font size, the type of paragraphing and width of margins. Until recently, Albedo One didn’t accept email submissions as attachments. Now we do, but we have listed the file formats we take. For example, we don’t accept docx files, reason being we can’t open them. One submitter emailed us, a short while ago, with a link to where we could download her story, rather than simply attaching the story to the email. Needless to say, we couldn’t risk clicking on the link.

We still get hard copy submissions in the post, which is all well and good, but many arrive with no SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) or email address on the cover letter. These submissions go straight in the bin because we have no way of replying to the author unless we spend money on postage, which we don’t have to spare. Any writer who thinks we’ll read the story anyway and be so overwhelmed by its brilliance that we’ll be willing to spend money on tracking him or her down in order to beg to publish it is sadly deluding themselves.

A corollary to this is the SASE included with the manuscript that is adorned with US or UK stamps. Unfortunately, these are useless to us and a waste of the writer’s money, as we are based in Ireland and are subject to the Irish postal system when it comes to posting out rejections and acceptances. If you are including a SASE, it must have stamps relevant to the country you expect to hear back from. Ireland opted out of the IRC (International Reply Coupon) scheme that would be a viable alternative to having to source stamps, so this is not an option for someone posting stories to us from outside Ireland. There is also a difficulty for writers posting to US markets from outside the US, in that the US Postal Service won’t sell stamps to anywhere outside the North American continent. In these cases, it’s best to rely on email communications. It’s quicker and easier for a magazine to reply by email, so include your email address on your cover letter and the first page of your manuscript. Most markets that insist on everything being done in hard copy form only will listen to reason if you contact them to say you can’t include a SASE with a relevant stamp on it; under those circumstances, they will likely accept an email submission or a hard copy submission with your email address included.

Check payment rates and rights purchased to make sure you’re happy before submitting. Albedo One is a semi-pro level magazine that regretfully pays very little (we hope in the future to improve the rate, but for the moment, it is what it is). If you are not happy with this, don’t submit to us. We had a submission recently, which we went to the trouble of reading, withdrawn when the writer belatedly realised we didn’t pay professional level rates. He wasted his time and ours, and for all his talk of professionalism, didn’t demonstrate much of that from his end, i.e. he didn’t read the f*****g guidelines.

A lot of the above dovetails into a strategy many, many writers employ when trying to get work published; that of the scattergun approach. I speak of simultaneous submissions, the bane of many an editor. Unless a magazine, webzine or anthology specifically states that they accept simultaneous submissions, you can assume that they don’t. In fact, most markets will categorically state in no uncertain terms that they don’t want to see submissions that are currently being considered by other markets. A writer may think it’s great to have his or her story considered by 17 magazines all at the one time, but there is nothing worse for an editor than to have to spend precious time reading a submission, only to have it withdrawn by the author because it’s been accepted somewhere else. A writer may not care, once the story gets published somewhere, but he or she risks burning bridges instead of building them.

A while back, a writer emailed us a story for consideration and one of the editorial team discovered, quite by accident, that it had been copied to about 50 other magazines simultaneously. This explained the ‘Dear Editor’ at the beginning and the ‘your magazine’ in the body of the email. I guess he was inviting us to fill in our own name in the relevant places. The sheer arrogance of it was breathtaking, not to say anything of the laziness demonstrated (he couldn’t even make the effort to bcc it) or the plain evidence that he hadn’t bothered to check our guidelines, which state very clearly that we don’t accept simultaneous submissions.

I’m not, by the way, trying to make out that an editor’s time is more precious than a writer’s. But writers who think that it’s only one little story, sure what’s the harm, are missing a vital piece of information about the life of an editor: that editors have to wade through vast quantities of submissions in order to select what they wish to publish. And I mean vast; Albedo One typically receives several thousand submissions a year. And that pales into insignificance beside what the pro-rate genre magazines get, which, in turn, pales beside what the likes of the New Yorker gets.

Any writer who thinks they’ll impress Editor X by having managed to sell their story to Editor Y while it was under consideration by Editor X’s magazine, that this will engender in the Editor X a deep regret that they didn’t read the story quicker and snap it up, or that this will instil in Editor X a sense of urgency with the writer’s next submission, is again, sadly deluding themselves.

So why does this all drive editors nuts? It should be pretty obvious from the specific examples above, but it all boils down to the fact that editors are generally dealing with huge levels of submissions, and guidelines are there to make an editor’s life a little more manageable. Adhering to them, even if they may seem a little inconvenient to you, will at least demonstrate to the editor a minimum quotient of professionalism, even if some editors themselves may not always be very professional.


About John Kenny

I have had fiction published in Fear the Reaper, Emerald Eye: The Best of Irish Imaginative Fiction, Transtories, The World SF Blog, Revival Literary Journal, First Contact, FTL, Woman’s Way, Jupiter Magazine and several other venues. Currently looking for a publisher for my novel Down and Out. I was co-editor of Albedo One from 1993 to 2013 and co-administrator of its International Aeon Award for Short Fiction from 2005 to 2013. Previous to that I edited several issues of FTL (1990 – 1992). I’ve also edited Writing4all: The Best of 2009 and Box of Delights, an original horror anthology from Aeon Press Books.


2 thoughts on “Submitting Your Work Part 2: Read the F*****g Guidelines!

  1. I must admit that my greater sin, as a submitter of poetry, is not following up a submission with an appropriately timed submission, so that I don’t get my name recognised enough. But I have always read the guidelines where possible, and try to follow them slavishly, even if only — as an editor — I know their value. Thank you.

    Posted by phillipaellis1968 | May 10, 2013, 9:11 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: