Guidelines or Hard and Fast Rules

As a bit of an OCD/Perfectionist, I have always gone out of my way to adhere to the publisher’s guidelines to the letter when submitting my works for consideration. And I never failed to at least get a response with some kind of personal note attached.

So I could never understand, and truthfully, got quite bored, having to perpetually read through publishers’ warnings, blog posts, and books that went on and on about how important it was to follow the guidelines perfectly. While some publishers are bound to vary slightly, most have fairly standard requests as to how to set up the document (right down to margins and font size and style), the format of the submission, and the method by which authors submit their works. Really, I thought, who are they talking to?

Now, as a publisher on the receiving end of such submissions, I understand the stress placed on submission presentation.

As a writer, you must understand that the people reviewing your work on behalf of the publisher are just that – people. And they are busy people. Many of them come across hundreds of ‘masterpieces’ every year and must chose the best of the best. It would certainly be an impossible task if they didn’t start to find ways to filter out the worst submissions, so that they can get to the juicy stuff.

Imagine you had three manuscripts on your desk awaiting your attention. You barely have time for one. So you take the one that’s been printed double-sided, because you know that by the time you go over it with your red pen, the ink that will bleed through to the other side will cost you so much time in deciphering the material that it won’t be worth your effort. You put it aside. Time is everything. Take the second one that has no indents for the first paragraphs, making it look like one long sentence, and is single spaced, leaving no room for you to make comments. Pack them both up, give them to your assistant, and have her return them with a form rejection letter. No one even read the titles.

The third one looks promising. It’s stacked and tied with a rubber band. It’s not bound – making it physically easier to handle while reviewing with pen in hand. It’s printed on one side of the paper. All the information you need to know about the MSS is on the front page. Every page is headed with the title, author’s name, and page number – ’cause you know that someone could drop the whole thing on the floor. It looks clean, organized, and ready to read. Makes you think that the content will probably be as well written. And you settle in for a good story.

It should come as no surprise to me that most of what we have received at Romantic Shorts falls within the quality of the first two examples. Depending on time constraints, submissions that don’t follow the guidelines could be thoroughly reviewed. You could receive more than a simple reply. You may even receive a generic or even detailed comment sheet. More likely, if your submission is not perfectly in line our expectations, you will receive a rejection letter that has nothing to do with your writing. You simply did not pay enough attention to your presentation. It astounds me that authors who spend so much time, effort, and emotion in creating something spectacular, stop just short of the mark in their presentation. And because of that, no one ever reads their work.

This is life. Used-car dealers have a car wash right in their building. We would never look at a grubby car no matter how great it runs. So they clean them and we pay more. We like nice packaging; it speaks volumes to the quality of material within.

For a publisher to move through their submissions as efficiently as possible, a lot of good work gets trashed because it doesn’t look good. Don’t sell yourself short. Put more work into the polishing (grammar, spelling, structure) and presentation (follow those guidelines exactly) than you do in the actual creation of your work.

Make it look good.

Grab our attention.

Your work deserves your best foot forward.

Check out our submission guidelines. And be sure to check our Romantic Shorts Submission Sample. Use this sample as a template to format your work. It shows you what your work should look like while it describes the details of your format.

We want to hear your story. Make it stand out because of its great content, not because of its poor presentation.

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Filed under For Writers, Writing and Getting Published 101

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