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Submission Guidelines? I'm a special writer, I don't need no stinkin' guidelines!

Atlin Merrick Publishing Reference Submission Guidelines Writer's Guidelines

By Atlin Merrick

Photo of a computer, a file, and the words

Just…just go around me.

I'm going to be here awhile, stretched out on this grass, staring at the fluffy clouds while I tell youngsters to get off my lawn.

Which is to say I am a tiny bit exhausted. O so weary of others doing what I used to do, and now I just want to squirt everyone with this hose I'm not holding and holler "Learn from my mistakes for heaven's sake! I also didn't follow submission guidelines! And do you know what it got me? Don't you walk away while I'm yelling at you!"

Submission Guidelines and Why They Exist

When you're twenty-two or fifteen or sixty-one, whenever it is you first start this journey of submitting your writing to magazines and publishers and agents, you're going to come across writer's guidelines, also called submission guidelines.

And you are going to look at them.

And you are going to think to yourself, "These read like, like god damned sewing pattern."

They do too, in-so-far as they're full of do this, then that, but only use the 14-point because we hate 11-point, also be careful of this common mistake which will render everything hopeless, and then they'll have the nerve to wrap it all up with what feels like lies but isn't: "Good luck, we can't wait to see your work!"

If you are like I was in my twenties, you read some submission guidelines on an agent's or publisher's website and you think, "You're a jerk. Who cares what font size I use? You're a jerk and I'm sending you my fantastic story anyway. It's in 11-point too!"

Well, Enjoy Your Rejections Cause You're Getting Lots of Them

No one makes stupid rules for the sake of it. They make what looks like stupid rules because if they don't they're going to grab a hose, lie on their lawn, and squirt people while sobbing.

Because here's the thing: that agent? editor? publisher? Most get so many stories they can't possibly read all of them. So they have to make rules. That help them make it through all those stories.

Like 14-point manuscripts only (it may be much better for their eye strain), sent only every third month (or they'll drown in manuscripts), and they take only mysteries (because horror gives them nightmares).

When you come along (like I used to) and you think, "Well those rules are stupid and besides I'm following at least two of them," what you're telling them is this: "I won't make any of this easy for you. I'm more special than anyone else and though they follow the rules, I'm so special I can bend them and make you work harder."

Want to know something?

No one's that special.

And we work hard enough.

Follow Submission Guidelines and Get Accepted Sooner

However, if you follow a publisher-editor-agent's submission guidelines to the T do you know what you do? Stand out before they've read a word.

And that makes you special. If you're a good writer on top of that? Double special.

Because here's the thing: we've all seen TV shows or read books that aren't as good as other TV shows or books but do you know what the writers of these probably did right from the start? Followed the brief. And were easy to work with. No hose squirting required.

So. To the writer who submitted a manuscript to us which they described in their cover letter as 'horror' and 'gory'…you didn't read our guidelines. The ones that said 'no horror.' So we rejected your manuscript minutes after receiving it and guess what?

That didn't feel great for you.

And it made us grab the hose because we're kinda tired of this sort of thing.

How to Get the Attention of an Agent-Editor-Publisher

You want to be special, yes? You want your work to speak for itself? Great, then here are tips on how to be special when you first approach a publisher-editor-agent:

• Follow their submission guidelines. If they say Arial font in 13-point, margins all around 0.6, manuscripts only accepted July and March, then for the love of me and this lawn, do those things. (Because the writer right after you? They will do those things.)

• Check the guidelines again just before making contact. Because needs and guidelines do change as the needs of the press or agent change. Maybe they've got more mysteries than they can handle right now and want only YA fantasy. Do not send them your mystery. I'm sorry but you can't. They. Have. Too. Many. Already.

• Be polite. You'd be surprised how often people aren't, especially once their manuscript has been declined or they've received edits to their work.

Be special by actually…being special. Stand out by following the writer's guidelines.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to squirt the clouds with this hose because then I can pretend it's raining and that's kind of nice.

Also, get off my lawn.

(P.S. Good luck, we can't wait to see your work!)

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  • Karen Lesli on

    This is perfect. I laughed, mostly at myself, all the way through. Guidelines? I was certain that editors of all the magazines gathered in boardrooms to deliberately make theirs just a teeny bit different than the others. But I have coordinated a Young Writers’ Contest for fifteen years and am seriously aware of students, and even judges, who do not follow the guidelines. I hadn’t considered a hose.

  • Atlin Merrick on

    I thank you for these marvelous chocolates I am currently imagining. They are delicious. I will lie down on my own lawn as I am not in lockdown and I will squirt clouds and loudly shout, “FOR NATALIE!” mwa

  • Natalie Conyer on

    Dear publisher: I’m in Sydney and have just read this fabulous piece on submission guidelines and feel I need to send you chocolate or chicken soup or…something. So here, virtually, is whatever cheer you need. I’d send physical cheer but we are in strict lockdown. I would go out on a lawn and spray the clouds for you except I’m not allowed, unless it’s exercise.

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