It has been quite a year. I admit that I had a rough…oh…six months or so…. when it came to submitting my stories, but I’m slowly getting myself back together after falling off the wagon. I haven’t been out of the game that long, but some recent experiences prompted a conversation on best submission practices. Today we’re going to look at some of the most common problems from both authors and publishers.
Not Following the Guidelines
Let’s start off with the number one frustration from publishers: not following their guidelines. Literally every publication has guidelines for what they’re looking for. Guidelines usually encompass the following specifications: genre, content, length, and manuscript formatting. They will let you know who to send it to, what to include, how to include it, and some will even let you know when to expect an answer and how much you’ll get paid. Every publication is a little bit different, and even ones you’ve submitted to before might update their preferences. Read the guidelines, follow the guidelines.
Not Posting the Guidelines
I’m a proponent for equal opportunity bitching, so let me take a moment to address the publishers. Dear editors: how are we supposed to follow your guidelines when you hide them, or worse, scatter them across multiple pages? I don’t know who got the bright idea that formatting instructions should be separated from content guidelines but apparently that’s a thing lately. If you must do this, such as in the event of a limited-time content call that’s separate from your usual slush pile, at least link the pages to each other. The harder the authors have to work to research your guidelines the more likely they are to screw it up.
Too Many Guidelines
This goes with the above point, but suffice it to say that if your guidelines ramble on for longer than your max accepted word count, you’re doing it wrong. Authors don’t have time to wade through a wall of text trying to figure out what you want and don’t want. I don’t care why you think Courier is the devil; you do you. And frankly, you don’t owe me an explanation. But if you ramble on about it for three paragraphs I’m going to miss your note about single spacing and headers and then we’ll both be pissed. If your formatting is really that specific just ask for a plain text file and copy/paste it into your preferred style. Or learn to love Shunn, your choice.
Improper Sim-Sub Etiquette
When I first started submitting, simultaneous submissions were a huge no-no. For those who haven’t heard this term, a simultaneous submission is a story that you’ve sent to multiple publishers. At the time, most publishers wanted to be the only one taking your story under consideration. If they rejected it, you were free to send it somewhere else and await their answer. As an author, this was frustrating because the wait times could be arduous.
Nowadays most publishers (but not all – again, read your guidelines) are okay with sim-subs if—IF—you let them know if it’s been accepted elsewhere so they can remove it from their list. That said, you know what’s coming, right? You have to keep track of where you sent the story and let them know if it’s off the table. And don’t be shady – if a publisher says no sim-subs, don’t try to get away with it anyway. You’ll just piss them off if you have to withdraw it.
Arguing with the Publisher
Just… just don’t. The publishers don’t owe you an explanation regarding their inner workings. If they say “no pdfs” assume they have a good reason for it and move on. If they reject your story without telling you why, accept it and move on. Most won’t give anything more than a standard rejection anyway – they don’t have time to give you notes and doing so will only mean you’re more likely to argue with them. Rejections are non-negotiable.
Note: Arguing is not the same as asking for clarification. In the case of unclear (or, ahem, missing) guidelines it’s acceptable to send a quick note to the appropriate contact e-mail address, although commenting on a post or tweeting at them might be faster. Don’t pester. Please God don’t threaten. What are you, an asshole? You want to get blacklisted by that editor and everyone she talks to? No, no you don’t. Stop it.
Poor Communication Skills
Publishers, answer your email. Update your site. Tweet once in awhile so we know you’re still out there. It doesn’t bode well when there’s a long period of radio silence. Did the magazine fold? Are they behind schedule? Why haven’t they updated their slush pile queue list since 2013? We get it, you’re busy. We’re all busy. But if queries go unanswered we’re pulling our subs and going elsewhere. You’re only hurting potential business by not having an active presence.
Same goes for terse, rude communication. Most publishers are professional enough that if they don’t have anything nice to say about your writing, they won’t say anything at all. As a writer, that can be frustrating, because you don’t know if you were close to hitting the mark or whether your sub was passed around the office for a good laugh. Still, rude rejections are not the same as constructive criticism, and as a publisher it makes you look unprofessional, not helpful. Writers compare notes too, you know, and you don’t want the good ones walking away because you trashed-talked a newcomer.
Thinking that You’re Special
This goes for both authors and publishers. Neither of you has time to bullshit around. Publishers have thick slush piles to wade through, and authors want to find a home for their piece so they can get paid. Authors, don’t ask for special treatment. Don’t expect special treatment, especially if you willfully ignore the guidelines that the publishers have posted. You get precious little time to make yourself stand out and you don’t want any of that attention to be negative.
Publishers, hate to break it to you, but you’re not all that special either. If you make things difficult or put excessive burdens on your authors to do all the layout formatting (or market your publication for you…) then they will go somewhere else. Authors have more opportunity than ever before to self-publish, or to find another market. If you’re going to compete with the various online publications and $0.99 kindle downloads it’s important to attract and retain quality content. Try to meet them in the middle and you’ll get better submissions – you know, ones from people who actually read and follow your rules.
All right folks, there you go. Did I miss any irritating habits? (Probably.) Have I ruined my chances for ever getting published again? (Depends on if publishers have a sense of humor about themselves. …So yeah, this was probably a terrible career move.) Are we sick of rhetorical questions now? (Most certainly.)
Anyway, if you feel like getting in on the action feel free to post your own pet peeves and guilty confessions in the comments, and let me know what habits REALLY needs to be corrected.