We’re Not Kidding About Those Submission Guidelines

Every editor, everywhere, when asked what a writer can do to increase their chances of being published will answer with something to the effect of, “Follow the submission guidelines.” It’s seriously become a trope. Every writer knows to follow the submission guidelines, right?

Well, I started grad school this week, and part of my financial aid package is that I’m working in the office for the school literary magazine. So I familiarized myself with the office by opening mail, and OH MY GOD! There were probably a dozen submissions in there, not a single one of which was following our submission guidelines.

Now, I’ll start by admitting that about half of them would have been following our guidelines, if our magazine were currently open for submissions. But we’re not. We don’t re-open for a little over a week yet, and these submissions were postmarked early this month. And the frustrating thing is that three of them came from return addresses that I know mean they’re students at my alma mater. You writers aren’t just embarrassing yourselves, you’re embarrassing me.

Whenever I see “Submissions must by typed” in a set of submission guidelines, I think to myself, “Oh, please, update your guidelines. The 80s are gone and everyone has a computer now.” But, no. Two submission I opened were hand-written. One of them (spread out over two envelopes) had illustrations cut out of magazines. Even if we had decided this was brilliant and subversive, there’s no way we could have published it, because there’s no way we could get the rights to publish those photographs. Non-paying college lit mag. No money for re-use fees.

At least two writers were guilty of not noting what genre we publish (literary fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction). Sorry, but your commercial science fiction story just isn’t going to fit in here, even if I love it. Neither is your scholarly article about birds. I mean, I know I tell people to err on the side of submitting, but, seriously!

Several writers did not include self-addressed, stamped envelopes, though one did slip two dollars cash in to cover the return postage. We’re a university. I have no idea how to even begin to process a cash reimbursement for an expense we haven’t incurred yet. That money is currently pinned to a cork board, and I imagine that five years from now it’ll still be there, with folks wondering what it’s for. Stamps, people! International reply coupons, if you’re overseas. Or, if it’s impossible to get American stamps or IRCs, then simply provide me with an e-mail address and I’ll be happy to respond that way. As it was, the hand-written address on purple paper was borderline illegible, and therefore I doubt this writer will ever receive a response.

So, folks, I’m going to join the chorus. Read the damned guidelines. Follow the damned guidelines. Failure to do so is probably an auto-reject, and even if it’s not, you’re seriously handicapping your manuscript. Even the non-paying lit mags are extremely competitive, so don’t do that to yourself!

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