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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Guidelines: An Editorial Nightmare

Being a writer who wants to be published in a legit publication, I have always spent a considerable amount of time mulling over the guidelines of a magazine I want to submit to. There are a lot of obvious reasons for doing this, but the most important reason, for me, is to make sure that my submission is properly formatted, is submitted correctly, and fits into the magazine or anthology's theme or editorial direction--maybe those are the only real reasons for reading guidelines.
But now that I'm editing a magazine--well, it's turning out to be more of a journal than a magazine, to be honest--I've discovered that I must be a minority among writers. I don't know what it is, but since opening up submissions to the general public we've been hit with a series of submissions that simply weren't correct. One submission was from a 45-year-old woman from Argentina who wanted payment through Western Union. The problem? SBS Magazine only accepts submissions from writers under the age of 25 (and we're a tad lenient on that age, but not lenient enough to add a year to it). To top it off, we specifically stated in our very organized guidelines that payment is made through Paypal. Another fellow submitted to the wrong email address while responding to an ad that I had put up. I emailed him back and told him to read the guidelines to figure out where to submit to.
And this has made me want to give a little advice to folks out there wanting to submit to a magazine or journal somewhere:
  • Read the guidelines. They're not put there to be pretty. Editors want you to read them and submit properly for a lot of reasons.
  • Don't assume that your submission that doesn't follow the guidelines will be so good that the editors will ignore that you've not followed guidelines and publish it anyway. In fact, of the submissions that have been sent to us that didn't follow guidelines, we rejected them without reading them, and other editors do this too--and we're pretty lenient. True, SBS Magazine isn't Analog or F&SF, and we don't have thousands of submissions a month, but the guidelines aren't that hard to read and there are certain things we're not willing to be lenient on--like age. But editors at bigger magazines won't read your submission at all if it's off target--say submitting a poem to a magazine that only publishes fiction. They don't have the time or patience for you if you can't even read the guidelines.
  • Editors aren't trying to be mean an anal when they reject your manuscript because it doesn't follow guidelines. Most, if not all, magazine editors have a certain direction they want the magazine to go. Analog only publishes hard SF and nonfiction essays on certain aspects of science that might be of interest to readers of the magazine. Other magazines have a wider audience, or at least have no genre specifications, but look for certain types of writing as opposed to any type. So, if your submission doesn't fit what they're trying to publish, you're actually wasting the editor's time, and they don't like that one bit. It's not a matter of being the cranky old editor. Some of the more popular magazines get hundreds, if not thousands of submissions every month. They have to reply to each of them--usually with a form rejection. Can you imagine going through a few hundred manuscripts every month?
  • Don't be an ass. If the editor rejects your manuscript, don't do any of the following:
    • Write back explaining why your manuscript wasn't up to par.
    • Write back arguing with the editor over their choice to reject you.
    • Write back with some sort of snarky remark, such as "I guess your magazine doesn't publish highly metaphorical literary fiction."
    • Flame the editor for rejecting you on your blog. If you want to be taken seriously, act professional. Unless an editor has done something morally objectionable, leave it be.
    • Send the editor a mean letter.
Hopefully that all makes sense. The biggest thing is to read the guidelines. Seriously.

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