Advice for New Writers: On Guidelines

About This Series

Once or twice a month, I get questions from new writers about how to submit fiction. Good for them for doing their research – but that tells me is a lot of new writers have questions about things I take for granted.

For those writers (and for all the writers in my slush pile who clearly never researched the subject at all!) we’re kicking off a series of blog posts, offering helpful information to newcomers, in bite-sized chunks. It takes some effort to learn the rules, and we’d like to help.

Let’s start with guidelines.

If you’re like most new writers I know, you may not look at much in the guidelines besides the pay rate and response time. Those are the most important things, right? And the rest is boring and arbitrary stuff that’s just there to make writers jump through hoops, isn’t it?

Not at all. Even a relatively modest magazine like Shimmer gets hundreds of submissions a month. It’s in your best interest to make sure your story stands out because of the writing, not because you didn’t respect us enough to follow our guidelines.

Without further ado, the three things editors wish you’d pay attention to in the guidelines:

Submission Mechanics.

If you don’t follow the submission directions, your story may not even be read. For example, Shimmer has a distributed staff and we do all our reading online. If you send us a print submission, we just can’t process it, and it will be rejected. Similarly, if you don’t use the subject line we specify, there’s a good chance your submission will get diverted into spam and lost forever. Or if you send us a WordPerfect file instead of the .doc or .rtf we require, we simply can’t open it. Do yourself a favor: make sure we can read your story.

Manuscript formatting.

Unless otherwise directed, use standard manuscript formatting.  (Some magazines have other requirements; they’ll be spelled out in their guidelines. Be sure to follow them!)

Why? What does it matter? Who cares about font?

That’s simple: A double-spaced manuscript in 12-point font is much easier to read than a manuscript in single-spaced 8-point Comic Sans. When you’re reading hundreds of submissions a month, formatting really matters. Make it easy for us to read your words. Don’t tempt us to dismiss you before your story has had a chance to charm us!

Editorial taste.

Often, editors let you know what kind of stories they’re looking for. Shimmer says “We’re most drawn to contemporary fantasy, and seek out stories with a strong emotional core. We like unusual stories with a fluid and distinctive voice, with specific and original images.”

On the other hand, Analog wants stories in which the science is an integral part of the story.

Now, you can’t overthink this and talk yourself out of submitting. When in doubt, send it in! But at the same time, why would you send Asimov’s a story with no science? Or send Shimmer a space opera story? Let the guidelines guide you.

Your Turn

What do you think about guidelines? Got any questions? Tell us in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Advice for New Writers: On Guidelines”

  1. Respect the publication you’re submitting to by following and understanding their guidelines, and you’re a step closer to making a sale to them.

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