August 21, 2016

Acquisitions Editor at New Zenith Magazine reads and answers the questions of fellow writers

Question:  How important are the submission guidelines?

Asker: Anonymous

 Ask the Editor #1  Guidelines = Guardrails

Some things bear saying over and over again. Guidelines are like guardrails. They are there to guide you safely. You can cross them but it’s not a good idea.

Here at NZM, our mission is to help authors become the best they can possibly be, increasing their chance of becoming published. So with that said, our publishing experience can be a bit different than other publications. If I see an author making a mistake, I try to gently nudge them into a pathway that helps them. In the rest of the publishing world, especially the top tier publishers, there is no hand holding. They expect you to be a professional and to have all of the knowledge that goes with expertise.

Guidelines are not suggestions so much as commandments. Follow them or else.

That’s right, editors don’t have any spare time. So as a result, they don’t do anything that wastes that precious time.

When they take the time to write guidelines, then they want you to follow them. Many publishers/editors won’t even read submissions that don’t follow their specific guidelines.

On every publisher’s website I’ve ever visited, there was a set of guidelines. Some are very simple such as ours at New Zenith Magazine. We tell you what we do and don’t accept, file format, specific word count, and where to submit work. They are fairly simple.

However, some other magazines use their guidelines as a culling tool. What do I mean by culling tool? I mean they get so many submissions they can be very choosy. They don’t have time to read all submissions. So in the mind of the editor if you can’t follow some simple guidelines then your work is probably not worth reading. This may be far from the truth, but only the editor’s perception matters. They are judge, jury, and executioner of your writing. Follow the rules or risk a short dive into the trash can or delete file.

I once worked with a professor at some nameless community college in some nameless place. I would read submissions for a college anthology and magazine where he would go down the list seemingly randomly clicking delete. When I asked him why he wasn’t reading those submissions, he told me they had the wrong subject line. He would also go through stacks of paper submissions and toss papers in the trash, also apparently at random. Again, I questioned him, “Why are you throwing those away?”

He answered me again with the same Ben Stein expression, as if I was the densest person on the planet, “They aren’t double spaced.”  I had read the guidelines and they said all submissions must be in APH Format. You had to know what APH format meant.

He wasn’t a mean guy. I mean he wasn’t the “Soup Nazi” of editors. He would spend hours of his personal time helping failing students. He really did care. At lunch one day, I said to him that I had read some of the discarded submissions and a few of them were quite good. I asked him “Why won’t you give them a chance?” He looked at me and said, peering over his round spectacles, “Better they learn now than when their livelihood depends on it.”

I looked at my submissions to that same magazine and I had two acceptances out of 30-something submissions. I just thought I was a bad writer. Those two were the only submissions that had been formatted and submitted correctly.  I reformatted and submitted as “Anonymous” and I had 12 more of my submissions accepted from those original thirty some pieces.

Later I sent in to 15 publications 2 submissions each. The submissions were exactly the same story.  On all occasions where I correctly formatted my submissions, I received a rejection letter explaining why I was rejected. Ok, I can handle that. However, on the submissions where I didn’t follow the guidelines, I received only one letter from one editor. It read that we didn’t read your submission because of the following errors. Then they listed my mistakes.

Everyone can learn a lot from rejection letters. I make sure at our magazine to send a rejection letter explaining why to all submissions.

One of 15 gave me the time of day. So what did I learn? Formatting correctly won’t get me published, but it will get my submission a chance to be read, and that is half the battle.

Check your work each time you send it out. Make sure it fits the guidelines. Then recheck the guidelines and double check your work to make sure it matches.

I recently rejected several prompt submissions because they were 3 times the specified word count. I felt bad because the stories were good. “Why didn’t I use them?”, you accuse. Well, two reasons.

#1 I only had a certain amount of space allocated in the magazine, about 2000 words worth. So, since I wanted 4 stories, I set the word count at 400. That gave me space for titles, bios, and incidental images.

#2 It’s just not fair to the writers who followed the rules.

So you should now see that the guidelines matter.

If you want to get published, then treat the editor’s guidelines like “The Ten Commandments” and obey them. Otherwise you are going to get a rude awakening in the form of a big fat goose egg in your accepted column.

By: Michelle Irby

Acquisitions Editor

New Zenith Magazine