10 submissions guidelines pet peeves

And now for something completely different.

As a writer and an editor, I’ve been on both sides of the submissions queue. I know how frustrating it is to get a submission rife with errors. And I know the irritation of dealing with unresponsive publications after over a year of patient waiting. Whatever your genre or medium, submissions are a rough game. Sending your work out takes serious chutzpah. And wading through thousands of unsolicited submissions requires a helluva commitment. There are a lot of resources to help writers submit the best version of their work–and everyone knows what a bad submission looks like (it often involves comic sans). But there are also such things as bad submissions guidelines. Here are some qualities that always make me think twice about sending my work to a publication:

1. Archaic file requirements. Look, I get that technology is a many-headed, ever-changing beastie but there’s no reason I should only be able to send you a .txt file in 2015. If I can afford Pages, you can afford Pages.

2. Paper submissions only. They’re fine as an option and I’m all for throwing the post office a bone, but again, it’s the 21st century. Get a goddamn gmail account and stop making me kill trees.

3. Submissions fees. I’m all for tip jar submissions which allow me to support your magazine. Same with contest fees. Maybe you only have one month of fee-free submissions a year. But a flat $5 fee to send a piece of flash fiction or a group of poems is borderline unethical. Even more so if your publication doesn’t pay.

4. Impossible to find. This sounds like a no-brainer, but hiding your guidelines in some sketchy back corner of your website is a quick way to lose my interest as a submitter.

5. Overly finicky formatting requirements. I come from the 12pt font, double-spaced, numbered page school of submitting prose. And I’m okay with variations — maybe you’re not into paragraph indents. No big deal. But there is no reason to have your own style guide just for submissions.

6. Condescending or combative tone.  Yes, being an editor can be rough. Submitters often don’t follow directions. That’s annoying. But don’t be a dick. It’s fine to say you won’t respond to submissions that don’t follow your guidelines. But I’d leave it at that.

7. “Issue open until full.” This is probably just a weird personal pet peeve of mine and I understand the logic behind it, but I have a calendar of submissions deadlines. I am keeping track. Vague deadlines drive me up the wall.

8. Errors. I am a typo queen. I drop words at a constant rate–the shorter the word, the more likely its omission. And generally speaking, I’m not inclined to judge. But if you’re going to lean hard on that “grammatical errors will not be tolerated” tack, your submissions guidelines–and your website–better be spotless.

9. No response time listed. Some publications respond in 2 weeks. Others take 6-12 months. I’m okay with either if I know what to expect. It’s easy enough to list your average response time and when to get in touch. Just be honest.

10. Speaking of which: not having a point of contact. I know, no one wants a bunch of neurotic writers badgering them about their submissions, but sometimes issues arise. Have an email designated for that purpose.

What’s your biggest submission guidelines pet peeve? Why?


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