Help An Editor: Follow The Guidelines

by | January 28, 2020 | General | 2 comments

So you have written the Great American Short Story or Novel and you want to submit it to a publisher. The next step is to find the right publisher for your work. This post isn’t about finding an ideal publisher. It’s about an equally important item – ┬áthe writer’s guidelines.

I’ve been told by quite a few publishers that writers don’t necessarily follow the guidelines when submitting a work. I’m sometimes surprised by the number of writers who don’t follow a publisher’s submission guidelines. I’m not sure why some writers screw up this step, but plenty of them do.

First, find the guidelines on the publisher’s web site. They should be easy enough to find. While each publisher’s guidelines will be different, there are some things that are common to most guidelines.

Make sure your manuscript is formatted properly. The most common font and size for a manuscript are 12 point Times New Roman. Some publishers want a different font. If that’s the case in your submission, duplicate your manuscript and convert it to the proper font. No, you can’t submit in Comic Sans because you like that particular font or you think you’re being clever. Doing such a thing guarantees your manuscript will go into the “trash” file. Follow the guidelines and submit according to the publisher’s specifications.

Another big one on the list of no-nos is using spaces or tabs to indent your paragraphs. This is the one that surprises me the most since many publishers I’ve talked to over the years have brought it up. Your manuscript should default to double spaced and a one inch indent. On the Mac at least, Word has a Format tab and you go to Paragraph to set this up.

Keep an eye on headers and footers and page numbers. Some publishers want page numbers and some don’t. Some want you to put your contact information in a header and some don’t. Most often in my experience, the publisher wants your contact information at the top left of the manuscript without making it a header. It’s important to have your contact info at the top of the page, otherwise, the publisher won’t know who wrote the piece or how to reach you. Most publishers I’ve run into want your contact info both on the manuscript and in the body of your submission email, but as I’ve stated earlier, each publisher is different.

Pay attention to word counts. If the anthology submission calls for works no longer than 5,000 words, don’t send something that is 7,000 words long. Your story may be a work of genius (most likely not), but editors have a limited number of pages to work with. If you are able to whittle down your story to 5,000 words, do it. Otherwise, look for submission calls that allow for longer works. The opposite end is also true. Some publishers include a lower end word count limit, such as no shorter than 3,000 words. Don’t send flash fiction if the publisher didn’t request it. Keep to the guidelines.

If the publisher asks for a photo and bio in the body of your email, make sure you send them. Don’t forget. It can be a bit overwhelming to follow detailed guidelines, but take it step by step and you’ll be fine.

Pay attention if the publisher wants no reprints or simultaneous submissions. If the publisher does allow simultaneous submissions, make sure you notify that publisher as quickly as possible if your work is accepted elsewhere. It’s only polite.

When you follow the guidelines properly, you’re on your way to your work getting a look-see. Publishers will put your submission in the trash if it doesn’t follow the guidelines properly because, in not following the guidelines, you’ve give the publisher more work to do. Don’t do that. The first step in a successful submission is to do it properly. You may also write to the publisher if something in the guidelines isn’t clear. When you hit “send”, that euphoria you feel is in part due to following the instructions properly. When you do that, the publisher knows you’ve taken the time to read and submit in the best way possible. Best wishes for an acceptance!

Elizabeth Black

Elizabeth Black's erotic fiction has been published by Cleis Press, Xcite Books, Scarlet Magazine, Circlet Press, and others. She also writes dark fiction and horror as E. A. Black. She lives in Massachusetts next to the ocean with her husband, son, and three cats. The beach calls to her and she listens.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Thanks for this, Elizabeth. (I hope people are paying attention.) I’ve edited a number of anthologies. Nothing is more aggravating that submissions that ignore the guidelines. Honestly, folks – these are not arbitrary rules! We editors ask for a certain format (or length) in order to make our jobs easier (and let me tell you, being an editor is tough!) and to make sure the book content is appropriate to the concept.

    When I get a manuscript that doesn’t follow guidelines, my opinion of the author immediately drops. It doesn’t matter how wonderful the story is… Nobody wants to work with an ignoramus, or a prima donna!

  2. Elizabeth Black

    You’re welcome, Lisabet. I was astonished how many writers neglect the guidelines so I had to say something about it, if only to help writers see their works published. I definitely agree with your point about not wanting to work with an ignoramus, or a prima donna. No one wants to deal with either.

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