A few years ago I was involved in an Australia-wide writing competition. As Competition Secretary, one of my jobs was to sort through all the entries and check that the authors had adhered to the competition requirements. The requested layout, similar to standard publisher's guidelines, was clearly described and available on the entry form and on the writing centre’s website.
It asked that the work be typed, double-spaced and be between 1000 and 3000 words. Also, a cover sheet, stating all manuscript details, needed to be securely attached to the entry. Nothing difficult or unusual in any of this, yet by the end of the sorting I’d been forced to disqualify almost half of the entries for not following the basic guidelines. Out of 310 submitted pieces of prose and poetry, I had to discard 146!
I found the task of sorting heartbreaking.
The rejected manuscripts might have been good enough to win the competition, but we’ll never know and more importantly neither will the writers.
Sadly, despite them spending many hours crafting their words, they had sabotaged their chances either by not reading, or not following the guidelines. With any form of submission, the first test is to provide what is requested. Fail that one and your chances of being accepted or winning are already drastically reduced.
The presentation of your work is the only hint a publisher has, as to the kind of person you are. From that he/she has to gauge how professional, capable, informed and reliable you are. He needs to know that you and your work are worth his time. This is definitely one of those cases where a good first impression is vital. Your attitude is everything.
Guidelines are primarily designed to make the job of reading and editing large quantities of work much easier. They also enable an editor, or in the above case, judge, to find relevant information quickly.