Writers Guidelines

Writers' Guidelines

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.
Whilst becoming familiar with the requirements and necessary computer settings may take you time, it’s something that every serious writer needs to do. Each beginner, as he or she becomes more experienced with submitting work, will find slight variations in the style of one presented manuscript to another, but only in layout, rarely in content. Most of these variations are due to the editor’s or publisher’s personal choice.

Writers’ guidelines can be found in a variety of ways, via Internet, published work, direct contact and reference books.
If a publisher has a website, they’ll usually display their submission guidelines and list their publications. This enables potential writers to have immediate access, not only to editorial preferences, but also to previously published articles or books.

Website addresses can be found either by contacting the company, by doing a web search online, by looking in a recent publication or by using a website linked to numerous publishers.

If they don’t display their guidelines on the website, send an email asking for them to forward the information to you.

Direct contact
If the publisher doesn’t have a website, and emailing is not an option, contact the publisher by phone or mail. Most publishing houses have a pre-printed information sheet, which they are more than happy to send out.

Whilst on the phone to these businesses, save yourself a phone call at a later date, and confirm the editor’s name and spelling.

Printed material
Some magazine publishers print brief guidelines in each issue of their periodical. This information can usually be found on the page containing their list of staff. The advantage of a writer researching details here is that all the information is current, so there is little need to confirm such things as the address and the editor’s name.

Reference books
A selection of quality reference books are produced every year that list details on all current publishers and publications, of these my favourite are, ‘The Australian Writer’s Marketplace’ for the Australian market, ‘Writers Market’ for the American market or ‘Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook’ for the UK market.

For some new writers the initial cost of these books may be too high, if that’s the case it’s worth being aware that most public libraries usually stock copies. As well as the websites connected to the books often offering an online option with a monthly subscription.
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