Submission Guidelines...What's the big deal?

Every now and again, I find it necessary to talk about how important it is to follow submission guidelines. Today is one of those days. (And, if you've sent in a submission today, I haven't looked at any submissions yet today, so I don't want anyone to take this personally. This post arises out of a conversation I recently had with another editor.)

Publishers post submission guidelines for a reason, and that reason is not to make a person jump through hoops like some kind of circus animal. Guidelines are in place for several reasons, and none of them center on the amusement of the editor. Let's take a look at some of the real reasons guidelines are in place:

  • One, the content. Each publisher has decided on what genres, venues, etc. to focus, and all books we publish have to fall into those categories. It's what the readers of our novels expect to see. As a consumer, if you went to a romance publisher, purchased a book, and discovered it was actually a non-fiction, self-help, you'd be pretty upset--even if it was the best self-help book you'd ever seen. Not so drastically, if you expected a mystery and got a romance, you'd be just as upset. So, once a publisher has set up a content guideline, those are the only types of books we want to see. Anything else submitted is a waste of the author's time, and the publisher's time, because the author is waiting for a response that is sure to be a rejection, and the publisher has to take the time to reject it amidst all the other prospective manuscripts that come in. And believe me, even a small publisher has many submissions to consider. So, submitting something that doesn't adhere to the content guideline is just frustrating for everyone.

  • Two, the word count. Each publisher has a word count range. White Rose Publishing's word count is vast (between 7500 and 100,000). What that means is, if your story is 6000 words, it's too short, and if your story is 105,000 words, it's too long. Word count guidelines are in place for a reason, and it's not because we put random numbers into a hat and drew blindfolded to determine what we would publish. Word count guidelines are in place based on cost, saleablilty, and production streamlining. COST: More words means more pages. More pages means higher print cost. Higher print cost means higher retail price. Higher retail price means consumers may think twice about purchasing. No purchases means...well, we all know what that means. SALEABILITY: On the minimum word count side, for White Rose Publishing, we've determined that in a story shorter than 7500 words it's tough to create that emotional bond to characters that readers ultimately want, so stories less than 7500 words don't sell as well as those of 7500 words or more. In fact, we secretly prefer no less than 10,000 words (hint, hint). Does that mean that a story can't be engaging in less than 7500 words. No. Our free reads are considerably shorter than this, and they are good stories, but consumers demand something more when paying for something than they do when it's a freebie. Our short stories are only available in electronic versions, but let's look at paperbacks for a moment. The cost for printing varies based on how much paper and ink goes into any given book. A 100-page book costs a considerably different amount to print than a 400-page book. (Surprisingly, the shorter book has a higher cost ratio.) So, when a publisher says they want manuscripts that are between 80,000 and 100,000 words, they've determined that the print cost between those two word-counts (page counts ranging between approximately 320 - 400) is either the same or minimally different. Additionally, this is where PRODUCTION STREAMLINING comes into play: Any time you can create similarities and perhaps even templates into the pre-press work that has to be done, production goes more smoothly and faster. Sameness also creates easier presswork and post-press work. If a press can be set up to run the same size paper, a cutter set up to slice pages at exactly the same place each time, the binding equipment set up to work in exactly the same way each time, then production is quicker--which means it costs less. All these, are some of the reasons why word count guidelines are put into place--and why publishers won't publish things that fall outside those guidelines. So, submitting something that doesn't adhere to the word-count guideline is just frustrating for everyone.

  • Three, the interview. Your submission to a publisher is a job interview. And if you get that job--the one of being X-publisher's author--part of that job is going to entail doing edits in an efficient, accurate, and timely manner. If you can't follow the guidelines before you get the job, how are you going to follow the editor's guidelines after you get the job? Maybe you'll do just fine--and if you weren't a total stranger to us, perhaps we would take that into consideration--But, if you're a first-time author, and we don't know you from Adam, then all we have to go on is how you present yourself and respond to us when we communicate to you during that initial "interview." We want the edit process to go smoothly, without headache to either us or the author. If we even remotely think it's going to be a difficult process, your chance of getting a contract just tanked. We may ultimately take your work because it's fantastic, but it's going to have to be ultra-fantastic and already flawlessly edited. So, what are we going to do most of the time when we received something that doesn't follow a guideline? We're going to reject it outright without even looking at it, and move on to one of the many other submissions that does follow the guidelines, not because we're mean, but for all the reasons I've already discussed.

    Dear authors, this is your career you're trying to build, take the extra time and care to submit something that follows the guidelines. And in the event that you are convinced your 102,000-word story fits the publisher so well, but you've seen that the top word-count is 100,000, then mention something about it in your query, so we at least know you've read the guidelines, that you're willing to cut the manuscript if you have to. (And this will only gain credence if the overage is incidental. It is extremely difficult to cut 15,000 words out of a manuscript, so that's not going to work if you're a first-timer whose got a 115K manuscript. In that case, cut the manuscript first, and then submit.)

So, please remember, the guidelines are there for a reason. You may have a potential best-selling mystery, but we're not going to publish it, because we publish only romance. That said, we want to see your romance. Any subgenre--as long as the story is between 7500 and 100,000 words, includes a strong faith journey, and focuses on the romance. :)


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