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Professional Writing, Editing, and Proofreading

Lessons Learned: Follow Publisher’s Directions

Lessons Learned is a series of posts based on what editing has taught me about writing and about the publishing business.

We’ve been told this since before we could read and write, but it’s still excellent advice when you’re querying or submitting your work to an editor or publisher. This is probably more useful to new writers, but it never hurts to remind people why it’s important.

I found out the hard way–and from the other side of the aisle–when I edited my very first anthology, Bedknobs & Beanstalks, back in 2009. I was responsibly for all the acquisitions as well as content and line edits, and it taught me a hell of a lot about how an author can make the editor/publisher’s job easier–or more difficult.

If I excluded all the subs I received where the author didn’t follow directions, I would have ended up with 10 stories instead of more than 50. I decided to not let this determine which stories I read, though it may have influenced my final decision when deciding finalists. Is that fair? Yes, and here’s why:

Bottom line here before the examples: editors can form an opinion of how easy you are going to be to work with by whether or not you can follow simple instructions and how well you can communicate. The publishing process requires a lot of communication, from contracts to editing to working with cover artists. Any time you fail to follow instructions delays the process.

Just as important: How well you pay attention to detail in submitting your story is probably a good indicator of how much attention you paid in writing it. If you don’t go and check the call details before subbing, does that mean maybe you didn’t go back and revise your story before sending?

While following all the instructions didn’t earn anyone extra points, not following them made an impression on me, though I hadn’t realized it would.

I’ll be very honest here and tell you that when I read cover letters I was looking for very specific basic information about the story and I skimmed or ignored everything else except what I needed to know. I went back and read some when making the final decisions, but busy editors really want to see that you’ve provided the basic details they need and probably won’t take time to read much else. So send what they asked for and don’t send what they didn’t….

Instructions not followed:
–Sending a het story when the call clearly asked for GLBT content. (I didn’t even read that one)
–Sending a story which was not a fairy tale, when the call clearly asked for fairy tales (I had to read the story to discover this, so just a waste of my time, which really pissed me off)

You probably didn’t think people would ignore the most basic instructions like that, did you?

Before I started reading a single story, I made a spreadsheet of all the stories and downloaded then into folders for m/m or f/f onto my computer. I needed to know title, word count and pairing to do this, all information that should be easy to find in the cover email, right?

But people still failed me:
–Not providing the title of the story in the cover email, forcing me to open the document to find out–honestly, isn’t the TITLE of your story the number one thing you would put in the email?
–Not indicating if the story was m/m or f/f, forcing me to open the document to find out
–Not putting word count in the cover email, forcing me to open the document to find out. Half of people didn’t even put it in the document itself.
–Not providing other specific information required as listed in the call for submissions, forcing me to email and ask for it
–Sent me docx when I specifically said not to (I can’t open them)
–Saved their story with the title “Fairy Tale” — 20 files with the same name would be awfully confusing. I had to rename all of those files myself
–Told me they didn’t send the mini-bio because it was a waste of time until they knew if their story was accepted or not.

Wow, that last one totally impressed me.

All of this is about making the best first impression, which I’ll go into in a later posting.



  1. Thank you for this information, I have never send a submission (although I wish I had the level) but knowing this information in advance is really helpful.

    “Told me they didn’t send the mini-bio because it was a waste of time until they knew if their story was accepted or not.”

    This was funny!!!

  2. Some great tips. That attention to detail is important. I’m *biting my nails* because after some research I found out that an editor goes by two names — as a first name — rather than one. And I had no idea from the card I had ;-(

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