TODAY I SHALL RANT about submission guidance. If you ask the editors of literary journals what annoys them the most, it’s probably a toss-up between ‘submitters don’t read the publication’ and ‘submitters who don’t read the submission guidance’. You cannot subscribe to every literary magazine you submit to. I get that. But we’re free. What’s the excuse, hmmm? When you send your work to a lit mag, read their mag, read submission guidance and then do exactly as they say.
There is always a back-end reason why editors ask you to jump through hoops, and that reason is usually due to the two things that crush independent literary ventures — time and costs. Yes, it is a pain in the ass. Running a lit mag is a pain in the ass.
So I’ll break it down for you. If a journal asks you to place your work in the body of an email, the reason is that they do not want your work getting lost on their hard-drive or having their hard-drive clogged with thousands of documents. Bartleby Stopes recently disclosed that — despite their size — they get over 15,000 submissions every year. If a lit mag doesn’t use an expensive submissions manager like Submittable and is relying on Gmail to receive submissions, it means they need you to stick to the guidance like glue. So when they say, title your email Submission — Title of Work — Author Last Name, place in the body of the email, this is so they can manage their submissions properly; thereby ensuring your work doesn’t get lost. Do it this way, and the submitter will eventually receive a response about it. If you do anything else, your work will be rejected.
Our submissions process at Quarterday has changed recently because our steady stream of classical verse is increasing. We use Submittable, which helps somewhat, but every three months I still have a metric arsetonne of work to do with typesetting the mag. It’s too much for one person, and yet it comes down to yours truly. And I have other problems as well. My poets come from all over the world; the Brits write in Oxford Style and the Americans write in the CMS style, and I’m left at the end trying to cobble together something that doesn’t look like a dog’s breakfast. To make matters worse, Submittable doesn’t let you italicise anything in the cover letters, so invariably I have to spend hours italicising the names of publications and getting the actual poetry into our house style come the galley deadline. It’s a huge amount of work. I’m a writer, and I have a young (disabled) family. I do not have time for this crap. Nor do I have the money to hire typesetters and copy editors.
To solve these issues, on the advice of a more experienced editor, I created a House Style guide, similar to that used at the Scottish publication Gutter, provided a submissions form, with worked examples in the guide to show poets exactly how I wanted the work laid out. Follow it, look at the examples, and should I accept your work then all I have to do is a simple copy and paste. I won’t even have to change the font or size: it’s all laid out for you. In your cover letter in Submittable, tell me what you liked and didn’t like about the issues of the journal you’ve read prior to submitting your work. You do not need to buy a copy. The mag is free. Free, I say. Just go to http://www.quarterday.org, and read the issues.
This is idiot proof, I thought.
It will cut the back end admin down, I thought.
We might survive, I thought.
I thought wrong.
In the last week I’ve received four submissions, and I’ve had to reject three of them and ask the poets to resubmit because they haven’t adhered to the Style Guide. Bios have come in the Submittable form, and when they have come in the submissions form, they’ve been in wild formatting I will have to fix before publication. Head. Desk.
The style guide is there to make typesetting easier at my end. So if you ignore it and stick your bio in the Submittable cover letter, or in the submissions form but entirely in italics or all-caps, you are making things difficult for me. It means I will have to spend ages not reading and editing and marketing your poetry, but buggering about with the formatting. I wouldn’t care, but in the House Style Guide, I provide a ‘worked example’ of the submissions form with my own poems to show you exactly how I want your work laid out. It isn’t difficult. The House Style is as close to industry standard I can make it. It really isn’t difficult. A little longer spent presenting your work the way we need cuts hours at my end. You have to format one poem. Leave it to me, and come the galley deadline I’m working into the wee hours with everyone’s poem and bio.
Do you do it?
You’re the next bloody Wordsworth, and yet you can’t even follow a line of simple instructions on how I need your work set out so that I can get around the fact we’ve no money to hire typesetters and copy editors and all the rest of it.
Do you do it?
When I ask you to tell me in your cover letter what you liked or didn’t like about the journal, why do you think I’m doing it?
Go on. A guess or three?
A generic ‘I really like your journal I don’t have any feedback’ tells me you haven’t read it. If, however, you say ‘I really liked the visceral dirty language of Not Wet Sex, by Alan Rain, but didn’t like the archaic language used in The Lady, by Liusaidh,’ it tells me you have read my journal and are familiar with what we publish.
A generic ‘I think your journal is cool I read it all the time’ indicates to me that you’re probably too lazy to read my journal, but, failing that, you’re also too spineless and too much of a kiss-ass to tell me what you liked or didn’t like about it.
Use your noggins, people. We’re a no-bullshit journal. If we ask for feedback it isn’t a trick.
Do you do it?
Napoleon Bone-Apart below appears every so often the form rejection slip for another mag I consult for, Trigger Warnings: The Lit Mag That Doesn’t Give A Shit About Your Delicate Sensibilities. And while we’re not so forthright here at Quarterday, the sentiment is the same.
Here endeth my rant. You know what you need to do.
READ THE DAMN GUIDANCE.
And the mag. Reading the mag would be great as well.