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Guidelines for Magazines

Friday, 28 November 2014

I've submitted fiction and poetry to many, many magazines over the years, and must have read hundreds of those Writers' Guidelines pages. Most of them are entirely sane and reasonable. Some are borderline bonkers, specifying ugly fonts and weirdly fussy formatting and all the rest. I confess, more than once, I've got half-way through some page of detailed guidelines and decided I couldn't be bothered. I suspect that may be the point: those magazines are make submitting awkward as a way of filtering out the feckless.

Late at night and bleary-eyed, I can be feckless.

Specifying a format is entirely reasonable, of course. It must make the slush-reading process more efficient. Still, the balance needed redressing. It often seems like writers are expected to conform to no end of complicated strictures but magazines can do what they like. Sure, we don't have to submit. But if we don't, where does that leave the magazines? In a word, empty.

So here are some basic guidelines I think all markets really should conform to:

1. Make the guidelines easy to find and as simple as possible
Sometimes guidelines are spread over multiple pages in hard-to-find corners of a web site. Sometimes the guidelines are just long. Long and confusing. The best are short, sweet and may even say don't worry about formatting. That the story is what matters. Now I don't mind conforming to "standard" manuscript formatting, but sometimes it goes too far. Underscores for italics and all the rest of it: seriously? We have word processors now. They work really well.

2. Let us submit by email
Even today, some magazines demand submission using paper and stamps and envelopes. More attempts to make it harder to submit, to filter out the uncommitted, maybe. There are even science fiction magazines that won't accept electronic submissions. Presumably the irony of that escapes them. Seriously, guys: email and web forms. They work really well.

3. Tell us what's going on
Most magazines are great at communication (which maybe you'd expect, given that communication is their whole point). Some are, frankly, rubbish. If we submit, send us an email to say you've received our precious words. Then let us know if we've been accepted or rejected within some kind of reasonable time-frame. And then even tell us when we've been published if we have been. There are magazines that can't manage any of that. Magazines that mysteriously never received your submission but you don't know because they don't tell you when they have. Magazines that hold on to submissions for years. Magazines that accept and even publish a story without ever telling you. I've seen it all.

4. Try not to sound dismissive. Seriously.
Rejection is a given for writers. Mysteriously, many magazines fail to recognize our obvious genius. But there are ways to say, sorry, not for us. Most magazines get it right: to-the-point, apologetic. They may even offer constructive criticism, which is always a welcome bonus. Some get it badly wrong, coming across as terse, even scathing. They probably didn't mean it (I hope they didn't mean it), but the thing is we writers study those few brief words microscopically, looking for hidden meanings and subtexts.

5. Tell us what rights you want to buy.
This stuff is important - we need to know what we're selling, when and where we can submit as a reprint and so forth. We certainly shouldn't be expected to submit without knowing.

So there we are. Like I say, most markets do most of these things well most of the time.

What do you think? Any others I should add to the list?


  1. I don't like having to do a summary for a short story submission. There I've said it.

    1. I agree. It's mercifully rare - but I confess I generally couldn't be bothered to do that either...

  2. Excellent guideline guidelines, Simon. And I agree with Deborah. A synopsis for a short story? Give me a break. How short are attention spans these days? Right. Gotta go.

    1. Thanks - now we just need to get all the magazines to follow them...

  3. Interesting timing Simon. I need to update the guidelines for Jupiter (remove reference to 'A Ship..' And probably state at the top that my preferred submission is via e-mail.
    So, before I spend some time doing it wrong :), how would you as a writer like to see the guidelines presented?

    1. Hi Ian - great to hear from you again. Jupiter is a good example of how it should be done in my view - your existing guidelines are clear and entirely resonable and you've always kept me well-informed.

      I can see it would make sense, as you say, to move the "email preferred" point higher up as currently it talks about using paperclips and so forth before all that. Three of your eight bullet points are actually to do with submitting by post, which aren't relevant if submitting by email. Might be nice to separate those out so they don't get in the way?

      Otherwise - it all looks good to me...


I'd love to know what you think.