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I’ve administrated a lot of contests, calls for submissions and open submission periods over the years in which a publishing house or organization accepts manuscripts, stories, or query letters from the public.

Every single time a percentage of the applicants will be rejected for not following the directions. The directions are never complicated—there are typically some guidelines about font size, page numbers, and how to include your name and contact information.  No matter how plainly we state these requirements, how many boxes we make people check stating that they followed them, we always receive submissions that just plain didn’t follow the instructions.

Those submissions get rejected.

Some of those guidelines are for the submitter’s benefit. For instance, a rule to not include your name on the manuscript protects everyone in the contest from favoritism (or prejudice) from the judges.

Rejecting rule-breaking submissions is not just a power trip. Here are three good reasons that it’s in the interest of the publishing house or contest administrator to reject submissions that don’t follow instructions.

1. Sorting submissions is a thankless and cumbersome process. It takes a lot of time to sort submissions, and there is no compensation for rejected manuscripts. Instructions and formatting guidelines are often designed to make the review process more efficient.

Guidelines allow the reviewers to read comfortably and easily compare two manuscripts. If they need someone’s contact information they know right where to find it without having to hunt through each submission.

When your manuscript doesn’t follow instructions, it consumes an inordinate amount of resources. Sure, it might just add 5 minutes to the process. But 5 minutes multiplied by 1,000 manuscripts is 80 hours of extra work.

2. It’s a buyer’s market. I’ve never run an opportunity where we didn’t have way more submissions than we needed. An opportunity of any legitimacy is flooded with good applicants.

If there’s a fair way to make the stack shorter, for instance because they didn’t follow instructions, it just makes good business sense to take it.

3. People that can’t follow instructions aren’t great people to work with.  If you are given an opportunity to publish, there will be a time when the publisher gives you instructions and expects you to follow them. If an applicant can’t follow instructions regarding font size, how effective of a partner will they be to execute  a marketing plan? It’s best to eliminate this person from consideration before they waste any more time.

When a publisher is evaluating manuscripts, it might start with the quality of the writing, but the question we’re all really asking is, “who do I want to work with?” Probably someone who can read instructions and follow them.

Follow the instructions. A few minutes of formatting on your end will save the publishing house or contest administrator hours of time on their end.  Publishers who reject manuscripts and queries that don’t follow the instructions are well within their rights and good sense to do so.

And sorry, I know the “Chiller” font makes your horror story that much scarier (true story), but if it can’t get the job done in Times New Roman, it’s just not good enough yet.


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