unqualified writing advice – query letters and etiquette

Recently, Weird Tales decided to revive itself with a new editor and put out a one week only call for submissions. Given the history of the magazine, there was no way that I wasn’t going to throw my hat into the ring.

Now, I make no assumptions. I truly believe that I will be easily rejected. I don’t know that I have been writing long enough or well enough to stand up in Weird Tales. And that is okay. I would much rather put myself out there and give it a shot. Otherwise, I would be an armchair critic thinking about all the things that I should have done.

However, I read a tweet from the editor of the mag and he was reminding writers to follow the submission guidelines. He even said that he was already sending back stories that didn’t follow the guidelines.

I am very confident that I followed those guidelines, which means that my story will actually be read and not immediately sent back by a disgruntled and tired editor.

And that got me thinking about querying magazines and submission guidelines. In summary, they’re fucking important and you need to pay attention to them. If you don’t believe me, I am going to include some thoughts below to help make the case.

  • Submission Guidelines Exist for a Reason
    • Editors receive dozens, hundreds, and thousands of stories depending on the market. Most editors aren’t paid, all are over worked. Guidelines are there to streamline the process and to make trudging through the submission pile a tiny bit easier and faster.
    • While it may not be the intent of the editors, all writers need to pay attention to the details and learn the importance of following direction. Publishers aren’t your personal editors. You are a professional. Professionals conform to the formatting standards set by the people who are nice enough to publish their work.
    • Follow the guidelines to the letter.
  • Sometimes Submission Guidelines Seem Insane.
    • I sent a story to a magazine that wanted no indents, double-spaced, in a certain font, with a certain size. I needed to re-format the entire story to fit their needs and they didn’t even accept it. I get it. It can be frustrating changing an entire story to fit the needs of a magazine that will ultimately tell you that you weren’t right for their publication. The anger and discontentment is real.
    • I wish there was a standard manuscript format that we could all agree on. But there’s not.
    • You still have to follow the rules. If not, don’t submit. Your minor protest of flaunting the guidelines won’t change anyone’s mind.
  • Query Letters are NOT Novels
    • The query letter is the most awkward lesson in writing. My creative writing professors were always cagey about the actual content of the letter and I never understood why. But there’s simply not a lot of good information out there.
    • Queries should be short, sweet, and no more than a few lines. The best article that I’ve ever read on the subject is linked here. Read it and live by it.
    • No one wants your life story. If you want to write you career, work on your autobiography. Editors want the information they need. You’re writing journey is not part of it.

In summary, read the damn guidelines and, at least, your story won’t be denied in the first round because you couldn’t follow simple instructions. I know that’s harsh, but it’s the truth. Conform or don’t be published. Or, even better, start your own website or mag and see how long you make it without guidelines.

Good luck out there. If you submitted to Weird Tales, I wish you the best. I look forward to reading the new issue. I’m going to knock on wood and see if I get lucky. Chances aren’t high, but you never know.


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