The Importance of Reading the Guidelines
I mean REALLY reading the guidelines, not just whatever deviations in standard manuscript format the publisher might be looking for, the editor’s name, the e-mail address, the file format, and that sort of thing. These are all very important things to know. If you can follow the formatting and instructional guidelines given, you’ve got a leg up on at least half of the people submitting to the same magazine/anthology/agent/whatever.
No, I’m talking about something about something even more fundamental. Give the editor what s/he is asking for. If the guidelines say, for example, no zombies, don’t send a story that involves a zombie even peripherally. If the editor writes of a dislike for dragons or cute aliens or faster than light travel, then these are things to avoid in any story you might send to said editor. If the guidelines clearly state ‘Please do not send stories with a strong religious theme’, then your POV character should probably not believe they’re in a conversational relationship with God driving them to do whatever it is they’re doing.
Pill Hill Press is publishing an anthology by the title of "The Bitter End: Tales of Nautical Terror". Deadline is 31 October and I’ve written an 800 word flash piece to submit for it, finishing what I believe to be the final read through this morning. As a prelude to writing the cover letter and checking my formatting, I opened up the guidelines and skimmed through them. ‘Please do not send stories with a strong religious theme.’ There it is, in the paragraph between the payment statement and the deadline notification. First sentence. If you hadn’t guessed, my POV character believes he talks to God and it’s his primary motivation in the story.
I know the sentence was there when I first read the guidelines. I remember reading it and thinking it would be easy to avoid since I never write anything with strong religious themes. Or any religious themes, really, unless they’re relate to a religion I’ve created for a fantasy world/story or alien species. But I didn’t sit down to write the story when I first read the guidelines. The idea came to me much later and I wrote it in a single sitting from start to finish, obviously forgetting the ban on religion.
And I like this story. I know it’s my story so I should be biased, but the writing is tight and it gave me a little shiver during the read through. I can picture it so clearly as a possible reality and that makes it a little scarier. Yes it takes place at sea and yes that’s critical to the story and yes I’d call it horror, but does it fit the guidelines? I’m far less sure of that than I was an hour ago, but I think I still have to submit it. To paraphrase the late John W. Campbell, it’s not my job to reject stories from the anthology. The editor can certainly make up her own mind.
I just may have made that decision easier.