As a jobbing freelance writer, I’m a self-confessed media whore. I’ll write for whoever pays me. It’s what I have to do. I make a living through a number of channels, one of those channels being dark fiction. Dark fiction with a twist of sardonic humour, as reviewers often point out. I’m not going to lie. I don’t make a lot of money from it. I sell a few books a month, and place a couple of short stories a year in various magazines, ezines, literary journals and anthologies. It’s never going to make me rich. But I enjoy it, and I count myself lucky that I am in a position to make a little extra income to supplement my day job writing for sport and lifestyle magazines.
In order to have your work published in one of the many outlets there are, you have to submit your work according to the publication’s specific formatting guidelines. Some want a particular font, in a particular size, some want single-spaced copy, others double-spaced. Some request a cover page with your name and contact details, while others want ‘blind’ submissions with no identifying information. About the only thing all publications have in common, is that they all want something different. I don’t mind going through every individual story I have and changing the font or whatever if the potential pay-off makes it worth my while. The more a publication pays contributors, the more I am willing to do. Unfortunately, this is a practice that occurs right across the board, even down to ‘exposure markets’ that don’t pay any actual money. In fact, they are often the worst offenders. I once had an extremely bitchy email from the ‘editor’ of an ezine complaining that I hadn’t followed the guidelines not just in the manuscript I submitted, but also in my cover letter. He took particular offence at my use of the word ‘hi’ instead of the more formal ‘hello,’ and the smiley-face at the end of my email was a deal-breaker. He clearly wasn’t a fan of the friendly approach. When I checked their guidelines again, I saw how much they paid per word. Not a penny. Zero. Nothing. You would think a publication expecting established writers to work for free would be a bit more forgiving, but it served me right. If I’d read the guidelines properly I would have realised they didn’t pay and wouldn’t have submitted to them in the first place.
Anyway, I digress. On the face of it, it all seems like a massive ball ache for no good reason. I was always of the opinion that if a story is reasonably and legibly laid out, what difference does it make if its double-spaced in 12pt courier or not? But then I started thinking about it, and looking at the situation from the point of view of the publication. If a prospective contributor doesn’t pay any attention to the guidelines, why should the publication pay any attention to the prospective contributor?
The publication don’t put all these guidelines in place just for the sake of it (though some probably do take some perverse pleasure out of making you jump through hoops on their behalf). They are a test, designed to ascertain in an instant how closely you read those guidelines. Or if you read them at all. It reminds me of Van Halen and their infamous tour riders. In the decadent 1980’s, when they were among the biggest bands in the world, Dave Lee Roth and co insisted that all the brown M & M’s be removed from bowls backstage at their gigs. Years later, they confessed they weren’t just being pretentious dicks, but making sure the venue adhered to their requests. If they didn’t take care of the small things, they couldn’t be trusted to take care of the big things, either. In retrospect, it all adds up, and maybe these editors are thinking along the same lines.
Check out some of the times I jumped through enough hoops on my Amazon Author page: