03 April 2012


I've made an awful error.

No, it isn't related to my last post. That was... a joke. April Fools! Thanks to those who laughed, and even more thanks to those who fell for it and thought I might pull it off. Whew.

I used to help with an annual fiction writing contest. I received the submissions to my house and anonymized them before the judges read and made their decision. Receiving those submissions was a revelation. I had no idea that so many people found out about a contest and threw something in an envelope without another thought. Maybe they thought if their writing was good enough, we wouldn't care. We had to care, unfortunately. It wasn't as simple as, "Oh, your margins are too small." No, the errors we received started there and went to the moon.

Our formatting requirements were simple: Typewritten, don't send your only copy, include a wordcount somewhere, put author information on the cover letter but not on the manuscript, and enough author information that we could contact you if you won. Isn't that simple?

We received submissions that were suspiciously long and had no wordcount stated. We received submissions with the author's name in several places on every page. We received a lot of submissions with no contact information at all. Maybe they just wanted their work to be read. By far the most frustrating was a submission that was handwritten. Since there was only one, I felt charitable and typed it out so the judges could accept it. Long after the contest was over the author contacted us to get their submission back--the original one they'd written out. The one I'd shredded months ago. Oh my word.

There's good reason for formatting guidelines. Apart from being a indicator for people who made an effort, they allow us to concentrate on your writing rather than the paperwork. I didn't want to have to white-out/tip-ex your name off every page and photocopy the thing to make it anonymous. I didn't want to have to blow it up to read the font, or use a country-wide phone directory to find you. We were running a contest, not validating your existence.

So I'm sensitive to submission guidelines. I read them all, even when they appear to be identical to every other submission guidelines I've followed. It makes my recent error even more painful.

Last week I submitted a piece to a publisher, and yesterday I received an email from the editor saying they'd love to read it but it didn't fit their formatting requirements. Of course I was welcome to resubmit.

I hate being human (ie. fallible) in situations where I should have known better. This was one. Their formatting requirements weren't unusual, and the bit I failed was the part that said, "No author information in the header, body, or file name of your submission." Contests usually have this, but regular publications don't, so I missed it. A tiny miss, but damned important, and of course I know that from my previous experience.

Then they emailed to tell me this! That impresses me. Most publications receive so many submissions they have no reason to give an author that kind of attention. They could have rejected it without explanation. But they told me why, so I get to resubmit. Kudos to you, publication. If I wanted you to publish my piece before, I really do now.

And a reminder to me: read more carefully next time. Sheesh.

Photo: ALT+CTRL+DELETE by Stephen Mitchell on flickr


  1. "I hate being human...."

    Because you're usually super-human!

    1. Haha! This made me think of my friends back at uni who would say, "I'm so disappointed in myself! I only got a distinction!"
      Super human sounds about right. I hope they liked your resubmission!

    2. Actually they rejected the story. But at least they rejected it for the right reasons! ;)


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