‘The Guidelines for the Guidelines: Advice on How to Not Drive Submitting Writers Insane’ by Genelle Chaconas

Congratulations, you’re starting a new literary publication! You built an awesome website (or on Wix, WordPress, whatever works), advertised, created the publication’s social media accounts, gathered your merry band of head editors and volunteer readers. You’re ready to go live and read submissions. But wait, hold that Publish button: you may have forgotten something. Hit the back button, it’s time to review your submissions guidelines page.

Hopefully, if you’re running a publication, you’re a writer. And being a writer, you’ve hopefully submitted your work to many publications trying to find your writing a home. The submission guidelines page is the first line of defense for any publication. It’s a “how to” guide for writers submitting their work. For your sake and theirs, here are some starter dos and don’ts on submission guidelines and overall publication maintenance.

State a Word, Line, Piece, or Page Limit.

Unless you want to be inundated with oversized submissions, state how much you are capable of reading with word, line, piece or page number limits. Neglecting to do so will give inexperienced submitters (or experienced ones) free reign on how much they send. Don’t leave it up to the writer to decide.  

“We Read Everything”

I cannot stress what kind of a detrimental effect seeing ‘we read everything’ has on a submitter. It gives no context to your aesthetic vision, and tells the submitter they are on their own. It makes them play a guessing game with your publication. They’ve read your publication (if you have published anything yet), but reading these words (or a lack of any aesthetic statement) will make many writers obsess trying to find a connective thread between everything you’ve published already. It’s better to have a clear statement about what you want to read.  

“Proofread or Your Submission Will Be Rejected”

Unless they’re truly beginner writers, writers submitting work always proofread their documents. But as many of us know, spellcheck doesn’t catch everything, and it’s deceptively easy to let the eye slip over mistakes. It seems to be as symptom of my writing that every published piece has at least one glaring error. The submissions you receive will, too. The author knows it. Adding this ultimatum may just scare writers away from your publication. Don’t be a proofread Nazi.

“Send Us Your Best Work”

“Best work” is subjective to each writer’s assessment of their own writing, and depending on their experience and personal aesthetics, it could mean anything. So, expect to see anything. But this phrase has an additional detriment of coming off as snooty art-critic-y, and may discourage some writers from submitting at all.


Simultaneous Submissions vs. No Simultaneous Submissions

If you allow simultaneous submissions, this means you allow writers to submit the same piece to other publications. It also means you allow them to alter their submission if those pieces are accepted elsewhere. No simultaneous submission means yours is the only publication reviewing the piece. State which submission type your publication is, especially if yours is the latter. If you don’t, you may create considerable frustration down the line if a piece you want to publish was published elsewhere, giving both the writer and the other publisher a headache concerning first publication rights.

Don’t complicate your submission process.

Writers submitting to your publication are nervous about being rejected, but add the stress of a complex submission process, and you amp that anxiety. Programs like Submittable or a simple master email account will work, or include email addresses to your editors in charge of each genre. Your formatting guidelines should be concise and consistent with standard submission processes. If you make your submission process a maze, don’t be surprised if submission numbers dwindle.

Make estimated response dates realistic.

Be realistic about response dates, and plan for delays. State this length of time on your guidelines page. If it could take you eight months for you to respond, state this.  If you neglect to do so, you may find yourself knee deep in inquiries long before you even read a submission.

Update reading periods regularly.

If you state in your guidelines that you read submissions year round, do it. But if you don’t read year round, state the dates between which you begin reading submissions and when you stop, and make sure you keep these dates updated wherever you advertise your publication, such as on Poets & Writers or Duotrope. If you have to close submission dates early, remember to change the dates wherever you have advertised your publication as well as on your website. Neglecting to keep these details updated plays with a submitter’s emotions. Imagine: they sifted through all the other publications they submit to, found yours, read it, fell in love with it, chose their piece, and hit the submit button only to find you’re not open for submissions as stated elsewhere.

Critique vs. Attack  

When rejecting with feedback, make sure feedback is constructive criticism and doesn’t attack the writer or their work. Writers risk rejection when they submit their writing, but they don’t deserve abuse, no matter how much you dislike it. Even if you advertise your publication as edgy, remember that rants, anger and abuse are uncalled for, and don’t be surprised if your reputation follows you.

Always respond.

Respond to every submission, even with a form rejection note. Set your Submittable account to send a form rejection note when the decision process is complete. Not hearing back from a publication for months or years is a writer’s version of being stood up on a date; call to say you can still be friends.

What to do if you’re on Hiatus or Closing.

Clean up the shop and lock the door. Unless you see the publication continuing in the foreseeable future, take the website down, or at least remove your publication from other sites you’ve advertised it on. If you don’t, submissions will build up in the inbox and stagnate, leaving submitting writers to wonder what happened.

There, now you’re ready to hit Publish. Happy Reading!


Genelle Chaconas is Boulder Poetry Tribe’s Resident Submissions Expert.  They earned their Creative Writing BA from CSUS (2009) and their Writing & Poetics MFA from Naropa University (2015). Their first chapbook is Fallout, Saints, and Dirty Pictures (2011, little m press). They enjoy industrial music, cheap takeout, shoot-em-up B movies, Facebook stalking, and long walks off short piers.  They submitted their work 250 times in the last 365 days.