Assumptions and queries

I think I've posted about this before, but there's been another wave lately, so I think it's time to bring it up again. (And I posted this a week ago, but I apparently accidentally saved it in unpublished/draft mode rather than published mode. This whole entry is probably irrelevant now that we've switched to preferring the RTF system, but I gotta keep up my editorial-curmudgeon reputation somehow, so I'm posting it anyway.)

Say you're a writer, and you want to submit to a magazine. Say you've actually read their submission guidelines, but there was something in them that you think the editors can't possibly have meant.

Here are three possible things you could do:

  1. Drop an email query to the editor or other contact person, asking them politely for clarification.
  2. Make a guess about what they really meant, and proceed accordingly with your submission.
  3. Make a guess about what they really meant, and proceed accordingly with your submission--and add a snide note in your cover letter pointing out that the editors can't possibly have meant what the guidelines said.

I'll give you three guesses as to which of those options I, as an editor, would prefer that authors take. (Hint: A.) (Side note to LJ people: those options have letters in my journal, but they're probably numbered in LJ. Sorry about that. It's a CSS thing.)

I'll also give you three guesses as to which of those options authors most often take. (Hint: C.)

For example, I've lost count of the number of times we've received cover letters that say things like "My computer can't do ASCII text, whatever that means, and you obviously wouldn't want a plain text submission, so I've attached a Word document."

We also get this kind of comment (though less egregiously) with things that we don't cover in the guidelines, or that are ambiguous in the guidelines. Really, my point is that in pretty much all cases of uncertainty, you should send a separate query, before you submit, asking your question. (And if we don't reply to the query, then query again; your email may've gotten lost, or fallen through the cracks. Lack of response to a query doesn't mean "Go ahead and guess the answer.") If you guess, chances are reasonably good that you'll guess wrong.

. . . In this entry, I'm mostly talking about things like formatting. The issue of whether to query about the content of the story is kind of a separate topic, and imo much less clear-cut.

One Response to “Assumptions and queries”

  1. David Moles

    My favorite is still the completely malformatted MS with the cover letter that states “I have followed all your guidelines.”


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