(Originally posted on my blog: September 5, 2011)
It’s common writing wisdom that you should follow the publisher’s submission guidelines (and it’s usually the first thing I tell people when they ask me for one piece of advice on becoming a professional writer), but it’s not always clear why such guidelines are there or why it’s so important to follow them. Naturally, I can’t speak for every publisher, but I can tell you some reasons why the White Wolf and Onyx Path submission guidelines exist, as I’ve revised them for both companies over the years.
None of the reasons are “because editors and developers like putting prospective writers through arbitrary bureaucratic hoops,” surprisingly enough.
- Legality. The biggest reason for our submission guidelines is to prevent liability. Plenty of times I’ve received a submission idea for something that we’re either discussed internally or that we’re in the process of making, but for whatever reason we haven’t announced that to the public yet. Without a disclaimer form, even receiving such a proposal opens us up for liability, as the proposing author can attempt to claim in court that we stole his idea, when in fact no such theft occurs. It’s even stickier when people send me such proposals to my personal email address or through this website, since I am now personally liable. My standard policy is that I have to delete proposals that don’t follow the process without reading them, which sucks. However, it’s the only way I can protect myself if people won’t follow the rules.
- Time. I don’t get a ton of submissions — maybe a couple a week nowadays. However, I keep them all in a set of slush pile folders, and they get pretty huge. When a developer is looking for a writer, they need to be able to skim that folder and understand quickly what the proposal is all about. If a proposal follows the guidelines, they’ll only be reading a few pages instead of having to slog through lots and lots of text to get to the point. Their time is important, and a well-written and concise proposal shows that the author has respect for that time.
- First Impressions. A side benefit of having guidelines is that it helps me realize whether the prospective author can actually follow rules or not. As a developer of in-house properties, I need to know that any freelancer will be able to take whatever vision I have for a project and work within those boundaries. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity or exploration, but as the project gets closer to completion, I have to rely on the freelancer to deliver exactly what I’ve asked for, instead of requiring me to rewrite large chunks of it when things are already behind schedule. Everything else can likely be worked around at some level, but if you can’t follow instructions, I simply can’t use you.