How to Write Useful Writer's Guidelines

by Joelle Steele

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Publishers would be nowhere without writers. And with the ongoing and gradual demise of well-crafted writing, it would be advantageous for a good many publishers to do a far better job of crafting their Writer's Guidelines into more usable and helpful documents that would attract competent writers.

SHOW ME THE LINK

Writers are busy people too. They write for a living, articles and books, among other things. When they visit a publisher's Web site, they want and expect to find the Writer's Guidelines immediately. An obvious link to that page is ideal and very practical and saves the writer from having to scour a Web site looking for it.

GET TO THE POINT

When a writer downloads the Writer's Guidelines they want to find concise information that will help them determine whether or not they should query that publisher. They want to see everything clearly laid out for use by a writer. They want to see the following:

Query and Submission Guidelines. Instructions for exactly how queries and manuscripts should be submitted and current contact information. If a book proposal is required, this is the place to mention it.

Topic Tips. Insights into exactly what topics are wanted or not wanted. Writers will review back issues and catalogues, but any additional advice in this area is always welcome and much appreciated.

Editorial Schedule. If manuscripts are only reviewed at certain times of the year, a list of the date ranges is apropos. Having the editorial schedule inserted within the Writer's Guidelines is great or, at the very least, a link to it is helpful.

Word Length Restrictions. A quick glance at published pieces doesn't allow for accuracy in calculating their length. A breakdown of how many words are wanted for novels of different genres, non-fiction works, feature articles, news tid-bits, or particular sections of a magazine, are very useful.

Photos and Illustrations. If a book or article requires images, an explanation of the dimensions, the digital format required, and the method of transmission are necessary.

Compensation Rate and Payment Terms. Unless a contract has been signed for a book, a statement of the current per word rate for articles of different lengths and whether payment is on acceptance or publication should be included.

STICK TO BUSINESS

Publishers should never use the Writer's Guidelines as a forum in which to vent spleen in an agonizing, rambling tirade against writers, not even in jest. It makes the publisher look ridiculous and unprofessional, and it doesn't help the writers at all. If a publisher has problems, they should take 'em to a shrink. Keep it business-only when doing business.

UPDATE REGULARLY

The Web is a dynamic place, and publishers need to provide the most up-to-date information in their Writer's Guidelines. They should update their Web sites immediately to avoid wasting writers' valuable time with out-of-date information.

Writing and publishing go hand-in-hand, but publishers routinely hold all the cards. So please, publishers, do your part to make the working relationship with writers as smooth and efficient as possible. Everyone will benefit, including the readers.

This article last updated: 11/12/2010.