WOW! Women On Writing

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Custom Search

Writer's Digest 101 Best Sites for Writers Award

Impressing the Gatekeepers - What Agents and Editors Look For - Stephany Evans, Jessica Faust, Heather Osborn - by Devon Ellington

Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Winners!

5 Things You Need to Know to Write for Magazines by Kerrie Flannagan

Spring 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Winners!

Revision Rework Rewrite - A Rejection is Not the End

10 Ways to Play the Waiting Game and Win It!

Writer's MArkets - Publishers Seeking Unagented Children's and Young Adult Manuscripts by Krissy Brady

Trade Publications - Model Retailer, Pet Product News International, Supermarket Guru, Skin Deep, Sustainable Industries

Online Markets - Websites that Pay

The Emerging Spirit of Transition - Divergent Paths to Publication - Nan Cappo, Bryan Chick, S.R. Johannes, Susan Kaye Quinn

WOW! Classes

How To Start a Writers' Group in Your Area

2008 - 2016

Truly Useful Site Award


Go to wow-womenonwriting.comArticlesContestMarketsBlogClasses

The Sub(mission): Hard-Working Writer Seeks Widely-Read Journal by Chelsey Clammer

License: CreativeCommons, derivative of the wikiHow image.



ubmitting your writing for publication is essentially a type of online dating. You search through candidates, find the one you really like, send a message, and then wish for awesomeness to happen—such as a union between your writing and a literary journal as officiated by publication.

“I’m a self-contained chapter from a novel about zombie sloths and am seeking a like-themed journal. I love any type of publication, though in print is my ideal mate. I enjoy surprising readers and delighting editors with an extraordinary level of attention to the tiniest details. The journal I’m looking for should have a dry sense of humor balanced with moments of excellent lyricism. Message me if you’re curious about what inspired me.”

Your submission is a message to the journal’s editor that declares, “I think we’d be great together.” With so many submission fish to choose from in the lit journal sea, it’s best to do something that will get the editor to notice you, such as following their submission guidelines. I know this doesn’t sound like the sexiest type of flirtation, but look at it this way: if you don’t follow the submission guidelines, you’ll be noticed in a disqualified/rejected sort of way. Therefore, if you follow the guidelines, the journal will then actually read your submission, which is what gives the editors the opportunity to notice you and your writing capabilities.

“Submission guidelines can at times feel like they’re the parent who answers a child’s every ‘But why?’ with ‘Because I said so.’”

At times, submission guidelines can seem pretty arbitrary. I mean, really. What does it matter if you indent the beginning of every paragraph or separate them with an extra line? And who really cares if it’s in Bauhaus 93 with 24 pt font? It’s legible, no? Indeed, submission guidelines can at times feel like they’re the parent who answers a child’s every “But why?” with “Because I said so.”

Note: the previous paragraph is the exact opposite of why submission guidelines exist. Essentially, guidelines make an editor’s job (which is usually an unpaid volunteer position, mind you) much easier. (Tip: Pissing off an editor because you didn’t follow the guidelines, which means now the editor has to do all of this extra formatting, hinders your chances of future publication with this journal.) So how can you get better at following submission guidelines? It’s a matter of understanding the but why?

Knowing what an editor sees will help you to comprehend the submission process as a whole and therefore, will help you follow the guidelines without error. Furthermore, in order to understand the importance of following guidelines, it helps to know why those guidelines are important. Knowing and then following the guidelines is a safety net of sorts—or perhaps it’s like knowing the secret password to get into the cool club.

There are five main categories that submission guidelines typically address:

  1. Font
  2. Format
  3. Contact information
  4. Word count
  5. Route of submission

I’ll give examples of the first two, but numbers three, four, and five are relatively self-evident (put your name on your piece unless directed not to do so; abide by the creeds of word count limit; email the submission if they want you to email it to them; submit it through their website if they want you to submit it through their website; go get a carrier pigeon if they prefer you to submit it by carrier pigeon, etc).

“Following the guidelines is a safety net of sorts—or perhaps it’s like knowing the secret password to get into the cool club.”


Fancy fonts are hard to read. Tiny fonts are frustrating to read. Same with big fonts! Seriously—wouldn’t reading sixty pages of this get tiring:

Example 1: Large Font

Likewise, a tiny font is just cruel.

Example 2: Small Font

[Side note: In regards to which font you use, you might be drawn to the ever popular Comic Sans. But don’t do it. You should always use Times New Roman or Courier, 12 point font.]


Knowing what submissions, scheduling, and publication all look like from an editor’s point of view will help you gain some good publishing knowledge; but more importantly, when your writing is accepted and the editor wants to work with you on some formatting issues, you’ll be able to better understand what the editor wants and why. She really is not trying to make your life more difficult!

The main guideline in regards to paragraph formatting is whether to use the Tab button to indent and show a new paragraph or the Enter key to skip a line in order to mark a new paragraph. If no preference is stated, use the Tab button because, as you’ll see below, should the editor want to change the paragraph formatting, it will be so much easier than if you used an extra line between paragraphs that needs to be deleted.

“Website platforms can be finicky.”

Okay. But why are these distinctions even important? Because website platforms can be finicky. For instance, if the journal uses Wordpress, the space between two paragraphs is oddly translated into two lines when copy-and-pasted into Wordpress. Fixing this is the definition of tedious with a tinge of frustration tacked onto it at the end. Changing extra spaces to no spaces with an indent is incredibly annoying to do. Now, let’s see what your writing might look when it’s being scheduled for publication and what that publication would look like.

Scenario 1: If the guidelines are to not put an extra line space between paragraphs, but to use the Tab button to signal a new paragraph, here’s what it looks like in the three stages.

Here’s what you see:

Example 3: Indents

Here’s what the editor sees when she prepares it for online publication using Wordpress:

Example 4: What WordPress looks like with indents

Here’s what it will look like when it is published:

Example 5: What the indents look like published

Nothing too exciting going on there in regards to how a journal’s platform can change the format.

Now, say you didn’t follow the guidelines, and decided to put an extra space between the paragraphs instead of using the Tab button.

Here’s what you see:

Example 6: Extra spaces in formatting

Here’s what the editor sees when she prepares it for online publication using Wordpress:

Example 7: Extra line spaces in Wordpress

See how much space is between the paragraphs? The website’s platform automatically changed the format.

Here’s what it will look like when it is published:

Example 8: What extra line spacing looks like when it is published on Wordpress

All of that extra spacing is, well, unnecessary. What this means is that the editor has to go through the entire document and remove all of the extra lines. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you’re publishing a twenty-page story, that can be over one hundred key strokes just to get your piece ready for publication. Therefore, regardless if your piece is accepted for publication, following the guidelines will save everyone a lot of time and make you easy to work with. There are some editors that will not even read your submission if the guidelines aren’t followed. Wouldn’t you hate it if your piece was disqualified because you hit the Enter button instead of the Tab button?

Following guidelines = DO IT.

Now that you know what the editor sees and you have followed the submission guidelines, your chances to snag a little lit journal fishy just increased significantly.

Do It

Next month, I’ll look at the different morale-boosting practices you can do to keep your energy and passion for writing up, even when you’ve been rejected eleven billion times—in a row.



Chelsey Clammer

Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and won the 2016 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award for her essay collection, Circadian. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, McSweeney’s, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She’s the essays editor for The Nervous Breakdown. @ChelseyClammer

Chelsey is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. Check out her upcoming course, The Women Writers’ Book Group: Building Meaning in Memoir.


Previous columns:
What My Submissions Spreadsheet Teaches Me

Submit ’Til You Make It


    About WOW! Women on Writing | Ad Rates | Contact Us | Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved.

Graphic Design/Illustration by Mackintosh Multimedia.
Web Design/Programming by Glenn Robnett.