A Plea For Sanity (In Editing)

29 Apr

Even with very simple guidelines, there seem to be a set of people who will ignore them and submit unsuitable work in unsuitable formats, so you can’t really blame editors for creating a comprehensive list of guidelines in the hopes of steering people in the right direction. However, a small number go rather over the top.

One recently actually had a lengthy document, promising rejection to anyone who failed to adhere to every last point (I suspect I managed to miss at least one, despite my best intentions and repeated readings of the list). The solemnity of the document was somewhat marred by its statement that it had been laid out as per their guidelines, only for the guidelines to demand paragraphs be indented, while the guidelines themselves weren’t…

Even though they don’t entirely match the format I’m used to, the ‘standard’ layout advocated by William Shunn is a good place for editors to stop and, in my opinion, any variation shouldn’t be too significant.

Editors who insist upon substantially different formats for submissions not only make writers expend unnecessary additional time which for anyone who is short on time is an inconvenience, but actively discriminate against some writers. I have a condition that affects my short-term memory and, when I have to check off a list of changes to the usual format I use, it is very easy for me to lose track of what changes I’m making. I would suspect that writers with dyslexia or any form of learning disability, whilst capable, with the right preparation of producing an acceptable submission, will also have problems following complicated changes to layout.

As an editor, I also find it annoying when editors cite making their lives easier as the reason for their onerous variations from the established norm. For a start, it is easier for someone who has settled upon a layout to change all submissions received to that format through short cuts and templates than it is for others to make a variety changes (potentially to the same submission). But, when any deviation is used as an excuse for a rejection, I find it ridiculous that the editor can neither be bothered to ask for the work to be resubmitted correctly-formatted nor to read it ‘as is’ and, if they want to use it, ask for a reformatted version to be submitted. Seriously, if you would reject the best story you ever read because someone used the wrong font or forgot to indent a paragraph, you probably shouldn’t be an editor. And, if you wouldn’t, you’re a hypocrite using formatting as a figleaf for your laziness.

Yes, ask for submissions to be in a format you can access, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting them to laid out in a readable manner, but if you feel the need to slather on a long list of specific instructions, I would respectfully suggest that there’s something wrong with your approach and that cleaving closer to the norm of ‘standard’ formatting would be more productive for everyone involved.


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