Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rules Are Not Made To Be Broken

At least not contest rules or submission guidelines. Yet writers do it––all the time.

I was reminded of just how often this occurs when I read all the reasons the judges would not accept for breaking the 24-hour rule for the 24-Hour Contest . One would think the point would be obvious––stories must be received within 24 hours of the guidelines being posted––however, every quarter a large number of people don't pay attention, or think they can submit according to Eastern Time rather than the posted Central Time and get away with it. Bottom line, they don't.

The editing I'm doing now for Demand Studios has very strict guidelines for different article formats. Granted, I think some of them are silly enough to sometimes compromise accuracy (don't tell my bosses), but mine is not to reason why, and it isn't for the writers to do either. But every week or so someone will complain about my rejecting a how-to because each step didn't start with an actionable verb. "The style didn't fit the subject." Well, excuse me, but you picked up the title, knowing the rules.

There are a number of reasons why writers don't follow rules. Sometimes we aren't being rebellious; we're just in a rut. I've done this myself. I'm so used to the standard short story format––one-inch margins all around, identifying information on the front page, the title a third of the way down followed with "by"––if the guidelines say something different, I might read it but not actually take it in.

Then there are the writers who cut their teeth on print and can't force themselves, for love or money, to block and single-space paragraphs or leave only one space after a period. It just isn't done.

The biggest mistake, though, is equating flouting the rules with flouting convention. There's a difference. If you want to try on a new experimental style, that's fine, but it better be sent in the body of an email if that's what the guidelines say, otherwise your great work will be savaged by the delete button.

Now, more than ever before, it is extremely important for writers to read and follow the rules and guidelines. Every contest, journal, and even content site, has way more people wanting to write for them than they need, and overworked editors relish any excuse to toss something aside without even reading the first line. Save the cleverness for your content; when it comes to formatting, follow the rules.

1 comment:

Kathryn Magendie said...
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