WRITE: Frequently Made Errors #3–Failure to Follow Directions
“I just don’t understand Microsoft Word. There’s no way I’ll switch from WordPerfect.”
“I’m a beginning writer so I was counting on you (the editor) to mentor me.”
Each of these is a real comment made by a real writer whose manuscript was rejected by a real publication. And yes, rejection’s a common denominator in the writing world. Sooner or later—for most, sooner—every writer experiences it. And if you write for publication, you get used to hearing advice like “Toughen up” or “Develop rhino skin.”
Along with those words of wisdom, though, I’d like to offer another piece of advice: Follow directions. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought, until (early in my professional writing career) an editor complimented me because I adhered to the magazine’s guidelines. “Is that unusual?” I wondered. In a word—yes.
Since that time, I’ve done editing work for more than one publication, so I understand the compliment my editor friend paid me. And I also realize many writers could increase their chances of publication if they heeded my simple advice.
If you’re a Writer WannaBe, please follow directions. Read and follow the guidelines the compilation, journal, magazine, website, etc. provides. Some post these on their websites (watch for a “Write for Us” or “For Writers” section) and others will share them upon request. If you can’t find guidelines, write and ask. Better yet, purchase Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide or subscribe to www.writersmarket.com, the comprehensive Writer’s Digest website for those who seek publication.
Why does following directions matter? First of all, it demonstrates respect for the publication and its editor. You don’t show up at a job interview in rumpled clothes and a bed head. In the same way, you want to present your manuscript at its best. Its appearance should enhance rather than detract from the great writing within. Make your writing easy and attractive so your editor reads far enough to love it.
Second, following directions shows the editor you regard yourself as a professional. Notice I didn’t say you felt as though you were a professional or that you spent all your time writing. But if you intend to write for publication, you must think and act as a professional. Adhering to the guidelines/following directions gives you a great start.
Following directions also prepares you for future opportunities. Because I was used to following writers’ guidelines when I wrote for magazines, I had little trouble following publishers’ guidelines when I moved into the world of nonfiction books. Not a detail person? No matter. If you’re serious about becoming a published writer, you’ll find a way to focus. After all, you do it when you drive. You pay attention to traffic laws and navigate safely from Point A to Point B. If you want to reach Point B in the writing world, you must learn to obey the rules of the road.
Remember the wildly popular All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? As I recall, a large part of kindergarten learning involves following directions. Follow this basic advice, and who knows? A not-so-basic acceptance letter may come your way soon.