Thursday, May 10, 2012
WRITERS, BEWARE THOSE RULES
My local writers’ group has just sponsored a short story contest. As my postal address was used to receive the entries, I quickly checked each one to make sure the entry form was filled in correctly, the fee paid, the story complied with the word length and the name of the author was not on the manuscript. These and others requirements were all clearly stated in the contest rules.
There have been numerous times over the years I have been one of the judges for various writing contests. Those manuscripts I received had already been through the hands of coordinators. Any entries that had not obeyed the contest rules had already been disqualified so I never did see any of those. However, I have heard far too many stories of why entries have had to be disqualified. If the rule says to send only the first fifty pages of a novel in a certain size and type of font, it means exactly that. A one-page synopsis means exactly one page. Some do not understand that a synopsis is far more than a back cover blurb.
A few days ago those of us on our short story contest committee met. We were to commence reading entries to start the process of selecting the best ten to forward to the final judge. I had to report and show that several entries were well under the word limit. We briefly discussed whether they should be disqualified. Judges find it difficult enough to choose winners from stories that vary in length from 1500 to 2000 words. Despite the fact some of those entries may have been excellent short stories, in fairness to all the other entrants sadly we agreed they had to be disqualified.
This made me understand even more why some manuscripts are rejected by editors and agents. Some writers simply do not study the “Rules” stated as “submission guidelines” or if they do, hope “just this once” it would be over-looked.
For example, if a submission guideline for a particular line or genre book has a word limit, what must an editor think when the manuscript is many hundreds of words over or under it? If an agent or editor states they do not accept a particular type of book, e.g. poetry, children, romance, I wonder how many writers think they may be the “exception” to that request – or “rule”? I cannot help but wonder if this is at least one reason so many publishers these days state they will only accept submissions through an agent who can "disqualify" a manuscript. Of course, each agent must also know a publisher’s submission guidelines, what kind of books the publisher specifically states has no interest in even considering.
And briefly back to those other “Rules” I mentioned before. We do all know there are indeed basic rules of grammar, punctuation, spelling (although these even vary between different countries!). Unfortunately at times some try to make suggestions how to make manuscripts stronger a rule for all fiction. It is generally agreed that we must know “the rules” to know just how to be able to break them when necessary to try and make our stories shine. Certainly very experienced, multi-published authors may be able to break some “rules” successfully but I would issue a warning to beginner writers here.
I thoroughly agree with Brandilyn Collins who simply declares, “Story rules!” And her stories do certainly shine!