Deciphering Writers' Guidelines

Writers' guidelines can be confusing - and if you don't adhere to them, you run the risk of being ignored by magazine editors.

Magazine writing is quite a bit different than writing for your personal blog, creating sales copy and crafting effective web copy.

Magazines generally have a standard operating procedure when it comes to article submission - and they call it their set of writers' guidelines.

Read them thoroughly for two reasons:
  1. If you can't follow simple instructions, magazine editors don't want to work with you.
  2. Magazine editors have their own way of doing things, and they aren't dying for your article, so following writers' guidelines makes it easier for editors to accept your piece.
What do writers' guidelines include?

Generally, writers' guidelines outline the types (and lengths) of submissions a magazine accepts, payment policies, which rights they purchase and whether they require a query.

Writers' guidelines: types of submissions

Some magazines accept only nonfiction, some only fiction, some a hybrid... you get the picture.  Don't bother sending a poem to a magazine which only accepts nonfiction unless their writers' guidelines specifically express a call for poetry - they won't even read it.

Writers' guidelines: word counts

Most publications will tell you they only accept manuscripts between a set number of words.  This is non-negotiable; magazines and newspapers have limited space, and their requirements are based upon what their readers like and the confines of their layout.

Writers' guidelines: payment policies

Most writers' guidelines state the amount of compensation they'll give an author.  In many cases, magazines pay different amounts for solicited and unsolicited manuscripts (see definition below).  Some pay upon acceptance and some pay upon publication; those magazines paying upon acceptance send you a check when they agree to publish your article, and those paying upon publication won't mail your check until it actually goes to print.

Glossary of terms frequently found in writers' guidelines

Byline: your name attached as author of the article
Unsolicited: an article you didn't ask to write and sent in hoping they'd publish it
Solicited/Assigned: an article you queried the editor about writing and were given the green light to write
mss: manuscripts
SASE: self-addressed, stamped envelope
Clips: copies of your previously published work
Kill fee: when your article is accepted and the publisher changes his mind, a kill fee pays you a portion of the amount you'd have received if it had gone to print

What have you learned about sticking to writers' guidelines?

© Angie Papple Johnston, 2010; if you are reading this anywhere but on or Gather, it's stolen.


"Magazines 2" image courtesy of Lusi at