From a writer's standpoint, submission guidelines seem to be specifically designed to frustrate the writer. When we should be spending time writing, we find ourselves spending more time customizing our submissions for each individual market. We can easily lose ourselves for several hours... only to realize that we've only prepared two or three submissions. It would certainly make matters easier if everyone had universal guidelines.
From an agent's or editor's standpoint, submission guidelines are there to not only make their lives less hectic when they find a story they like (such as formatting, which is a tedious task indeed), individualized submission guidelines also weed out the "quick fame" writers from the serious writers. When submission guidelines are followed to the letter, it shows the agent or editor that the writer cares about their work, knows how to follow written instructions (which can help in the editing process), and respects the agent or editor he's sent it to.
Both sides of the coin have ups and downs. But the reality is that writers really have no choice in the matter. If you don't follow submission guidelines, then you have very little to no chance of having your work (whatever kind of work it may be) accepted. How can you ensure that you follow guidelines precisely?
- Focus on one market at a time - Once you've narrowed down the markets and made a list of who you'd like to submit to, then zero in on one market at a time to submit. Don't just make copies of your query or story, start sticking them in envelopes or emailing them out en masse.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help - If you're wondering about a particular section of the submission guidelines, someone else is probably wondering about it to. Join a helpful forum like Accentuate Writers Forum or the Absolute Write Water Cooler.
- Pay attention to details. Take the submission guidelines one step at a time and go over them like a checklist to make sure you have followed every detail.