The short answer to that question is: because if you don’t, the publisher or agent will reject your submission.
It’s a harsh reality, but the truth of the matter is that anyone going through a slush pile latches on to whatever they can find wrong. The sooner they can reject a submission, the sooner they can get on to the next one, which might be the one they love. And heaven forbid if you hit that person on a bad day; then, you’re even more likely to get rejected for not following the guidelines.
You have maybe three seconds to make a first impression, and if the conclusion is that you’re not the kind of person who does due diligence on your submission, then why would the publisher assume that your manuscript is any less sloppy?
Many agents, editors, and publishers make no secret of the fact that, if your submission email doesn’t have the requested information in the subject line, they’ll reject it without looking at your work.
I know how cold-hearted this sounds, but one aspect of being a professional requires you to behave like one and respect the other person’s needs. If they put something in their submission guidelines, they put it there for a reason. They have neither the time nor the inclination to toy with you.
If an agent requests only e-submissions, don’t mail them a package through the post office. If a magazine editor wants the word count in the subject line, put it there.
99.9% of the time, an individual or business that accepts submissions will have a website with a submission guidelines page. That’s where you look. I’ve also seen this sort of page called just “Guidelines” or “Writers Guidelines”.
I’ve seen submission guidelines that request:
- Times New Roman
- no email
- email only
- no headers
- headers, but with only the title of the story
- headers with name, story title, word count, and genre
- italics formatted as underlined
- italics as italics
- no mention of author’s name in the story, only in the letter
- author’s name on every page
- story in the body of the email
- story attached to the email as .RTF, .DOC, or .TXT
- and so on.
It takes extra time to customize each submission to the target’s guidelines, and you may end up with numerous files, each a different version. But, I promise you, it’s worth it.
TIP: In order to keep my files under control, I name my original file with “_orig” at the end. I then copy and edit the new file to match the guidelines, renaming it by removing the “_orig” from the end. This way, I always have the original safe and sound. I can save over the new one as often as I need to. For example:
- Original: godbloom_mccoy_orig.rtf
New version: godbloom_mccoy.rtf