Breaking the Rules: The Novice vs the Pro

break the rulesLast week I blogged about making a good first impression by following the guidelines when we submit our writing.

In spite of this, I know that some of you are going to break the rules.  Why?  Because we are encouraged to be original and unique.  On top of that, we thrive on those stories from writing conferences where someone has made a sale because they flaunted the rules.  Perhaps she sent her work to a closed house.  Or maybe he multiply submitted and concealed this fact from the agents. And then came a BIG SALE.

We all want that sale, so we too decide to break the rules.  Before you do, consider these three things:

  1. Who was the person who broke the rules?  The reality is that there are rules for well-published professionals and another set for untried beginners.  The guidelines may say submit a proposal, 3 chapters and an outline, but a Big Name can get by with an outline.  This worked for them because they have a track record.  If you don’t, follow the rules.
  2. Can breaking this rule waste an editor’s time?  Perhaps you are tempted to multiply submit but hide the fact.  If an editor takes multiple submissions but only if they are informed, then tell them so.  If they take the time to work up some numbers and chat up coworkers only to discover that you have submitted your work elsewhere and you have already agreed to publish elsewhere . . . the editor, and her colleagues, will remember your name and it won’t be in a good way.
  3. Do you have a rock-solid CRAFT reason to break this rule?  We can all name top sellers that break rules or, at the very least, sidestep publishing conventions.  Remember way back when publishers didn’t want long middle grade novels?  This, of course, was pre-Potter.  If you have a craft reason, carefully consider the ramifications.  If you don’t have a craft reason and just want to e-mail your manuscript because it is easier than snail mailing it, think again.  You may be creative but you still need to be professional.

Rules can be broken but only if you have the story that demands it and professional rank to pull it off.