Thursday, September 29, 2022

OTHER Valuable Reasons for Following Writing and Publishing Rules

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

Any of you who know me are well aware of the fact that I’m a rule follower. But what may surprise you is the fact that following rules isn’t my natural inclination. At heart I’m a rebel and proud of it. But I learned—often times the hard way—that there is also great value being a rule follower. 

I need to confess that in my early days as a writer my rebel nature led me to make some serious mistakes. I really thought I knew best and believed that the rules were for other people. I’m not sharing this because I’m proud of that attitude. I’m sharing because I want others to learn from my mistakes. 

Many of you have heard me say—and write in blog posts—the importance of NOT approaching a writing career like you’re always the exception. I harp on this because that was EXACTLY how began my career as a writer. And that attitude set me back years when it came to my publishing career.

What does that have to do with rule-following? Arbitrarily deciding not to follow rules and guidelines are part of the way I rebelled early in my career. I cherry-picked the ones I thought—in my limited experience—were important to follow. And I often picked the wrong ones to ignore.

The Obvious Reason to Follow Writing rules

There is one obvious reason to follow the writing rules and publishing guidelines. So let’s get that out of the way before I share the other reasons it’s a good idea to follow rules.

1. Writing rules—from grammar to submission guidelines—are put in place because they work and make life easier. People in publishing don’t sit around thinking up rules to make the writing life harder. We are all overworked—especially those who are editors and agents. 

Other Reasons to Following Writing & Publishing Rules

1. It proves you know HOW to follow directions. Agents and editors like to work with authors who are easy—who don’t need extra tutoring in the basics. One of those basics is how to follow directions. Truthfully you’d be amazed at the number of writers who either don’t know how to follow directions or just don’t bother. In case you’re not sure what I mean, here are the basics of how to follow directions.
  • Read ALL the directions before you begin
  • Apply the directions step-by-step
  • Go back and verify you’ve completed all the directions

2. Following directions proves you WILL follow the guidelines given. Many people know how to follow directions, they just don’t bother to do it because they’re busy or don’t think a specific guideline is important. Again, industry professionals want to work with people who are professional and easy to work with. Always having to remind an author of what to do and why gets old and takes time—and time is something most of us don’t have enough of already.

3. Following the rules will affect future opportunities. Again, industry professionals want to work with people who make life easier—not more difficult. If author A doesn’t follow directions well and has to be closely monitored and author B does follow directions. Author B is going to get more referrals and more opportunities than author A.

But what about rules in related areas of publishing? Like writing contests or queries?

I direct the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and we run several contests. Each of those contests has an in-depth set of rules for entry and eligibility. It might seem that a writer can relax and not follow those rules as strictly as when they’re submitting something for publishing consideration, right?

Absolutely not!

We have all those rules for two reasons
  1. The most important reason is that the rules and guidelines make the contests fair and help them run smoothly
  2. But we also include rules to help writers learn how to follow directions.

What you may not know is that our conference leadership—as well as others—are often asked to refer writers and part of what we base referrals on is a writer’s ability to follow directions and whether they’re easy to work with or not. 

Bottom Line
Whether or not we follow directions tells those we're working with something about our personalities, our work ethic and how we view the world around us. Sometimes rule-breaking is a good thing. But I've found—more often than not—that it does more harm than good.

Now it's your turn, what are your thoughts on following—or not following—rules?

Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. No matter whether she’s talking to writers, entrepreneurs, or readers, her first advice is always “Find your voice, live your story.” As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. Connect with her on her website, through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Featured Image: Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash


  1. Great post, Edie. The willingness to submit to authority is highly valued by our Father in Heaven; we can tell by the great blessings that abound to Biblical figures who did so -- even their fatal flaw dids not keep them from God's mercy when they were willing to repent and come back under His direction!
    ....its a process though...! lol : )

    1. Great insight! Thanks so much for sharing! Blessings, E

  2. Excellent advice, Edie, especially for new authors. We all want to believe ourselves to be that "exception," but it's the wise writer who submits to those who have more experience. I heard a good writing teacher say, "After you've sold a gazillion books, you can start breaking the rules."

  3. Proving you can follow directions will show character and work ethic. Great post!

  4. Following directions reduces stress.

    1. Tom, you are so right! Thanks for adding your thoughts, Blessings, e