How to Work With Submission Guidelines

Want to see your name bylined in a big publication? You’ll need to play by their rules. Here’s how.

Publishers go to great lengths to establish a certain style. Why? It gives readers a consistent experience with their brand. While writers’ viewpoints or writing styles may differ, some elements will be consistent throughout all articles to present a cohesive, unified brand. To this end, most publications have submission guidelines to help writers pitch and write the right stories in the right way.

Common items found in submission guidelines are:

  • Word count
  • Deadlines 
  • Desirable topics 
  • Taboo topics (e.g., shameless self-promotion, brand names, politics)
  • Artwork requirements
  • Style guidelines (e.g., Chicago Manual of Style, AP Style)
  • Instructions for author bio and headshot
  • Necessary contact information
  • Exclusivity (Some publications want the sole right for publishing original articles. Others may allow you to publish elsewhere after a specific amount of time.)


Where can I find a publication’s submission guidelines?

Fortunately, these aren’t mysterious. If you do a search for “[magazine name] submission guidelines”, you’ll likely find a web page outlining all of the publication’s requirements. Find a few links to submission guidelines to get a taste of publisher requirements. Scan through to understand the specificity offered within each one.  


PRO TIP: If you publish frequently in specific outlets, compile a document that outlines all their submission guidelines. 


What’s your angle?

When preparing your submission, think past the topic. Why does this topic matter? And why now? 

HealthIT Outcomes offers the following stellar advice within their submission guidelines:

  • “Discuss the significance of a hot topic, trend, or development within the industry — one that is generating a lot of excitement, concern, and/or confusion.
  • Point to an emerging topic or issue that hasn’t yet garnered much attention or had much impact. Make a case for why readers should pay early attention to it and possibly start preparing for its eventual impact.
  • Identify a familiar need, challenge, or pain point commonly expressed by readers. Offer suggestions/options (best practices) for addressing it.”


The editors offered up this set of questions to guide writers in creating successful pitches:

  • “Why is this story relevant to Health readers right now? 
  • Where is it most likely to perform? (ex: social media, Google search) 
  • Does Health already have a piece on the topic? (Easy way to figure this out: type [INSERT TOPIC] and see what pops up in Google)
  • What’s the Health angle on the topic? 
  • What service will it provide the reader? 
  • What’s the potential headline/s? 
  • What sources does the writer intend to include?”



Understanding editorial calendars

How do you get to “yes” with an editor? Pitch the right story at the right time. Many publications use editorial calendars to map out their overarching content strategy each year. This is important information to get your fingers on because articles that tie in with their upcoming theme are much more likely to pique the interest of an editor. 

A sample editorial calendar

Here’s how Medical News organized their editorial themes in 2020. At a quick glance, it’s easy to see that an article about physical therapy would be best pitched for their February lineup, while an article about the best healthcare Learning Management Software (LMS) might work best in July.

January/February Healthcare Legislation & Social Determinants of Health
February Rehabilitation
March Behavioral Health
April Health IT/Medistar
May Life Science/Pharmaceuticals
June Architecture (Building/Design)
July Education/Workforce Education
August Healthcare Specialties
September Marketing/Brand Building
October Business of Aging
November Leadership Issue
December Legislative Update


Final words on submission guidelines

In my experience, editors are happy to work with a potential writer if their article or pitch shows initiative and competence. But if an article strays too far from basic guidelines (eg. submitting a 3000-word article when the stated limit is 900), busy editors will not respond. 

Before you send in a finished article, double-check if your target publication accepts articles. Oftentimes, editors prefer to see pitches of proposed articles rather than finished articles. Respect an editor’s workflow—and stay off their naughty list—by sending your idea in their preferred format (pitch or draft). 

Finally, don’t fill up an editor’s inbox! This is a big no-no. For example, MedCity offers this sagacity in their submission guidelines: “Please also don’t send updates saying the piece will be ready in a week or two – they simply serve to clog up our inboxes. Just send when you have everything.”

Sought-after publications receive hundreds of submissions daily. If you’re serious about getting published, you’ll need to play by a publication’s rules. It’s the easiest way to get an editor’s nod of approval. 


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