Q: If a publisher’s guidelines says to address all submissions to a general
submissions editor (e.g., acquisitions editor or something similar) versus a specific person, is it acceptable to “break those rules” if I learn about an editor there who has preferences for the kind of work I write?
A: Almost all houses have submissions guidelines that are generic or say to send something to SUBMISSIONS EDITOR, or something like that. So to answer your question, you are “technically” breaking a rule, but almost all houses won’t penalize you for it if you’ve shown care has gone into who you’ve picked to send your submission to. And even if you target the submission to an editor who is not interested, then the worst case scenario is they reject you, pass it on to someone else who might be interested if it’s good enough, or just hand it over to their submissions editor. Most publishing houses don’t have the time to remember who you were and blacklist you permanently simply because you tried to get your story to the right person.
In other words, don’t overthink this too much. If you know something about an editor at a house and think you have a good reason to put his or her name on your submission, you are only being a good, educated writer. You should include that reason in your cover or query letter. See my articles for examples on how to lead-in with your reason in your letters.
What you don’t want to do is blindly send a manuscript to a specific editor simply because you want to put a name on the envelope. Have a reason. Don’t have a reason? Then follow the generic guidelines the house provides.
The majority of well-educated writers target their submissions if they can, regardless of guidelines that request the writer to do otherwise.