Dont Prejudice Your Editor

It stands to reason that you want to get your editor to read your story. Therefore, it's obvious that you want to present her with as attractive a package as possible. How do you accomplish this? By following standard literary manuscript form.

Put your story in the proper manuscript form, and you won't prejudice the editor at the outset.

Entire books have been written on manuscript form. You probably know as much about the subject as I do. However, just to be sure you don't make a ghastly mistake when you send something off, here are a few general observations.

1. Everything must be typed. The word "typed" also includes computer printouts assuming the print is letter quality. Many older nine-pin dot matrix printers will not fill the bill. If you can see dots in the letters, it isn't good enough. If the print is anything but bold and black and clean, it isn't good enough.

2. Use good quality -white paper- at least 14-pound weight. Don't go beyond 20-pound weight; it's too thick and heavy. It doesn't have to be expensive bond. Editors these days are pretty used to getting manuscripts on photocopy machine-type paper, which usually works best with laser printers. Onion skin and coarse papers, however, remain unacceptable.

3. Type on one side only, double-spaced. This means normal double-spacing. Some machines put "double-spaced lines" almost on top of each other, and others put a vertical space in there that you could drive a truck through. Just because your printer calls it double-space doesn't necessarily mean it fits the standard set long ago on old manual and electronic machines. "Vacation portable double-space" is always too narrow. (And by the way, for heaven's sake don't stick extra spaces in between paragraphs, which drives editors nuts. )

4. Use a standard typeface. Pica or similar size. No funny typefaces.

5. Use standard margins. That means margins of one inch top, right and bottom, and inch and a half on the left. You may narrow the left margin a shade and increase the others a hair or two. Don't deviate widely from the norm because (on the practical side) editors estimate words from standard page dimensions, and (on the emotional side) editors get mad when somebody sends them something that doesn't fit the accepted norm. (Most editors say they want ragged-right margins, not printer-justified ones. I think this is damned picky, but the editors say it is harder to estimate the size of the finished book if the manuscript is justified on the right. )

6. Put your name and address on the first page, near the top left if it's a short story and your copy is to be titled halfway down, and the story starts two-thirds of the way down. With a novel, a cover sheet with the title and your name and address is standard practice.

7. Put your last name and a sequential page number top right on every page. Some people use a word of the title rather than author name. I don't know why; the author name seems simpler. Number the pages straight through, beginning to end. Do not start each chapter with another page one, for example.

8. At the end of 'the story, write The End. Otherwise the editor might (no matter how wonderful your ending) start looking for another page. That's always bad. Give her a break; tell her when it's over.

Manuscripts of fewer than a dozen pages may be tri-folded and mailed in a regular envelope, if you insist. I personally think all manuscripts should be mailed flat, paper clipped (not stapled, glued or nailed) if a few pages, otherwise loose in a manuscript (stationery) box.

Covering letter? Sure, but keep it very brief. If you have some special expertise that makes you extraordinarily qualified to write this story, mention it. Otherwise just say in essence, "Here it is, hope you like it, I've enclosed an SASE (or postage) in case you don't. "

If you're trying to hit a major market, it's a good idea to query first. A brief letter, saying who you are and what you want to submit, will suffice. Not only might this open the editor's door a tiny crack later, but no response to your query means "no"-which could save months when your unsolicited manuscript otherwise might languish on the floor beside the editor's desk with all the other unsolicited material.

Second, always keep a complete copy. If you're on a computer, duplicate your disks and keep a backup set somewhere else: your workday job office, if you have such a salaried job, in a bank box, or at a friend's home. Never assume a hard disk won't crash... or that the house or office might not burn down. Better to be redundant than sorry.

And finally, how long will an editor take to respond to your carefully prepared manuscript? Far too long, in most cases. Sad to say, you probably shouldn't even begin to worry until three or four months have passed. After that, a polite letter of inquiry might be in order. But do keep it polite. Editors may be rude, but they expect writers to be not only polite, but downright obsequious. If you write an angry letter after four months, demanding an immediate decision, or else(!), the letter may arrive just on the day the manuscript came back from its third outside reading with a "maybe" vote on acceptance for publication; now the editor is trying to decide whether to buy it or not. Guess what's going to happen if you prejudice her at that point!

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