When Your Story Is Written

A Quick Guide to Submitting Manuscripts for Publication

Q.: I've written a short story that I think is pretty good, although it might benefit from a little more work. But I'm so close to it, I can't really judge what it needs. How can I find out?

A.: Let someone read it who will give you thoughtful, honest, and supportive criticism. All three elements are vital. You want a reader who is willing to point out both flaws and virtues and who is discerning enough to be able to explain why she feels an element in your story does or doesn't work, and in the latter case, to suggest how it might be remedied. Moreover, you want someone who can do this in a way that doesn't dishearten you but encourages you to keep writing.

If your best friend or significant other fills this bill, that's great; but frequently this isn't the case. Someone who's close to you may find it hard to be objective. A better choice might be another writer or a group of your fellow scribes.

Q.: Sounds good. But where do I find other writers?

A.: Here are some suggestions:

• Attend a writers' conference. One-day, weekend, and longer conferences for writers abound. They are sponsored by colleges, bookstores, and writers' organizations. Not only do they provide an enjoyable opportunity to focus intensely on your writing, many of them invite you to submit a story manuscript for evaluation by one ofthe participating faculty.

• Enroll in a fiction writing workshop. Check out possibil ities offered by community colleges, adult education programs, universityextensionprograms, cityrecreationdepart-ments, and local bookstores. Some workshops are open to both adults and teens. Find out about the format of the classor workshopyouare considering. Lookforonein which students are encouraged to read their works in progress to the group to obtain feedback from otherparticipants.

• Go on-line. The Internet offers a wealth ofpossibilities for communicating and sharing work with other writers.

• Join a writers' organization. A number of national orga nizations existto help writers, andsome ofthem have active local chapters that welcome new members.

• Form your own critique group. Gather four to six writers who will commit to meeting once or twice a month to read and comment on each other's work. Where do you find them? Through the connections you make at conferences, workshops,andorganizationalmeetings.

Workshopsandcritiqu.egrou.psareparticu.larlyvalu.able for fourreasons:

1. You will enjoy the fellowship and support of others who understand from experience the struggles and joys of writing.

2. You will receive valuable feedback on your work. Listen to everyone's opinion, but remember, it's your story. Half the comments you get may be off the mark, and you 're free to ignore them. The other fifty percent may prove invaluable.

3. You will learn to identify strengths and weaknesses in other people's stories, and to bring thatnewly honed criticalsharp-ness to your own work.

4. You'll have an incentive to sit down and write. You won't want to show up at too many meetings without having a few fresh pages in hand.

Q.: How can I tell when my story is as good as I can make it?

A.: That's something only you can decide. Chances are it will never be perfect, and that's fine, because there is no such thing as perfect in literature. If you cling to your story too closely, if you rework it too often, you can rob it of its freshness and vitality.

If you've done your best with the story, have someone read it whose judgment you value and trust. Then decide if it will benefit substantially from more of your time and attention. Chances are good that at this point it's time to send this story out into the world to seek its fortune, and to turn your energy to writing a new one.

Q.: How do I decide where to send my story?

A.: By doing some market research. There are two principal types of markets for short stories—magazines and anthologies. Although magazines print fewer short stones than they used to, they still provide the most plentiful opportunities for publication, especially the literary journals and those devoted to specific genres such as mystery, horror, or science fiction. Most anthologies reprint stories that have appeared previously in magazines or solicit contributions from authors known to the editors, but some accept submissions of original stories from new writers.

To seek out the markets most likely to be receptive to your work, check your library or bookstore for magazines that publish similar types of stories. Several periodicals for writers, such as Writer's Digest, The Writer, Poets & Writers, and the offbeat Gila Queen's Guide to Markets, regularly include market listings for magazines and anthologies. Writer's Digest Books publishes an annual directory called Writer's Market as well as the biannual Fiction Writer's Market. (Their addresses are listed at the end of this section.)

When you have identified several prospective markets, send for copies of their writers' guidelines. Most publications will provide them gladly if you include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. For a small cost, you can obtain sample copies. It's a good idea to read an issue or two to make sure your story and the publication are a good fit. Editors are not impressed when they receive stories that, no matter how beautifully written, are completely unsuitable for their magazines.

Q.: I've found a market that seems like just the right home for my story. How do I go about submitting it?

A.: First, make sure your presentation is polished and professional. Follow the guidelines in Appendix C, How to Format Your Manuscript. Double-check it one more time to make sure that all the spelling is correct and no typographical errors have crept in.

Some editors like you to include a cover letter; others don't think it is important. The writers' guidelines or market listings usually indicate the magazine's preference. If you decide to include a letter, make it brief and businesslike. Say that you are submitting your story, titled "Story Name, " for the editor's consideration and express thanks for his or her time and attention. If you have some relevant publishing credits, mention them. If you don't, then don't bring the matter up. Leave out any comments about the quality of the prose, the reasons why the editor should buy the story, or your trials and tribulations as a writer. Let the story speak for itself.

Mail your manuscript flat in a nine- by twelve-inch envelope, and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the editor's reply. Make sure the postage you provide is sufficient for the manuscript's return in the event that the editor is not sensible enough to buy it. You can also tell the editor that it's not necessary to return the manuscript and simply include an envelope with a first-class stamp for a letter reply.

Q.: How long should I wait for a reply?

A.: The publication's writers' guidelines often indicate the typical turnaround time. If they don't, give the editor at least a couple of months. Many smaller journals are run by small staffs who have a huge number of submissions to deal with. If three months go by without a response, gently nudge the editor with a polite phone call or note.

Q.: Can I submit my story to more than one market at a time?

A.: Traditionally, simultaneous submissions were frowned upon. Now fewer journals object, but most prefer to be told that you are not giving them an exclusive look at your story.

Q.: What about copyright and other rights?

A.: Most magazines are copyrighted, and your copyright is in force under theirs. Usually what you are selling to a magazine is the first American serial tights—that is, the journal has the right to publish the story one time, and to be the first periodical in the United States to do so. The rights for any subsequent publication—in a book, for example—remain yours. Occasionally an editor will ask to purchase all rights to your short story. It is in your best interest to say no and hold on to your rights, even if it means forfeiting an opportunity to be published.

Some writers like to specify on the manuscript what rights they are offering. Ifyou want to include this information, place it in the upper right corner of the first page, above the word count.

Q.: Suppose my story is accepted. What can I expect to be paid?

A.: In that happy event, call all your friends and celebrate. It's truly a moment to savor.

Don't expect to be become rich, though. Although a few markets pay well, many prestigious journals operate on tight budgets and can only offer a few pennies or even a fraction of a cent per word. Some provide payment in the form of free copies of the magazine.

Q.: What happens if my story is turned down?

A.: Welcome to the club. Rejection happens sooner or later to every writer. I was once greatly cheered to read in a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald that this acclaimed author collected nearly three hundred rejection slips before he sold a story.

Many writers set publication as their ultimate goal. Being published, they believe, is the stamp of success—an acknowledgement of their story's excellence and a validation of their worth as writers. Certainly it is exciting and gratifying to see your name in print.

But the fact is, the short story market is tight. Many highly accomplished stories are turned down. A rejection is not a comment on your talent or on the merits of your work. It simply means that one editor, for one publication, on one particular day, chose not to buy your story. Possibly the editor bought a similar story the previous week. Perhaps the magazine was overstocked; most receive hundreds more submissions than they can possibly print.

Your next step is to put your story into a fresh envelope and send it to the next market on your list. Then get busy writing your next story.

The key to getting published is to persevere. It has been said that if you must choose between talent and persistence, you should pick persistence. A talented writer who gives up won't succeed. A less-gifted one who perseveres probably will. So write. Write some more. Keep on writing. Put your stories in the mail instead of in your desk drawer, and look forward to the day when you receive a letter from an editor that begins, "We are pleased to inform you "


Writer's Digest and Writer's Digest Books, 1507 Dana Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45207

The Writer, 120 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116

Poets & Writers, 72 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012

The Gila Queen's Guide to Markets, PO Box 97, Newton, NJ 07860

J. Q. Author 123 Literary Street Storyville, CA 94199 (212) 555-6789

About 500 words


These instructions show how editors and publishers expect your manuscript to look when you submit a short story for publication.

Center the title about halfway down the page. Beneath it, center your byline, either your real name or a pseudonym, as you want it to appear when published. Your real name goes in the upper left corner, along with your contact information. Put an approximate word count in the upper right corner.

Always type or word process your story. The word "manuscript" comes from the Latin manu (hand) and scriptus (written), but handwritten manuscripts are unacceptable. So are fancy fonts with ruffles and flourishes. Straightforward serif fonts, like this one or this one are the most reader friendly. Serifs are the little feet at the tops and bottoms of the letters. This font is sans serif—sans is French for without.

Use standard white paper, 8 1/2 x 11 inches, typing on only one side of the page. Twenty-pound bond is fine; that's the paper typically used in laser printers and photocopiers. Make the type black, crisp, and clear; in other words, clean the keys if you're using a typewriter, and avoid dot matrix mode on computer printers.

Double space the text. Indent the paragraphs one-half inch, and don't skip a space between paragraphs. In their writers' guidelines, publishers often ask writers not to justify the text (making all the lines exactly the same length) but to leave the right margin ragged, as shown here. On some printers, justified margins result in awkward word or letter spacing that can make the manuscript hard to read.

Speaking of margins, leave at least a one-inch margin all around.

On the second and subsequent pages, put a slug line at the top with your name, key words from the title, and the page number, as shown above.

When you reach the end of your story, say so as shown below. That way the editor can be sure there are no pages missing.

Before you send out your manuscript, double check it. Is all the spelling and grammar correct? Have any words or sentences been scrambled or dropped? Don't trust your spellchecker to do the job for you; it'll let the sentence Male thee Czech two hymn slide through just fine.

It's SOP (standard operating procedure) to enclose an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) for the editor's reply. Good luck!

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