Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Writer and the Literary Press: The Prepared Manuscript

More than 30 years ago, I learned to type. I learned on a massive IBM Selectric. The Selectric typewriter was an unbelievable machine. It's size was impressive, if nothing else. It hummed. I liked the humming. It grew hot to the touch, and at times it was almost untouchably hot. It was a Gatling gun for my thoughts. However, in 1986 in Mr Archer's typing class, my thoughts were not more advanced than the exercises and typing drills presented to me. All said, I type nearly every day and I still use the things I learned in the 8th grade typing class.

Sure, I have my own ideas about how a manuscript should look. I have that 20th century sensibility. I like wide margins. I am a lover of Courier. I know that certain fonts will have certain affects. I mean, if you want all characters to have the same value, use Courier. However, your manuscript may not be taken seriously by an editor, especially one who has never seen an IBM Selectric if you use weird fonts. As for me, as an editor, I prefer Times New Roman 12 point font. I think it's pretty much the standard anyway, or at least the default. If you want varying fonts, get into design.

As an editor, I have preferences for sure. As far as a fiction submission goes, I have rules. Yes, I like Times New Roman 12 point font. I like one inch margins. I like things that are double spaced. Simple page numbers are nice. That pretty much sums up what I need. Manuscripts that lack these things, sadly, I probably won't read. To sum it up: keep the page clean.

There are other things that writers will send to me that I find puzzling. I'll get word counts and contact information on the top of the manuscript. There are editors who want this, and there are many who do not. Too much information at the top of the manuscript may result in a rejection because many magazines read on a blind or unbiased basis. And many magazines, like mine, use a submission manager which makes the addition of such information redundant anyway. Some writers will even include a “© Joe Writer” or “Copyrighted Joe Writer” and this is beyond puzzling, it's the mark of an amateur. Extraneous information does nothing more than detract from the manuscript itself. Keep the manuscript clean unless the guidelines for a certain magazine or editor call for something specific.

Recently, I participated in an interview with Duotrope. One of the questions asked: “How much of a submission do you read?” Wonderful question. I read to the third error, typo or annoyance. I figure that's two more than a reader would tolerate. I think a certain level of errors happens with every manuscript. I mean, there are probably a dozen in this post alone. But to ask for an editor's time, it's best to set a well written manuscript free of errors and properly formatted down for consideration.

These last few months I have sent a good number of manuscripts to a good number of magazines. When I open one of my files the first thing I do, before reading a single word, is to format it. I check the margins, the spacing, the justification, the font and the font size. I then make sure that there is one space between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next. I grew up with typewriters and I will still hit the space bar twice between sentence. After I know the story is properly formatted, then I begin the editing process. My goal is this: a well written story and a properly prepared manuscript.

Make it easy on an editor. Yes, you should do your research and know that your story and that magazine are a match made in heaven. Yes, you should ensure that your story is free of errors in grammar, formatting and spelling. Please, for all that is best for everyone and everything involved, make sure your manuscript is properly formatted.

Next time: Ready Set Submit! (Cover letter, Bio, housekeeping) and The Reject/Accept

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