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I was doing some research for myself and I thought I’d share this little tidbit I ran into online. Enjoy! 

You’ve finished the manuscript to a short story, article, novel, memoir or work of non-fiction and now you want to submit it. But before you send out that manuscript, make certain everything is in order. The quickest way to sink your chances of getting your story accepted by a publishing house or a magazine is by sending in work that reveals your unprofessionalism. Everything from typos to wrong format settings or addressing your manuscript to the wrong contact can undermine even the best work. Make certain that everything is in perfect order before sending out that manuscript. Here’s a few things to bear in mind before you send your manuscript out in the mail:

Research

Did you do your research? Is the publication you’re submitting your manuscript to the best one for your work? One piece of advice editors always offer to writers is to research the magazine itself to determine whether or not the piece will fit their needs. Check the submissions guidelines at the publication’s site or in Writer’s Market. Does the magazine accept or not accept genre writing-science fiction, romance, crime, etc.? Does it accept literary essays or only creative non-fiction? What is the word limit for submissions? Does your work exceed or fit within those limits? How about style? Some magazines like straight-forward, conventional writing; others prefer the experimental or dark. Read past issues of the publication you’re submitting your work to and determine whether it fits the editors needs.

The same is also true for publishing houses. Some houses only publish non-fiction work, how-to manuals or technical books. Others will only accept work that is submitted by agents. While some will insist that you query first. Even publishing houses that accept a wide array of manuscripts will still have a very particular eye for what their needs are. Again, check their guidelines to determine whether your manuscript fits for said publishing house or not. If you think your particular style or genre in which you’re writing is similar to another published writer, checked to see where his previous books were published. That will give you a clue as to the best places to submit your work. But, ultimately, with publishing houses, the best way to get your foot through the door is through an agent. Determine what your particular needs are before submitting your work. If an agent is warranted, research the best literary agent for you. But bear in mind, it’s a lot tougher to find an agent, much less a good one, than it is to submit your work unagented. Again, determine what works best for you and for your manuscript and do your homework.

Proofreading

Once you’ve narrowed down where you want to submit your work to, determine whether your manuscript is in the best shape to be submitted. Have you thoroughly proofread your work? Is it free of typos, misspellings, grammatical errors? Go over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb to make sure you’ve eliminated any errors. Proofreading is always a tricky job, especially when you’re proofreading your own work. Have someone else you know-a spouse, friend, sibling-to glance over your work. There are also professional services that will proofread your work for you. Proofreading services can be found in any classifieds, including Craig’s List. While a manuscript that is free of typographical or grammatical errors doesn’t guarantee it will be accepted, a manuscript filled with errors will sink it without a doubt. So always make certain that it is in top shape before sending that manuscript out to a publisher or editor.

Format

Is the format for your manuscript correct? Does it satisfy the formatting requisites of the publisher or editor? Generally, most publishers and editors prefer a 12 point font in New Times Roman or New Courier. A big mistake for any writer is to use different fonts or larger sized fonts to make their manuscripts look fancy or elegant. What they do instead is make their work look unprofessional. Before sending out your manuscript, check the submissions guidelines of the publishing house or magazine you are submitting your work to make sure what type of format they prefer. If you’re sending your manuscript through electronic submission, again check with the guidelines. Some publishers or editors prefer that you cut and paste your work in the body of an e-mail while others prefer attachments. If the editor prefers attachments, learn what type of file they prefer. There are varying types of files-Word documents, rtf files, text edit-so make certain that you submit your work in a format that is readable for said publisher or editor.

SASE

What is an SASE? Quite simply, it is an acronym for self-addressed stamped envelope. Most publishers or editors insist that work be submitted with an enclosed SASE. Why? This allows the publisher or editor to return your work without spending extra money on envelopes and stamps. This is pertinent especially with literary or “little” magazines, many of whom are not-for-profit and cannot afford to spend the extra money to return your work if they reject it. Without an SASE, editors will likely toss your manuscript. Since you can’t afford to spend the extra money on making another copy of your manuscript to submit to another magazine, either, include an SASE with each submission. Besides, it shows that you are a professional and take the business of being a writer seriously.

Cover Letter/Query Letter

Always include a cover letter with your submission. If you are submitting to a journalistic magazine or publishing house, it’s best to fire off that query letter before you submit your manuscript, especially for a non-fiction work. Some publishing houses might have a glut of manuscripts already published that is similar to your own and might not be interested in publishing more. Therefore, sending a query saves time and money for both you and the editor. Read the guidelines to determine what type of work needs to be queried first before submitting the manuscript. A simple cover letter can be enclosed along with the manuscript of your short piece. It’s best to keep cover letters short and simple: editors want to read your work, not your cover letter. But make certain that you include all the pertinent information about yourself and the piece you are submitting. Is the address listed in the cover letter correct? Did you address the letter to the correct person? Most editors of magazines aren’t in charge of reading submissions. Some magazines will even have departments-fiction, poetry, non-fiction, etc. Make certain you’re sending the letter to the right department or associate editor’s slush pile before submitting.

Another issue about cover letters is whether or not to list credits. If you have extensive credits, then list where your work has been published before. If not, it’s best not to state anything at all on the subject. Some publishing houses or literary magazines are always on the look out for new or emerging writers. If your work is good enough and fits their needs, it will get noticed.

Records

Once you’ve followed these guidelines and submitted your work in the mail, keep a record of when you submitted your manuscript, when it was accepted or rejected. You’ll be able to know how long your long your manuscript has been in circulation and whether or not you should contact the publication or send your manuscript elsewhere. You’ll also be able to keep straight of all the different places you submitted your work and avoid the risk of sending it out to the same place. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with resubmitting your manuscript, especially after you’ve made appropriate editing choices to make it more acceptable to the editor. But some magazines might have restrictions on how many times a writer can submit a piece of work within a given time. Again, check the guidelines to make certain what type of submission restrictions an editor might have. It doesn’t hurt to know who you’re dealing with to avoid making bad and unprofessional contacts. Also, pay close attention to whether or not the publication you’re submitting your work to has specific reading periods. Some magazines, especially university literary magazines, will only read manuscripts during certain times of the year. Don’t make the mistake of submitting your work when the publication isn’t reading submissions. It’ll only get lost on the slush pile or returned summarily without having been read.

Etiquette

As with any business, having proper etiquette goes a long way in building a strong reputation with publishers or editors. Once you’ve submitted your work, there will inevitably be a lead time before you will hear from an editor or publisher. Sometimes this can be as short as two weeks (especially if you’re submitting electronically) or as long as six months. Magazines, particularly literary magazines, are often cash strapped and can’t afford a lot of readers to read manuscripts. That means the slush pile can back up for months before your work ever reaches the hands of the first reader. So sending out manuscripts requires a great deal of patience. If an agreed upon amount of time has passed and the editor or publisher permits it, you may send out a letter to inquire about the status of your manuscript. Generally, it’s best not to call the publication you’ve submitted your manuscript. While some publications might allow it, calling is considered unprofessional, especially since the editor or associate editor you’ll most likely speak to might know nothing about your submission (most manuscripts go through a hierarchy of readers before they ever reach the department editor’s desk). Send a brief and polite note inquiring about the submission instead.

Another rule of law regarding submissions is whether or not the publication accepts simultaneous submissions. Again, determine what their policy on this issue is in the submissions guidelines. Some publications absolutely forbid it, while others will accept it. It depends on the magazine or publisher. Some magazines have very rigid publishing schedules and would like to know that the rights to the story they’ve accepted is available. If the publication has First Rights or Exclusive Rights then simultaneous submissions will most likely be off the table. Other magazines are generally lax about this policy. Editors understand the time and financial issues writers put into their work and will try to make accomodations. Make certain that you alert to the editor in your cover letter that you submitted the piece elsewhere. Even if it is allowed, most editors don’t want to be caught off-guard. Again, you will not know for certain what the policy of the magazine or publisher is until you check with their submissions guidelines.

Professionalism is a necessary component to becoming a published writer. Writing, like anything else, is a profession and editors and publishers will only want to work with writers who know their business as well as their craft. By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to project a professional demeanor when you submit your work and maximize your chances of seeing your name in print.

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