Learn the Nitty-Gritty of Presentation
by Gloria T. Delamar
On Manuscript Submission
If you're looking for success, it's not okay to ignore the traditional
format editors want - name, address, phone at top left, and some slug-lines
on subsequent pages (your name, key-phrase from title, and page number)
in case your manuscript gets mixed with another. This can be single-spaced.
The manuscript itself should be double-spaced, with good dark type.
Nor can you take the attitude that spelling and punctuation don't matter
or that "the editor can fix that." Your work won't be read past the first
If you are serious about publishing, why reduce your chances with a
sloppy presentation? If you can master the craft of writing, you can master
the general rules of presentation. That part is linear thinking which should
become automatic. It would be a shame for good work to go to waste for
reasons so easy to avoid.
Maxwell Perkins edited and made sense out of the jumbled, handwritten
pages of Thomas Wolfe. There are no editors like Maxwell Perkins in the
publishing houses today. If Wolfe were just starting out today, he would
have to do his own editing, his own formatting, and his own rearranging
and deleting or remain unpublished. Think what the literary world would
Think about your own work not making it. We have an advantage Wolfe
and our other predecessors didn't have--the computer. In the good old days,
when fingers did the walking over and over on the typewriter keyboards,
the temptation was to simply let it stand as it was. Laura Hobson, author
of "Gentleman's Agreement", said, "...I find that I keep on editing and
rewriting even while I am typing the final, final, final." She depended
upon a typewriter. Count your blessings; get a computer. And if you're
not serious, get that way.
Something about Paper
Some writers invest in heavy quality papers for their manuscripts,
but it's best to stay with the standard 20 lb. white. (So many writers
send photocopies these days, particularly with longer manuscripts, that
it makes little sense, anyway, to have the ribbon-copy on laid, watermarked
paper.) There are editors who look on outrageously expensive paper as an
indication of a writer more concerned with making an impression than with
the quality of what's on the paper. You want to avoid anything that sends
a negative twinge through an editor's mind. Sure, it shouldn't matter what
kind of paper those words are on, but it can, so play it safe unless you
have an "in." As you can never be sure what biases particular editors have,
it's best to stay within the norm.
For your finished product: Use only white 8 1/2 X 11 sheets; plain 20
lb. copier paper is good. Editors hate erasable bond because it smears.
And do use good, dark typewriter/printer ribbons and a conventional typeface;
save the italics, script, and gothic print for writing to your friends.
Take a professional attitude even if you're a beginner.
Q. Isn't it the editor's job to correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
A. It's the editor's job to catch the writer's errors, but it's not
the editor's job to do a massive clean-up of sloppy self-editing. Manuscripts
presented in sloppy fashion are given the attention they demand - little.
Q. Does the writer have to check all factual information (whether for
fiction or nonfiction)?
A. You better believe it. Even one guessed-at piece of information
that is wrong makes everything else you write suspect (which can lead to
rejection). It's the writer's job to check the facts.
Q. Why should the writer have to send a self-addressed stamped envelope
(SASE) with a submission? Shouldn't the publishers be willing to send these
back as part of the interaction of having work submitted to them?
A. It's a bummer, but there are so many writers clamoring to be published
that it's still a publisher's world. Manuscripts sent without SASE most
often end up in the "round file" otherwise called a waste basket. Writers
have to bear the cost of marketing their works. (When you think about it
that way, doesn't any manufacturer have to bear the cost of marketing offerings?)
Q. Couldn't I just tell the editor to let me know "yes" or "no" and
to throw away the manuscript rather than my paying the return postage for
the whole manuscript instead of just a postcard?
A. You can, but many editors say they consider that writers who do
this have little regard for their own work.
Q. Do I really have to send only a query if an editor or agent says
that's all they want? How can they tell the style of my writing from a
A. Sigh along with your fellow-writers. It's best to "give 'em what
they want." By doing so, you show you understand what is required of you
professionally. But do work over that query until it hums with promise.
Q. Wouldn't it be clever to send my manuscript in a red or other bright
envelope, so it would be noticeable on an editor's desk?
A. Do so at your own peril. Nothing screams "amateur" to an editor
as much as such tricks; it sets up that automatic "Oh, no" negative reaction.
Q. Does professional presentation matter?