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Form Follows Function...
And Then Some!

In writing--as in architecture--Frank Lloyd Wright's
credo rings true even today

by D. J. Herda

Effective writing--that is, writing that's publishable--is more than simply stringing a few well-thought-out words together; it's also the format in which you present them.

Here are a couple of tidbits you can take with you to the bank:

1. Editors are overworked.

2. Editors hate having to take the time to look through a slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts.

3. Editors look for every excuse imaginable to eliminate manuscripts from the reading/consideration phase of the editing process as quickly as possible.

Now, with that said, here's the obvious question.  Are you shooting yourself in the foot every time you send a manuscript out for review?  Are you a self-destruction machine just waiting to detonate?  Are you doomed to remaining an unpublished (or under-published) writer the rest of your life?

Probably so, if you're committing the most basic of writer's flaws--failing to present your manuscript professionally.  I'm not talking about typing it instead of writing it out in long-hand (that just goes without saying).  I'm talking about the form you present to an editor from your manuscript's very first page.

If you follow proper manuscript-presentation etiquette, you increase your chances of publication a hundred-fold.  If you ignore it, you'd better get used to rejection, fast!

What's that, you say?  But you're a creative writer with creative talents just yearning to be set free ... and you want everyone in the world to know it?  Uh-huh.  Then show it in the content of your writing.  And keep the form traditional for the editor's sake ... and for yours.

Remember those three bankable statements, above.  Editors being editors means editors are also human.  (Well, sort of.)  Show an average human being something out-of-the-ordinary (like a really wild opening manuscript page, for example), and that human being is going to duck for cover.  Show him something he's seen a million times before, and he's going to be as comfortable with it as he is with his old cardigan sweater and moose-hide moccasins.

That holds true for manuscript presentation.  Show an editor something off-beat and crazy, and his first thought is going to be This guy is obviously no professional.  In the trash heap for him.

Sad?  Sure.  True?  You bet.  Should you be incensed?  Maybe.  Better yet, be smart.  Sometimes, if you want to play in the big game, you need to learn the rules.  All the rules.  And rule number one in getting published is this:

  • Instill in the editor the belief that you are professional, dependable, and talented.

Notice that the "talented" part came after "professional" and "dependable."  By showing an editor you know the form a manuscript should take in its presentation, you show him you're a professional.  By using that form time after time, you show him you're dependable.  Convincing an editor of these two things is the only way you're ever going to have a shot at showing him you're also talented.

So, what is the accepted form in which to present a manuscript for publication?  I thought you'd never ask.

Marty Martinovich                                                80,000 Words
26220 West End Lane                                   First N.A.S. Rights 
East Hampton, NY 10030
441-111-1111

 

 

Under Wraps
(Thriller/Mystery)

by Mat Maddy

          It was a dark and gloomy Sunday morning when Dirk heard the car doors slam outside his bedroom window.  Two of them.  Some shuffling feet and the creak of the front gate let him know he had visitors.  Again.  And no one in particular he'd hoped for.

          He pulled himself up, grabbed for his head, and leaned forward to look out the window.  All he saw were two sets of shoes climbing the concrete steps to the front door, two sets of Oxfords, shiny and wet.

          For a moment he toyed with the idea of slipping back down into bed, pulling the covers up over him, and playing possum.  After all, they didn't know for sure he was actually home.  Unless ...

 

 

Under Wraps/Martinovich, Page 2


          "Yeah, yeah," Dirk called out as he tied the robe around him, glanced at the mirror, tugged at the hair sticking out in every direction. 

          His head pounded as he bent down to coax size-ten feet into size-eight slippers.  A pain shot suddenly through him, all the way down to his toes and back, and he sat up, struggling to remember what he'd done the night before to deserve it.  What he'd ever done.

          The buzzer rang once more.

          "Yeah, I'm coming!" he shouted, unsure of whether or not his visitors could hear him.  "I'm coming," he repeated softly as he wiped his hand across his face.

     He shuffled out of the bedroom and across the floor to the front door.  He fumbled with the lock for several moments, finally yanking at it in desperation until it sprung free.  Drawing the door open, he slipped half his body out into the cold dark hallway leading to the front stairwell and stopped to look back into the apartment just to make sure he hadn't left anything he shouldn't have lying around. 

     Not too bad.  A little messy, but considering I just woke up, not too bad ...

 

So what, you ask, is so great about this format?  Looks kind of boring, doesn't it?

Well, it's not a question of being good, bad, or boring.  It's a question of being functional.  Here's what I mean:

  • A paper size of 8-1/2 x 11 inches, white, is the industry standard.  It's easy to handle, easy to read, and it fits into folders, envelopes, and file holders made expressly for the purpose.
     

  • The single-spacing of the name and address in the upper left-hand corner of the first page gives the editor a quick glance at who is submitting the manuscript. 
     

  • The number of words and the rights being sold in the upper right-hand corner tell the editor at a glance how long the piece is (so that he doesn't waste time reading something that's too short or too long for his market) and what rights are for sale (in this case, First American Serial Rights, the most commonly sold).
     

  • The centering of the title, the genre (thriller/mystery), and the by-line (which may or may not be the same as the author's legal name) make for comfortable, quick viewing.  The genre, just as with the length, is important to include because it tells the editor at a glance whether or not the manuscript is something for which he has a market.
     

  • The double-spaced flush-left copy makes for ease of reading without excessive eye strain (hey, you try plowing your way through fifty manuscripts in a day and see how perky your eyes feel by dusk).  Double spacing also allows the editor sufficient room to scribble any notes or make any editorial changes he feels are necessary.
     

  • A margin of about an inch all the way around the page reduces eye fatigue and allows the editor additional space for making notes or corrections to the manuscript.
     

  • The Times New Roman, Courier, or similar typefaces used widely in the print industry are also the most comfortable to read. 
     

  • On the second page, the manuscript's name, author's name, and page number in the upper left-hand corner remind the editor of what it is he's reading and make the manuscript easier to reassemble should the pages get shuffled or the manuscript dropped.

Of course, following these guidelines won't guarantee that your manuscript will get published ... or even read, for that matter.  But they will guarantee that your chances for either one will be greatly increased.  And in a tough, competitive industry like ours, isn't one more advantage over the competition worth the effort?

So, take a look at some of the stuff you've been sending out lately.  See how it stacks up to industry standards.  If you need to adjust the way you present your manuscript, consider doing so.  Immediately, if not sooner.

 


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