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
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 Are you doomed to remaining an unpublished (or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
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.
26220 West End Lane
First N.A.S. Rights
East Hampton, NY 10030
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
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
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.