Thursday, December 16, 2010

Writerly Tip #3: Manuscripts

Now here is the main event. As you all have been anxiously awaiting this entry, I will skip the introductions!

When reviewing a manuscript, a writer should break it down into three aspects: (a) formatting, (b) copy editing, and (c) labeling. This is, at least, how I review my manuscripts.

(a) Formatting

This is simple enough, but can be a big deal to editors. I like to set up my page first: Margins 1", page format Letter (8.5" x 11"), and then a standard heading. Next I Select-All (ctrl+A) my story and change the font to Courier New 12 pt. I do this so that I can better copy edit it later and so that it won't hurt the editor's eyes. Courier New is a monotype font, which means that each letter takes up the same width. A font like Times New Roman may look professional, but it's actually very hard to proof read, because some letters (i's and t's and l's in particular) end up jammed together. I also go into "Page" and set the paragraphs to double-spaced.

Next, I add the page number into the heading, which is found under "Insert" in most word processors. I also, write in my full name, making sure to change the front to match the manuscript. This is technically part of (c) labeling, but I'll include it here.

For each new paragraph I make sure to tab the first word 1/2" from the left margin. If there's a substantial span of narrative time I put an extra space between the two paragraphs, and center a "#" in the line between them.

Next, I "Save As" as a doc file, so that editors with any Microsoft Word or Open Office or most other word processors can open it.

(b) Copy Editing

Here we are simply making sure everything is spelled correctly, punctuated, etc. I like to print my manuscript and run through it with a blue, fine-tipped marker. You can also give it to a friend, as an extra set of eyes can do wonders in this particular area.

(c) Labeling

All I mean here is that your name is displayed on the manuscript. If you don't put your full name on each page, the manuscript might come apart and the editors wouldn't know whose wonderful work they're reading!

I like to put my information - Full Name, Address, Email Address, Phone Number - in the upper left corner of page one.

Making sure your manuscript is legible is the first step in not being ruled out. Many editors are looking for an excuse to not accept your work. Don't let them have an easy one!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Writerly Tip #2: Cover Letters

To be specific, I will be discussing Cover Letters for poetry, short-fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Things to keep in mind: editors read a lot of cover letters, often all at once. Usually the editing process is done in several stages: They read the cover letters and then the manuscripts, sorting them into two (Yes/No) or three (Yes/Maybe/No) piles. Each editor will do this with a stack, and then they will all meet to discuss the merits of the Yeses and Maybes, coming to a consensus on what will be used for next months issue, what will be held for a future publication date and what will be added to the No pile.

Reading the cover letter is the first step an editor takes in deciding whether or not to publish a poem, story, or essay. It is your introduction to the work, but unlike a foreword or introductory paragraph, it doesn't need to hook, it just needs to present.

Things you will need:

-List of work(s) submitted

Firstly, we must address the editor. An acceptable method is to use the generic "Poetry Editor" format. Often, writers believe that personally addressing the Fiction Editor or Editor-in-Chief will increase their chance of standing out, showing they know a thing or two about the journal. The problem is that editors change...frequently. You might address your submission to the Fiction Editor of 2005-07, because you read an old copy of Writers Market. This doesn't look good. Or, it could be read by a new assistant editor or GTA. Reading, "Poetry Editor," reminds this editor that he is a poetry editor now. Reading, "Mr. Bret Lott," reminds him that he is not Bret Lott. Not even close.

The first paragraph should be short and sweet. List your works and get out of the way. If you can summarize the tone in a single adjective, by all means do it! (eg. "Please consider my humorous short story, "The Land of Potato Heads, or My Summer Babysitting"). However, what shouldn't be in this paragraph, at least from my perspective, is a list of authors you read and the trip you took to Italy which inspired and shaped the five line poem the editor is about to take ten seconds reading. In some ways, an overly long cover letter can become a self-parody, especially when submitting poetry or flash fiction.

I also try to keep my credentials short, sticking to the relevant publications - for instance, when submitting fiction, I don't bring up my Creative Nonfiction award, or my year doing magazine writing.

Finally, the bio. This may seem presumptuous, but really you're just saving the editor some time in the event that your piece is accepted. I like my bio to have a joke and a little personal color to it. It emphasizes my writerness, but also presents my personality, which I am marketing just as much as my work itself. (Deny this at your own risk!)

My Cover Letter:

Fiction Editor,

Please consider my fiction submissions, "Insufficient" and "Monologue from the Womb." They're intended to be humorous.

My fiction has appeared in Elimae, Cavalier Literary Couture, Bartleby-Snopes, and Hobo Pancakes, but I hope these minor accomplishments don't discourage you from publishing my work.

I've also attached a brief bio:

Steven Miller is a graduate of Kansas State University. His fiction has appeared in the online journals Bartleby-Snopes, elimae, and Hobo Pancakes. He is currently putting his English degree to work writing ad copy for the local newspaper: "Feeling Down? Come on Down to Clown Town!"

Thank you for reading my short pieces,

Steven Miller

Monday, December 6, 2010

Writerly Tip #1: Submissions

From my few short years student-working at the illustrious Southern Review, I learned one thing above all others: What a submission looks like.

I was the evil clerk who put the "Better Luck Elsewhere" slip into the SASE to mail back to the writers. I didn't have the Sophie's Choice position of choosing which ones got the slip (I do now at LeaningHousePress), but I still felt that weight.

It did not discourage me from continuing on my path to be a writer, but it did equip me with some useful knowledge - for instance, what the first line of an unpublishable story sounds like. More to the point of today's entry, it taught me the standards of submitting work.

Here are the materials you will need:

-Cover letter
-Manuscript (we'll get into these specifics in a later entry)
-Two standard (#9) envelopes
-Paper clip

Place the cover letter on top of the manuscript. Place one envelope at the back of the manuscript. This envelope should have your name and address in the "to" section, and the name and address of the journal your submitting to in the "from" section (upper left corner). This is called a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. Don't forget to put a stamp in the upper right corner. Paper clip these all together and fold the bundle into thirds.

Now address the next envelope to the journal you're looking to submit to, and fill it out accordingly.

It's been my experience that all of this can be mailed with one stamp if you have a five page or less manuscript, but after that you should consider having a post office worker weigh it.

That's all for now! Good luck in the cut throat world of publishing!!