Some Guidelines for Manuscript Preparation & Submission

by Ursula K. Le Guin


Because most new work is now submitted to editors electronically, the elaborate guidelines I used to offer for preparing a manuscript (MS) on paper can be reduced to a few commonsense directives:

A clear, plain typeface or font

Double space

Indent the first line of a paragraph. Don’t put an extra space between paragraphs (as is done in single-space letter style)

One-inch-margins all round. Don’t justify the right margin — your text should be aligned straight down the left side, but leave the right side ragged

Where you want an extra space (space break), signify it with a centered #

Proofread. Don’t assume spellcheck has done this for you. It can’t, and hasn’t.

Never send a paper copy you don’t have a copy of.

Number the pages.

Be sure your name and address and the title of the piece is on the first page, and your last name and the title in short form at the top of each page

If you want the MS returned (if not accepted) include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

I offer no guidelines specific to formatting electronic submissions, because I can’t find an authoritative source. The details of how to do it differ, change, go out of date, and vary with the program you’re using, how you submit the piece, and to whom. Some publishers and publications have very specific guidelines of their own, which you should check for.

Submitting the Work

On paper:

Never, ever, send anything you don’t keep a copy of.

On the cover sheet:

In the upper left corner, your name and address, and/or that of your literary agent.

Halfway down the page, centered, the TITLE of the piece in capitals.

Just below that, your byline — your real name or a pen name — in lowercase.

On the first page of the work:

Repeat the title and by-line, centered, halfway down the page, skip several spaces, and begin the text.

On all subsequent pages, at the top of the page at the left or right margin, your last name, the title, and the page number.

(If your name is Askew M. Torque, and your title is The Gutwrencher’s Twisted Sense of Humor, and the page is 151, the upper left or right corner of it will read:

Torque, Gutwrencher, 151. )

(None of this applies to most electronic submissions; you will be corresponding by email, and probably submitting the MS as an attachment. Just remember to be sure your name and address are on it.)

Hard copy AND/OR electronic submission:

The submission record:

is kept separately for each title you send out. It should include:

  1. where the piece has been — each publisher, editor, magazine, etc. — and a copy of the cover letter that went with it each time, and a copy of whatever letter or message came back with it each time.
  2. who has it now
  3. where it is to be sent next (Make a list of where this MS is to be submitted, before it starts going out. Then if it is rejected you don’t have to brood and dither and wonder if it is unworthy — you just send it to the next place on the list.)
  4. the contract, when you get one, and all correspondence directly concerning the business history of the piece.

Your Cover Letter:

Find out the name of the editor to whom you are sending your manuscript — by checking a current issue of the magazine, or by calling the editorial department of the publishing house and asking the assistant whom you should send your MS to. If you cannot find the name, say Dear Editor.

Be brief and civil.

If someone at this publisher or magazine encouraged you to submit or resubmit, don’t assume they remember.  Include a copy of their letter.

Mention your past publications briefly, focusing on your qualifications for this kind of piece.

Describe your piece in a sentence or two. Writers are now often told to boast about their work, to “sell themselves,” etc. Do so if you like doing it. If you don’t, don’t. Editors are understaffed, overworked, and appreciate not having their time wasted. What you need to convey is something like this:

Dear Ms Swampthing,

Enclosed for your consideration is “Braburners of Blorb,” 5500 words. It’s science fiction with a fantasy element and a slight feminist twist.

I have a story in Vampires with Rayguns (Haphazard Press, 2013), and one forthcoming in Egregious magazine.

I appreciate your consideration of my story. SASE is included. Thank you.

Yours truly,

Harriet B. Stowe.

Never mention money till they do. They make their offer when they offer a contract, and that’s the time to accept, dicker, or refuse.

Remember: you have a right to dicker, and a right to refuse poor terms (such as a demand for “all rights,” or to call your work “work for hire,” which means they’re grabbing your copyright). How far you’re willing to go just to be published is up to you – nobody else.

The Publisher’s Response:

Let’s start at the bottom and work up:

Rejection: Send the piece, immediately, to the next place on your list of places to send it to. Don’t stop and think. Just send it.

(Never write back to tell the editor what they missed in your story, or venting anger. Rejections feel personal, but they aren’t. Editors HAVE to choose.)

Rejection with invitation to send another story: This is a real encouragement. It means this story didn’t suit, but the editor likes something about it and wants to see more of your work. Respond promptly with a suitable piece if you can.

Conditional acceptance: If they say “if you make these changes we’ll print your piece,” that’s an acceptance.

If they ask for changes without saying clearly that they’ll take the story when you’ve made the changes, they’re hedging their bets; you can’t count on publication.

If the suggested changes make sense to you, make them and resubmit.

But if after a week or two of cooling down and considering, the changes they want still don’t make sense to you in terms of what you were trying to do, write the editor and explain, briefly and without rancor, why. That will probably be the end of it, but sometimes it can lead to fruitful author-editor cooperation.

Acceptance: a decent offer and a fair contract: rejoice!

The Publisher Who Cheats: There are risks in every business. No need for paranoia, but checking up is common sense. Beware of “vanity” presses: You are likely to end up paying more than you were led to think, for minimal or no distribution. With e-publishing, anybody can see their name in print, but the opportunities for hidden charges, for fake help-in-self-publishing outfits, for scam and rip-off pseudo-publishers (or merely amateurish ones) — are huge. Whether it’s for print or e-publication, you need to be careful who you sign any publishing agreement with. Check Writer Beware FIRST.


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Updated Tuesday, 18-Jun-2019 10:14:36 EDT