Tag Archives: Submission guidelines

Editing part 2, What Submissions Editors Want

In the publishing world, there are several different kinds of editors: line editors, structural editors, submissions editors, and so on. Each does a specific job within the industry. When you look at the annual salaries, you can see that none of these jobs pay well, so it’s clear that, while they like to eat and pay the mortgage as much as any other person, editors in all areas of publishing work in the industry because they love a good story.

toolsToday we are discussing a particular kind of editor: the submissions editor. When I first began this journey, I didn’t understand how specifically you have to tailor your submissions for literary magazines, contests, and anthologies. Each publication has a specific market of readers, and their editors look for new works their target market will buy.

I’m just going to lay it out there for you: it’s not worth a publisher’s time to teach you how to be a writer. You have to learn that on your own.

So, if magazine editors aren’t going to edit your work, what does the editor for that publisher do? Magazine editors look for and bring new and marketable stories to the reading public.

Marketable is the keyword. If your submission doesn’t fit what that magazine’s readers expect, the editor will reject it.

War_and_Peace_Franklin_Library_By_Leo_Tolstoy_First_Edition_1981The quality of your work isn’t the problem, and you have selected a publication that features work in your chosen genre. But your subgenre may not match what the readers of that publication want to see. After all, both spaghetti Bolognese and bruschetta are created out of ingredients made from wheat and tomatoes, but the finished meals are vastly different.

A person who craves spaghetti Bolognese won’t be satisfied with an offering of bruschetta despite the fact they both feature wheat and tomatoes. The genre may be Italian, and they feature the same ingredients. But the delivery method is a subgenre that may not appeal to every diner.

Editors for contests and large publishers of books do the same—they find and bring work they enjoy to the public in specific genres. If your story makes it through the publisher’s door and into the first part of their process, their editor may ask you for minor revisions, small things you may have missed when self-editing.

But they won’t offer you technical advice.

This is because they shouldn’t have to. Before submitting your work to an agent or submissions editor, you must have the technical skill down.

For the indie author, magazines, contests, and anthologies are the most logical places for getting their names out to the reading world. You must ensure you have a clean manuscript that is marketable to the readers of the publication you are courting. You may need to have someone in your writing group proofread it before submitting it.

Professionals do the required work and don’t think twice about it—self-editing and proofreading are just part of the job.

leaves of grass memeSome hobbyists expect special consideration and are offended when they don’t get it. Egos are rampant in this business, but in reality, no one gets to be treated like a princess.

Prominent publications have wide readerships. The more people who read and enjoy a short piece by you, the more potential readers you have for your novels. These people likely read books, and guess what? They might look for your novels when shopping for books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other digital booksellers.

When you have a great story that you believe in, you must find the venue that publishes your sort of work. Know your genre. If you write fantasy, google magazines featuring fantasy and sci-fi. A good place to start would be the website Worlds Without End, an author resource site listing magazines that publish fantasy and science fiction.

Not all publications will be accepting new work, but some will. Be warned—finding magazines with open calls for submissions is a lot of work.

Anthologies with open calls might be more plentiful, but you have to know how to find them. Make connections through the many writers’ forums on Facebook and other social media platforms.

If you haven’t any short work ready for submission but would like to write something, do some research before setting pen to paper. Buy magazines, read them, and write to those standards. 

For those of us who can’t afford to buy magazines, you can go to websites like Literary Hub and read excellent pieces culled from various literary magazines for free. This will give you an idea of what you want to achieve in a story and where you might considJackie Onassis memeer sending your work.

Go to the publisher’s website, find out their submission guidelines, and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even you.) If you skip this step, you can wait up to a year to hear that your manuscript has been rejected, and they most likely won’t tell you why.

Formatting your manuscript is crucial. When the editor of a contest, publication, or anthology opens the call for submissions, they will get hundreds of entries, perhaps thousands. Their editors will have no time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts when a call goes out.

Editors are only one person, and they want to read every submission. Publishers have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are clearly posted on their websites.

Time is always of the essence in the publishing world. Publication dates are set well in advance and must be adhered to. Unfortunately, some great stories won’t even be read out of all the entries they receive. This is because the author didn’t format the manuscript in the way the submission rules stated.

Expediency kicks in. If the first page shows the manuscript is not formatted to industry standards, the editor will reject it and move on to the next submission.

A few simple formatting rules are universal to most publications. You should ensure the font is Times New Roman .12 or Courier .12 font and the body of the manuscript is aligned left.

  1. 1 in. margins
  2. Double-spaced
  3. 1 space after each sentence (NOT 2 as we dinosaurs were taught in typing class)
  4. Each page is numbered in the upper right-hand corner
  5. Has formatted indented paragraphs (DO NOT USE THE TAB TO INDENT!)
  6. The header contains the title and author’s penname
  7. The first page includes the author’s legal name, mailing address, and phone or email contact information in the upper left-hand corner

UrsulaKLeGuinQuotePlease, if you consider yourself a professional, format your submissions properly. You want to stand out but getting fancy with your final manuscript is not the way to do that—you will be rejected out of hand if you don’t make this effort.

Below are the links to two posts (with screenshots) detailing how to make your manuscript submission-ready:

Formatting Your Paragraphs

Formatting Short Stories for Submission

You have to keep trying, keep improving as an author, and keep believing in yourself and in your work. Most importantly, you must never give up.


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Fonts and Headers #amwriting

Today we are going to discuss fonts and why we use “industry standard” fonts for all our submissions. Publishers have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are posted on their websites. When a call for submissions goes out, their editors will have no time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts. If you don’t follow their guidelines, they will assume you aren’t a professional and won’t read your work.

If you have a specific contest or publication in mind that you plan to submit your manuscript to, go to the publication’s website and read the standards and requirements they have laid out.

A good guide for making a manuscript conform to industry standards can be found at William Shunn’s website: Proper Manuscript Format: Short Story Format.

That looks complicated, you say. It isn’t, but you do need to learn how to use your word processing program, and I am here to help you.

I use Word as my word processing program, but most word processing programs (Open Office, Google Docs) follow a similar process as my program does.

Running across the top of the page is something called the ribbon, and this is your toolbox. Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. On the right-hand side, by the question mark is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon – and we are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need.

Now we must select the font. As I said before, I use Microsoft WORD, and like every other word-processing program, it has many fancy fonts you can choose from and a variety of sizes.

You don’t want fancy. Stick with the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts and have little extensions that make them easier to read.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions for changing your fonts.

Open your manuscript document, and Click on the tab marked ‘Home.’  In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the editing group, click:

select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the ms still highlighted, go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. The default font, or predesigned setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body)’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this by opening the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman or Courier (depending on the publisher’s guidelines). Click on that, and the font for the entire ms will be that font. If you have clicked on the wrong font, it can be undone by clicking the back-arrow (upper left hand corner).  Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.

Now, with the ms still highlighted, we are going to format our paragraphs. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments and is easier for an editor to read. The specific details for formatting paragraphs can be found in last week’s post, Formatting Your Paragraphs. It is a process that is absolutely critical.

Most publishers and editors want the header formatted. Each page should be clearly marked with your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number. Many publishers will still accept print copies of manuscripts, but want them UNBOUND. No staples, not in a ring binder. You may use one large binder clip if you just can’t resist, but otherwise, they want the manuscript stacked and inserted in a manila envelope.

Accidents happen: if the printout of the manuscript accidentally falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled, and the editor will always know that you wrote that story.

To make your header:

  • Open the “insert” tab.
  • Click on “page number.”  This opens a new menu.
  • Add the page numbers using the small dropdown menu.
  • Insert the title and your author name just before the page number.

That will be your header.

This is how the ribbon and menus look:Sometimes, a publisher will specify that the first (title) page have no header or page number, but they want the header and page numbers to begin on page two.

To make the page numbers begin on page two:

  1. Click anywhere in the document.
  2. On the Page Layout tab, click the Page Setup Dialog Box Launcher, and
  3. then click the Layout
  4. Under Headers and footers, select the Different first page check box, and then click OK.

What goes on the first page? Your first page should include:

  • The name of the work.
  • The approximate word count, some will want it only to the nearest hundred.
  • In the upper left, your contact details formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript font.

Now your manuscript:

  1. is aligned left.
  2. has 1 in. margins.
  3. is double-spaced.
  4. has formatted indented paragraphs.
  5. The header contains the title, author name, and page numbers, and is aligned right.
  6. The first page contains your mailing address and contact information in the upper left hand corner.

Good luck with your submissions. Selling work to anthologies and magazines is the best way for an indie to build a reputation as an author. You will be competing with many other authors, all of them as creative and talented as you are, so making your work look as professional as is possible will give you an edge.


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How to format your manuscript for submission

lasceax prizeThis post is a follow-up to the previous post on why indies need to write short stories. That article sparked some questions that I will answer to the best of my ability. All of this information was gleaned by searching the internet when I first wanted to know why my manuscripts were so regularly rejected.

First of all, a properly formatted manuscript shows that the author did her research and knows what the editor wants. That will help your ms make it past the first hurdle.

You will find that each publisher, magazine, or contest website will have a page or section called “Submission Guidelines.” That page is your friend, because within the words on that page will be the rules specific to that particular publication or contest:

  1. length of submissions in word count (Do not exceed or fudge this. Stay within their parameters.)
  2. how they want you to format your work for their best use.
  3. where to submit the work
  4. what dates submission will be open
  5. if it is a contest, fees will be listed there

If you are building a back-log of of short-fiction there are some short-cuts you can take to enable you to have submission-ready work that requires minimal adjustment to fit  various requirements. This is because most publishers use what is considered the industry standard, Shunn Manuscript Format. William Shunn didn’t invent this, but he made this knowledge available to all would-be authors via the internet.

First, if you are submitting this to a publisher that publishes hard-copy your manuscript should look typed, not typeset. If you are composing your manuscript on a computer, don’t succumb to the temptation to use fancy fonts. For hard-copy publishers use a Courier font. Every word processor and printer comes with Courier, so you have no excuse for not using it.

Use a 12-point Courier. This means it prints out at a pitch of ten characters per inch. Don’t use a 10- point Courier, which prints out at a pitch of twelve characters per inch. That is far too small and editors who have to read a lot of manuscripts won’t want to struggle to read yours and it will be summarily rejected.

On a side note, something I have learned through this publishing life is that in printing, point size refers to the height of the characters in a font; pitch refers to the width. This is critical knowledge, because the font that the publisher wants the ms submitted in is the only one that will make it past the first editor’s inbox.

If you are submitting this to a publisher that is publishing in an electronic format, they may require 12-point Times New Roman font. Times New Roman is easier on the eyes, when viewed on a monitor. As an editor I prefer submissions in Times New Roman, as I rarely work from hard copy.

The preferred font will be clearly stated in their submission guidelines.


  1. Set the margins for your document at 3cm (1 inch) on all four sides.
  2. Align to the left hand side only; the right hand side should remain jagged. (THIS IS CRITICAL)
  3. Use twelve point Courier in black type only. Times New Roman or Arial fonts may also be acceptable—check the submission guidelines of the magazine or anthology.
  4. Lines should be double spaced with no extra spaces between paragraphs. (THIS IS CRITICAL)
  5. Single space between sentences after periods. (this is also critical)
  6. Indent new paragraphs and each new section of dialogue, with the exception of a scene break paragraph.
  7. Indicate scene breaks by inserting a blank line and centering the hash sign (#) in the center of that line.
  8. Center a hash sign # one double-spaced blank line down at the end of the manuscript. Or simply write The End. This assures the reader that no pages are accidentally missing.
  9. Use underline for italicized words if you are using Courier font. If you are using Times New Roman you can use proper italics. (Again, check the submission guidelines)
  10. William Shunn says, “You should place a header in the upper-right corner of every page of your manuscript except the first. This header will consist of: the surname used in your byline, one important word from the title of your story, and the current page number. Do not place the header in the upper-left corner, because the typesetter will often have your manuscript clipped in that corner as he or she transcribes it and will not be able to see what the current page number is.” (end quoted text)

Your first page should include:

  1. The name of the work.
  2. The approximate word count, some will want it only to the nearest hundred.
  3. In the upper left, your contact details formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript font.

prnt scrn Fairybothering 1

MANY contests and e-magazines want your manuscript formatted in a similar fashion, but may require a different font. Some will want the header on all pages, and some will want your full author name in the header:

prnt scrn Fairybothering 2

TO Format your header in MS WORD:

  1. Go to the Insert Tab and click on: page numbers>top of page
  2. From the drop down menu select plain number three (the upper right hand corner)
  3. Type your name and title just before the number
  4. Click on the body of your document and the header/page number is set, and will appear to gray out.

TO Format your ms so the page numbers start on page two: click on this link to go to this page at MS Office Help if you are using WORD 2007 or 2010. Later versions also have help pages there. The process is a little more involved, and I don’t want to fill this post up with that, so use the resource offered by Microsoft–that is how I learned. Most hard-copy manuscripts must be formatted this way, so learning how to do this is critical.

anthology sci fiWhen you submit your work to an anthology or contest, if your work is accepted you will receive a contract. That contract will have the terms of payment, conditions of use, and all the pertinent information you, as the author, will need to know. Most are simple, and don’t require a law degree to understand. If you receive a complicated contract, seek a literary agent or attorney for advice.

Also be aware that ALL contests  and magazines will want original work that has never been published before. Many anthologies, will too, unless they are promotional anthologies put out by publications showcasing the most popular stories they printed during the previous year. Often these collections are the editors’ favorites.

Most contracts will state that you can reuse or republish the work 3 months or 90 days after the date of their publication. When you do so, you must include on the copyright page a caveat stating that it was originally published in their anthology or magazine, and what issue/year.

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What does “Submission-Ready” mean?

Gamalost-NorwegianOldCheeseI’m not talking bondage here, friends, so get your mind out of the erotica.

I’m talking about a manuscript with the potential to be made into something publishable.

I see a lot of manuscripts. Some are quite promising, some not so much. Literally anyone can write and publish a book nowadays, but not everyone can write a book others will want to read–THAT is a craft, and there are many who don’t feel the need to learn it before they submit their work to an editor or a publisher.  The quality of their work stinks like gamalost cheese, but they have the gall to wonder why the Big 6 haven’t snapped it up.

gibberish-american businesses onlineIt is important to learn the craft of writing, if you want readers to enjoy your work. Spend the time to learn the mechanics of the language you are writing in. However, if you are simply writing a pretentious pseudo-literary art piece, fine–go on and have at it–no one will ever read it, and you can feel superior for having written it. If you dare to compare yourself to James Joyce I will run you out of the writing group quicker than you can say Ulysses.

Before you submit your manuscript, take the time to make it submission-ready:

1. Properly format it: Set the indents, use a serif font of .11 or .12, double-space it with no extra space between the paragraphs, and do not justify it.

2. Hire an editor to help you straighten out the flaws YOU can’t see.

3. Go to the publisher’s website and find out what their submission guidelines are and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even  you.) If you skip this step, you will wait a year to hear that your ms has been rejected, and they won’t tell you why.  It’s not worth their time to teach you how to be a writer–you have to learn that on your own.

For a more in-depth description of this whole process, see my series “WORD-A Shifty Beast.”

learn something newTry to learn something new every day in your writing life, and with each success you have, try to keep some humility.  You will grow as an author, your work will remain fresh, and I will continue to beg to read it.

If you read the kind of work you want to write, you will gain inspiration from the masters in your genre. When I am not writing or editing, I am reading. And when I have the chance to read for pleasure, I read epic fantasy, paranormal fantasy and science fiction. When I find a book that rings my bells, I talk about it, and blog about it. Conversely, if I hated it, I never mention it again.

Yep–I’m that kind of a reader.



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