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How to Beat the Slushpile
In the highly competitive industry of publishing, editors
and agents rarely have time to sit down and read through
every manuscript that crosses their desks.
The unhappy truth is most of them don't get past the
first paragraph before reaching for their standard
rejection slip and stuffing it into the self-addressed
stamped envelope you supplied them with for that very
I'm not being negative, nor am I trying to depress you.
I'm simply stating a fact.
The good news is, there are lots of things you can do and
plenty of things you can avoid to make sure your
manuscript isn't rejected before your story has a chance
to see daylight.
The "Do" and "Don't" List
Do print your
manuscript in a clear, concise serif font, like Times New
or Courier, preferably in a
12-point pitch. Use underlining to indicate where
you would like italics
Don't print out your
story in a fancy, hard to read font. An editor has to
read hundreds of manuscripts and he won't thank you for
the eye-strain headache he will suffer through.
Do Set your margins
for approximately 1 1/2 inches on ALL sides of the print.
Don't Set the text to
self-justify in the right-hand margin. You are not
helping the editor by doing this. Manuscripts need to be
typeset, and justifying the right-hand margin makes this
harder. The right-hand side of your text should be
Do make sure you have
set your text to be double-spaced between lines - even
between paragraphs - and leave only single spaces between
Don't cheat and leave
only 1 1/2 paces between lines, or, worse, don't
quad-space between paragraphs (two hard-returns).
Do Put your name,
address and the title of the story in the top left corner
of the FIRST page of the manuscript. Every page after
this should have only your name and the book's title.
Number your pages in the upper right corner.
Don't paste Copyright
symbols all over your manuscript. It instantly marks you
as an amateur. The Copyright will be legally, officially
registered when your book is published, so stop
Do purchase a sturdy
manuscript box for your work. They are not too expensive,
and they are readily available from most newsagents or
If the editor has already asked to see your work as a
result of your query letter, inscribe "Requested
Material" on the outside so it doesn't end up in the
dreaded Slushpile by mistake.
Don't give in to the
temptation to stick gaudy colored paper, tags or stickers
on your manuscript box. Sure, they WILL make it stand out
from the crowd, but it will also look like the one
decorated by the local kindergarten, not by a
Do include a Title
page and a table of contents (chapters) with your
manuscript. Pack the entire story into your manuscript
box with either a large paper clip to secure it together,
or a large rubber band. Your Cover Letter goes on the
top, with your professional business card clipped to it.
Don't be tempted to
bind, glue, staple or tie your manuscript in any way.
Pretty plastic folders with wire-binding are not a good
grammar-check and eyeball-check your story. When you are
sure everything is right, check it again, then ask
someone to re-check if for you.
Don't rely on your
computer's spell- or grammar-check.
Do check the
publisher's specifications regarding diskette or
email-attachment submissions. Be sure your format will
match theirs (PC vs. Mac, Word vs. Word Perfect etc) Only
send these if SPECIFICALLY requested.
Of course, if you are working with an electronic
publisher, almost none of these rules apply. The rule of
thumb here is to write a well-crafted story, polish it
until it shines, then study their submission guidelines
carefully. Follow these guidelines to the letter.
Following these rules will not guarantee your
manuscript's acceptance, but it will significantly
increase your chances of appearing professional enough to
make it out of the slushpile.
Good luck, and keep writing!
Copyright Lee Masterson. All rights reserved
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