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  How to Beat the Slushpile
by Lee Masterson

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 purpose.

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.

"Do" and "Don't" List

Do print your manuscript in a clear, concise serif font, like Times New Roman 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 staggered.

Do make sure you have set your text to be double-spaced between lines - even between paragraphs - and leave only single spaces between sentences.

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 panicking.

Do purchase a sturdy manuscript box for your work. They are not too expensive, and they are readily available from most newsagents or stationary shops.
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 professional author.

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 idea either.

Do spell-check, 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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