So, you want to be published? Part One

29 Sep

So, you want to be published? I’m assuming you are capable or writing something and, indeed, have done so. If not, go away and write a story, poem or article, then come back to learn about the next step. Lots of people dream of being published who never finish a thing.

Check Your Work

Before you do anything else, check your work over and make sure you’ve got your spelling and grammar correct. If it’s a poem, make sure it scans. Thanks to spell and grammar checks, there’s little excuse for submitting a document riddled with errors, but do check that you haven’t typed (or the computer has autocorrected to) the wrong word and that no words are missing; and do not so slavishly follow the computer’s corrections that you insert the wrong word or bad grammar by mistake. If in doubt, double check.

Just as it’s good to leave a gap between drafts in order to check how a piece reads, it also works when it comes to checking your grammar and spelling: it’s easy to read what should be there rather than what actually is. A little distance can help you spot errors.


Once you are reasonably certain your work is free of error, you’re ready to lay your manuscript out. It can be a good idea to create a template so that you don’t have to reformat every document you type as most editors request a similar layout.

Selecting your font is easy – almost all editors who have a preference ask for Times New Roman. A few prefer other fonts, but usually also accept it, so you will almost never need to change your font if you select Times New Roman from the outset. Keep it black on white and choose size 12. Even though, occasionally, you may want to use more than one font (such as including non-English text), this is problematic as, should you or an editor changing the font as a block, this can easily be lost (I’m speaking from experience here!), while some specialised fonts may not be available to everyone; thus such mixing should be avoided if at all possible and be flagged in the covering letter or as a note in the document.

Your document should have your name, address and email at its top. You will probably find it best to locate these on the upper left as, while many editors have no preference, those who do usually follow the so-called standard manuscript layout and will insist that they are located there.

Next comes word count (generally, unless writing flash fiction, you need only round this to the nearest hundred words for a short story or thousand words for a novel; for poems, you may wish to include the line count). This can be placed below your personal details or in the upper right, to conform to standard manuscript layout (personally, as an editor, this really annoys me as, when cutting and pasting a name and address, I end up with the word count in the middle of it).

Then comes the title and your byline, which should be centred. Your byline is the name you will be published under, which may be your real name, a variation on your real name or a pen name. If using a pen name, you may wish to include a note beneath your name and address or in your covering letter that you are ‘x writing as y’, just to make clear which is which.

Finally, we reach your actual submission. For poems, articles and short fiction, this will usually start directly below the title and byline. Novels, non-fiction books and competition entries usually have a front page with all the above details and the submission proper starts on a fresh page – this will be titled with the relevant chapter or section number or the submission title (but not byline) for a competition. Remember to use a page break if creating a front page.

Prose should be left aligned (not justified). Poems should be laid out as they are intended to appear in print (but bear in mind that complicated layouts may be lost during pasting, do try to keep it straightforward).

Fiction and non-fiction paragraphs should be indented using the paragraph layout tool in your program, not indented using tab or spaces. There should be no line after the end of the paragraph. (It should also be noted that you should only ever include a single space after a full stop.)

Section breaks are usually indicated with a star or hash, but you could equally leave a blank line.

Prose should be concluded with The End or Ends (although one publisher I have worked with insisted on x-x-x). Unless very long, poetry doesn’t require its ending to be indicated.

It is acceptable to include multiple short poems in one document, but, normally, you should only have one piece of prose in a document. A good generic document title is the title of the piece itself (so Lord of the Rings, not Fantasy Novel). It is best to save your document in as a .doc or .rtf file as they are the most widely accessible file types.

Any illustrations you may want to submit with your story should be submitted as separated files, not within the document.

Your Bio

You will also need a bio. Occasionally, especially with competitions, you will not need to send one, but most publishers like to see one. Keep it short (80-100 words) and to the point. Primarily, you want to tell them about your writing career and anything relevant to your writing – for example, if you are writing about education and you’re a teacher, tell them. Don’t worry if you have no writing credits – all writers start somewhere and you can spend a little more time describing yourself.

Do keep it interesting and relevant. You don’t have to tell the editor everything about yourself! In particular, avoid personal details that are unrelated to your writing or achievements. Relevance can boost your chances of being accepted, but irrelevance risks making you sound odd, boring, offensive or as if you are either attempting to drop names or force them to accept you so as not to appear discriminatory.

Try and imagine you are an editor receiving this bio from a complete stranger and you have just a few seconds to take it in – how does it come across? You want them intrigued not bored, and you definitely don’t want them confused, abused or offended.

Links and your twitter ID are best listed at the end of the bio, not within it – editors may not want to include them. Do not include more than two.

This will be a separate document – again .doc or .rtf – or pasted into the submission email.

Covering Letter

Your covering letter should be straight to the point and pasted straight into the submission email (ahead of the bio and any pasted submissions).

For most submissions, something like “Attached for your consideration is an unpublished short story called x (y words) by z” is perfect. Editors are busy people and don’t want to have to wade through the verbiage to reach the point of an email.

Generally, you do not need to provide any sort of description of a short story or poem (at most you may want to mention the genre or, for poems, the specific type). For articles and novels, an introduction and/or synopsis will likely be required. You may find it easiest to attach the synopsis as a separate document.

Generally, you don’t need to mention anything about yourself as you’ve already put that in your bio – only if something is very pertinent or if submissions are only open to a specific category of writer should you do so

Editorial Requirements

Okay, so you have your story laid out, you’ve written your bio and you either have a draft covering letter or, at least, a short, generic letter in your mind, and you’re ready to submit.

Go to the publisher’s website and look at their submissions guidelines. (These are not always easy to find – look for Guidelines, Submissions or Contributors – failing that, email them and ask them for their guidelines).

Many editors are quite easygoing – in some cases, there are no real guidelines at all, just an email to send work to – and, if you have followed the above suggestions, you should be able to submit with little or no further effort. Some are stricter, and you may find you have to tweak your layout or provide specific information in your covering letter (pay particular attention if entering a competition – some will insist that no personal detail is included on the story, some will accept a front page; some require entry forms, and so on).

A few editors have very specific requirements – most of these are obsessed with the so-called standard manuscript layout; if your work is entirely or mostly laid out in that style to start with, you will have fewer modifications to make. Of course, some do just have idiosyncratic ideas, and if you want to submit to them, you will just have to suck it up and make your work match their requirements.

As well as ensuring you have the right email to submit to, make sure you have put the right subject in the subject line of the email, attached or pasted into the email your work as requested, and made sure to include anything else required (for example, a few editors request a keyword be included to prove you have read their guidelines, while others request a photo).

Congratulations – you are ready to submit now!

Next time – I’ll discuss markets, reprints, rights, payment and contracts


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