Recently, in my blog Byline, I discussed “Why Writers Should Follow the Rules of Writing.” Now I’ll focus on submission guidelines. The reason we should follow submission guidelines is simple: It increases our chance of publication.
Here are some tips for successful submissions:
- Use Standard Formatting Expectations: We start by structuring our writing according to accepted industry practices. Then we tweak it if needed for each specific instance. Though there is no absolute set of formatting rules, start with “How to Format Your Submission.”
- Follow Stated Guidelines: Virtually every publisher has submission guidelines. Look on their website. Find them, and follow them. Expect variations from one publisher to the next.
- Send by the Right Method: In most cases, submissions are sent via email. Some will request an attachment. Unless otherwise specified, always attach a Word file; don’t submit work from another word processor, certainly don’t submit a PDF file, and never ask them to click on a link. Others will specify “no attachments”; usually they summarily delete all submissions with attachments. A few still request mailed submissions. Whatever they ask, be sure to comply with their request.
- Email to the Specified Address: Often a special email address is given for submissions. Use it. Don’t try an end run around their process.
- Adhere to Their Schedule: Some publishers have specific dates when they will accept submissions. Be sure to hit that window. Don’t be too early or submit too late.
- Show Respect: Being the squeaky wheel will not gain the attention we want. Being nice will help with our current submission, as well as the next. If they say “no,” they mean it; there’s no room for discussion or second chances.
You’ve likely heard of writers who have ignored these tips and found success because of it. Although this has worked in isolated instances, the general result is they earn the label of a maverick, garner derision, and receive a stern “no.”
In most cases, each departure from a publisher’s submission procedure increases the chance of rejection. They (generally) don’t do this to be mean or to prove they’re in charge. It may be they’re too busy and don’t have time for writers who can’t follow directions. Or perhaps each instance of a writer’s deviation from expectations, subconsciously moves an editor towards rejecting that piece.
We should submit quality work, in the way publishers request, to have the best chance of success.
Last week, I encouraged the use of only one space to end a sentence, not two. The old convention of two spaces harkens back to the days of typewriters. Computers ushered in a new standard of only one space. This is what we must follow.
There are other formatting habits that came from typewriters, which must be stopped. While most writers have retrained themselves, I still see the occasional submission that persists in following one of these outdated methods.
With old typewriters – before the invention of tabs – each paragraph was started with five spaces. Though I’m not that old, some of the typewriters in my typing class were. With those machines I needed to space-space-space-space-space to begin a paragraph. I still see an occasional submission that does this. Make sure yours doesn’t.
When tabs came along, we set a half-inch tab for paragraphs. Then, to start a paragraph, we simply pressed tab. Now word processors do this for us automatically, so setting a tab just causes us extra work when writing and publishers extra work to remove them when publishing. Don’t use tabs for paragraphs.
On manual typewriters and some electric ones, when our words approached the end of a line, a bell sounded to warn us we were running out of room. Then we needed to manually move to the next line, by doing a “carriage return.” Although this was necessary on a typewriter, it serves no purpose on word processors – other than cause editors and publishers to use bad language. I still receive some submissions where the writer did this. It is tedious to correct and easy to make an error when doing so, but removing these unneeded carriage returns is essential prior to publication.
When I’m vacillating on whether or not I’ll use a submission, it it contains any of these issues, it’s likely I’ll reject the piece. I suspect most publishers and editors will do the same.
If you learned to type on a typewriter and carried these habits over to your word processor, begin to retrain yourself now.
I recently read some advice for older job seekers. The article warned of things not to do in their resume and cover letter that would tip off potential employers to their age and diminish their chance at an interview.
The number one item on the list is equally applicable to writers: Don’t use two spaces at the end of a sentence. Seriously. Whether job-seeking or submission-sending, using two spaces sends a message, and it’s not a positive one.
Like me, most two-spacers do so because they learned to type on typewriters in the dark ages, and using two-spaces was standard practice back then. Others learned to use two spaces when a taking keyboarding class taught by an old-school two-spacer.
As a magazine publisher, I receive submissions on a daily basis. When I first started, most writers used two spaces to end a sentence. Over the years, the number of two-spacers decreased, and about five years ago, the ratio became about fifty-fifty. Today, less than 10 percent adhere to the old style of two spaces. A single space is now standard.
As a publisher, I groan every time I see two spaces. Though easy to fix, it’s also irritating. Here are some thoughts that assault my mind when I spot two spaces at the end of a sentence:
- This person isn’t a serious writer; their words will need extra editing.
- This person is out-of-touch; I wonder if their topic is likewise dated.
- This person is old school; will their writing sound like it, too?
- This person resists change or doesn’t care; I don’t want to read their submission.
This may seem an intolerant attitude, but such is the mindset of many a publisher and editor with too much to do and not enough time to do it. So avoid making things harder on yourself and limit your chances of publishing success. Just avoid typing space space.
By the way, it’s not a hard adjustment to make; I retrained myself in a couple of days. You can, too.
Did you learn to use two spaces or one? How long did it take you to change?
Whether submitting your book to an agent or directly to a publisher, here are a few tips to follow to be viewed as professional, avoid being blacklisted, and increase your chances for success:
- Format Properly: The first step is to follow formatting conventions and expectations, which I covered last week in “How to Format your Book Submission.”
- Follow Directions: Most publishers and agents have submission guidelines posted on their website. Find them and follow them. Never email to ask what is already online.
- Avoid Demands: Don’t state that your words can’t be edited, require they use your title, or insist on a particular cover. Every demand you make lessens your chances and increases their ire for you.
- Be Patient: Reviewing submissions takes time and is seldom a priority; expect it to take months.
- Follow Up Cautiously: Be careful about following up. Once may be acceptable under certain circumstances, but sometimes no follow-up attempts should be made. Don’t expect that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Instead, checking for status updates may just result in an outright rejection of your submission.
- Accept Criticism: If you are fortunate to receive feedback on your book, accept it as a gift. Only respond if the agent or publisher gives you permission. And, by all means, never argue.
Following these six tips will increase your chances of having your book published. Of course the most important tip is to write a really great book!
There are two main considerations for formatting your book submission: First, follow the basic criteria that almost all people agree on; failing to do this decreases your chances for success. Second, many publishers and agents post submission guidelines on their websites telling you what they expect. So, start with the basic requirements in all your work and then tweak it as needed for specific instances.
Here are the basics:
- Times New Roman font: 12 point, black
- Double-spacing between lines
- Only one space to end a sentence
- Flush left and jagged right (that is, left justified but not right)
- Indented paragraphs, usually a half an inch (Use the indentation setting in your word processor; don’t set a tab or use a certain number of spaces.)
- One inch top and bottom margins
- Equal side margins (usually either one or one and a half inches)
- Don’t have a hard break (that is, a “carriage return”) at the end of each line.
- Don’t add an extra line at the end of a paragraph (except for a scene break or transition).
If you follow these basics, few editors will object and most will consider you a pro. Here are some bonus considerations:
- Don’t format the margins differently on odd and even pages (as you would see in a book).
- On the first page, include your name and contact information (email, phone, and mailing address) at the top, along with the word count. Some publications will specify that you put this information in the top right and others, the top left. Some will say to put this in the header and others will specify the top of the page, so expect some variation, but the key is not to omit this critical information.
- For all other pages, add a header with your last name, short title, and the page number. There may be some variations on this, but the main thing is to have this information in a header, not on the page itself.
Don’t let formatting paralyze you. In most cases, editors will overlook a minor deviation or two. Following conventional formatting (along with great writing) will help get your book published.
[This is adapted from Peter DeHaan’s Byline blog about writing. The post is How to Format Your Submission.]