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Giving your Manuscript a Better Chance

David Leeding

      Writing a brilliant story or article is not enough to guarantee a publisher will accept a manuscript. Editors may reject an excellent manuscript if it is a poor fit for the publication, contains too many grammar or spelling errors, or is presented unprofessionally. The following ‘rules’ provide a framework that can improve the chance that an editor will accept a submission for publication. While these guidelines apply particularly to submissions to magazine publishers, the principles also apply to manuscripts for fiction and non-fiction books.

1 Do your market research first

      Examine the market to determine the kind of articles and stories that publishers are buying, and from these, choose a publication you feel capable of writing for. Select a magazine before writing the article or story rather than trying to find one that will publish it an item you have already written. This will help you to write the kind of article or story an editor wants to receive.

2 Analyse the selected publication

      Once you have selected an appropriate publication, think about who the readers are and what they are looking for in that publication. Look at the kind of language used in the magazine, and the kind of articles or stories written. This will help you write an article that fits the publication, and meets the needs of the readers. If the manuscript does this, it will meet the expectations of the editor too.

3 Be original

      Originality is more likely to grab the attention of a publisher than a rehash of an old idea. If you can’t find something truly original, think up a unique twist on an established idea. If much has already been written about your subject matter, give it a fresh slant.

4 Write the article for the target audience

      Write the article or story in a language appropriate for the publication’s intended audience. Draw on your market research and publication analysis to do this. Editors will reject a manuscript that is not a good match for the readership, such as a children’s story written using adult vocabulary. The article or story should also achieve a goal appropriate for the target audience; stories should entertain and invoke emotion, technical articles should enable, and so on.

5 Take care with spelling and grammar

      An otherwise well-written piece may be rejected by an editor if it contains basic spelling and grammar errors. Correcting a writer’s work means unnecessary work for a busy editor, so manuscripts that contain numerous errors will not get very far.

6 Observe the word count set by the publisher

      Editors will be less inclined to publish an article or story that does not fit the available space. It is therefore important to respect the publisher’s word count requirement. This can be difficult at times, but writing to a word count will encourage you to write in a crisp, concise style, which will also appeal to editors.

7 Present the manuscript according to the publisher’s requirements.

      It is important to present the manuscript in a manner that is acceptable to the publisher. The following rules are a useful starting point:

      Type or print the article or story onto clean, good-quality A4 paper (use a typewriter or word-processing software with a laser or inkjet printer)

      Only type or print on one side of the page

      Use a plain font like Courier or Times Roman, and don’t use any additional formatting

      Use double-spacing

      Indent paragraphs by 5 or 6 spaces

      Ensure adequate margins on both sides of the page, and top and bottom

      Place a keyword from the title in the top right-hand corner of each page together with the page number

      The publisher may have special requirements or preferences that may vary from the above, so it is important to obtain submission guidelines from the publisher if such are available. For example, some publishers may insist that you only use a non-proportional font like Courier. Some publishers may only accept submissions in hardcopy, while others only accept electronic submissions. One publisher may insist that paragraphs not run over a page, while others may insist that they do.

8 Be professional

      Whenever you deal with the publisher, conduct yourself in a professional manner. This begins with your submission. For example, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the return of your manuscript. Don’t ring the editor every day to see whether your manuscript was received or to find out when you might receive a response.

      As a writer, your challenge is to not only write a great story or article, but also to persuade an editor to read your manuscript. However, by following these rules, you will remove some of the potential obstacles to this, increasing the chance that a publisher will accept your manuscript for publication.