Study your markets and don’t give editors any reason to toss your manuscript.
Many people think anyone can just sit down, write a book, and get it published. But each writer is up against about three gazillion other persons who are trying to do the same thing and who are submitting their manuscripts to editors.
So you can see that editors are busy people, as are agents. Some will tell you they receive hundreds of submissions daily. Those few publishers who still have slush piles will tell you it can take anywhere from several months to a year before you hear back from them.
They don’t have time for anything less than a professional manuscript. They want to know that the writer knows what he is doing and won’t need babysitting through basics.
So you need to do your homework.
Does the publisher want single- or double-spacing of lines? Indented paragraphs, or double-spacing between paragraphs? Variable font like Times New Roman or fixed-width, such as Courier? Standard one-inch margins?
What about scene changes? Usually, centered asterisks or pound signs are used to indicate a change in scene, not merely a blank line.
And formatting isn’t the only thing that will make an editor toss your story into The Circular File.
Check your spelling. And check for typos. Check again. And again. Ask a friend to check it. Then check again. Check backwards. I’m not kidding! Read the story backwards; you’ll be surprised what you find.
Use good grammar. Or if you truly are grammar-challenged, as you struggle to learn the concepts of proper English, acquire a few crit partners who can help out.
Despite popular belief, writing is not easy. It is a craft, and takes hard work. Editors are swamped. They must wade through literally hundreds of queries and submissions every day. They look for reasons to lighten that load.
Don’t give them a reason!
originally published in The Sword Review 2005-11-22