by Nann Dunne
a reader asked me what format should be used to send an unagented
manuscript to a publisher. Publishers tend to have minor variations,
so my best advice would be to ask for specific guidelines from
whichever publishers interest you. Some have their own web sites
with submission guidelines posted there. To others, you can send a
written request for submission guidelines, remembering to include a
#10 business-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE). Use a
proper letterhead and type your request; you want to look
businesslike from the very beginning.
you know which publishers might be interested in your work? Visit a
nearby bookstore or library and search for books similar to yours.
The publisher's name and address will be listed in the front matter
of the book. Jot it down, then find the newest issue of Writer's
Market--or a book geared to your market, if available--and look up
the publisher. If an editor's name is mentioned in the front matter
(sometimes in the Acknowledgments), jot it down, too. It may be
possible to address a query directly to an editor, in care of the
publishing company. (I'll discuss queries and cover letters in a
later article.) See what the guidelines tell you.
always good to find as much information about a company as you can,
rather than blindly submitting your story. Some publishers state
that they accept only agented manuscripts, while others don't
require you to have an agent. I've done a lot of surfing in
preparation for this newsletter, and I've learned that some editors
for the larger publishers say if you don't have an agent, and you
really believe in your story, go ahead and write a killer query
letter and send the manuscript anyway. You might get lucky. You have
to realize, though, it may be a very long time before you hear
anything. At the large publishers, unagented work goes into a "slush
pile." Junior editors read these when they have time, and if they
see a story they think has possibilities, they pass it up the line,
which could involve other junior editors. If the story makes it past
them, it still has to be looked at and accepted by a senior editor
who could already be up to her elbows in agented manuscripts. This
sounds pretty "iffy" to me, so without an agent, I would suggest
sticking to publishers who accept unagented manuscripts.
you decide going the agent route sounds desirable, be sure to
recheck October's back issue of this newsletter for the article by
Ann Crispin that details what to beware of when choosing an
Simultaneous submission, that is, submitting the same story
to more than one publisher at a time, is frowned on. Publishers
don't want to waste valuable time on a book that might be withdrawn,
yet authors don't like waiting months at a time to learn if their
submission has been accepted. One suggested answer is to send
multiple queries instead (without including the manuscript). I have
some interesting tips on writing queries that I will cover in a
the publisher is listed in Writer's Market and has a web
site, check out the site. Submission guidelines are included in
Writer's Market, but the web site could be more up-to-date. If the
publisher isn't listed, try typing the company's name into
Google.com, Lukol.com, or some other online search engine. If the
company has a web site, the search engine should find it.
Collect the guidelines from every publishing company that
interests you. Then carefully format your story to match what the
publisher asks for and send it out with a cover letter and SASE.
Make certain that the publisher wants to see the complete
manuscript, rather than a query and samples.
Although, as noted above, publishers will have their own
specific guidelines on manuscript formatting, here are some standard
Use good quality, plain white paper, 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches, and
type only on one side.
Type your manuscript using either a typewriter or a computer word
processor. Choose a simple, easy-to-read font like Courier or Times
Roman. These fonts have serifs (those little decorations on the ends
of the straight and curly parts of letters), which make reading a
lot more comfortable on the eyes.
Leave at least a one-inch margin all around the edges of the text,
and double space the lines of type.
Put your real name, address, and phone number at the top left of the
first page. Put the word count (rounded to the nearest hundred) at
the top right. About halfway down the page, center the title and the
name you write under. If you use a pseudonym, or pen name, for your
writing, this is the place to put it:
a couple of blank lines and start the story.
Keep the text ragged right. Justified text is difficult to read
because it is forced to space unevenly across the page. When you are
reading hundreds upon hundreds of pages, easier-to-read niceties
make a huge difference.
Do not change from one kind of font to another unless the publisher
allows it in the guidelines. That means no bold text and no italic.
Where italicizing or emphasis is needed, indicate it by underlining
Indent paragraphs five spaces (about 1/2 inch) and do not put extra
lines between adjoining paragraphs. If a scene break calls for an
extra line, put a blank (empty) line, then another with an asterisk
in the center of the line, then another blank line.
After the first page, put the surname that you write under and the
page number at the top right of every succeeding page. For example:
Smith/page 2; or you can put the name and page number on separate
Start each new chapter on a new page.
At the end of the story, leave a couple blank lines, then type "The
Do not staple or bind the pages together. If the manuscript is a
short story or article of only a few pages, you may fold it up with
the cover letter and insert it into a #10 business envelope. If it
is larger, pack it in a large envelope or box, either loose or with
a rubber band around it. A second rubber band applied in the
opposite direction may be needed.
Remember, if you want the
manuscript back, you need to enclose a suitably sized SASE. Note in
the cover letter whether you want your work returned. In any case,
enclose a business-size SASE for the publisher's reply.
ALWAYS keep a copy or two of your manuscript—losses do
Remember: don't send a publisher or editor anything that
doesn't closely follow their company guidelines. They are unlikely
to consider it for publication.
© Nann Dunne, 2003
Nann Dunne's Fiction-Editing Handbook (a work in
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