Writers' Guidelines Tips

Writers' Guidelines Tips

Do you ever wonder at the reason behind certain submission guidelines, or perhaps wonder what they mean at all? If so, here's some information I hope will help.

This is used to protect your work from being plagiarised and allows you the benefits of being its creator. In Australia, it is only necessary to print a copyright symbol next to your name and the date to cover your work. A copyright symbol, a lower case c in a circle, can be created on MS Word by using this shortcut, open bracket ‘(‘ followed by a lower case ‘c’ then close bracket ‘)’ .

If you're truly concerned about somebody taking credit for your manuscript, there are other more solid ways of protecting yourself. For example, send yourself a copy of your work by Registered Mail but don’t open the envelope until you need to prove your validity and then open it in the presence of a lawyer. The postmark serves to prove the date of your work’s creation.

Remember though that ideas themselves cannot be copyrighted.

Cover page
This is a page attached to the front of your work, it contains all your contact details and the information about your manuscript. In book submissions it can be advisable to place a cover page at the end of the manuscript as well, this overcomes the possibility of your manuscript being devoid of vital information should the front page be separated from the work.

The cover page, besides your name and full contact details, needs to include: the manuscript’s title, word length, the rights you are offering, indication of copyright and the style of work it is i.e. short story, article, novel, etc.

The layout of this information will vary from one writer’s work to another. I have seen cover pages where the details are all centred down the middle of the page, where they are on the left margin or, like mine, spread evenly across the page. Remember once again, the layout is not as vital as the information being clear and well presented.

Email submissions
In these days of technical advancements, the internet is enabling quicker, easier and faster presentation of submissions. Not all publishers will accept manuscripts sent to their email address though, so check carefully before forwarding your work this way.

Once you have ascertained that a publisher will accept emailed work, clarify if you need to send your manuscript as an ‘attachment’ or if you should ‘cut and paste’ it into the body of the email. Many publishers refuse to open attachments in case they contain a virus.

A clear style of type, such as Times New Roman, in font size 12 is easy to read and less wearing on the eyes than some other more ornate styles that you may be tempted to use for effect. Most publishers also request that you only print on one side of the page, keeping the back of it clear.

Headers and Footers
A header is the repeated information about you and your manuscript which needs to be at the very top of every page - details such as the author’s name, manuscript’s title and contact details. A footer is a similar block of writing but it's found at the bottom of each page. The advantage of these is that should the pages of your manuscript become separated or out of order, it is possible for them to be properly collated again.

On each sheet of manuscript, excluding the cover page, you need headers and footers that include, your name, the manuscript’s title, page number and contact details. Out of choice, I place these all in the right hand side of the header, typed in Times New Roman, 8 font.
For contact details I use either my phone number or email address dependent on whether the publisher I’m approaching is local or international. I have not, as yet, found a publisher that enjoys paying international phone rates even if he were willing to get up a three in the morning to call me. By laying out my header this way it leaves my footer empty except for either ‘m.f.’ (an abbreviation of ‘more follows’) or on the last page ‘END’.

As I said earlier, there are many personal variations on which information goes where, the important thing though, is that it is included - clearly.
Lead up times
With regular publications, such as magazines and newspapers, the staff have to begin work on each issue well before it appears on the newsagency’s shelf.

On average an article or story should be sent in three months before you would hope for it to be published. If it’s a piece relating to Christmas, or another major event, that time should be extended to at least six months. This is because such issues usually contain only items pertinent to that season or event and therefore the editor prepares ahead to make sure the publication has the correct content and layout.

A good way to be ready if you’re planning to write seasonal articles, Christmas for example, is to put a note in your diary on the 1st of March to ‘start writing Xmas articles.’ Then in June, remind yourself that this is the deadline for sending them off.

The gap of unused paper around your writing should be approximately 3 cms, on the left, right, top and bottom of the page. This provides enough room around your text should the editor wish to make notes regarding any alterations that may need making.

Multiple submissions
Often when articles or books are seasonal, or topical, it's difficult to select the correct publisher to approach. After all, if the average response time from a publisher is three months there is no doubt that, should you be turned down by your first choice, the article will no longer be current or of interest. In a situation like this a writer has to consider making multiple submissions.

This is when you choose to send your proposal or manuscript to a variety of publishers, at the same time hoping that one of them has the foresight to accept your suggestion. Not all publishers accept these kinds of submissions and normally say so in their guidelines. If you choose to make multiple submissions I would not recommended sending to more than three publishers at a time.

Page numbers
Vital on any manuscript, either in the header or the footer. Remember when setting up the pagination on your work that page one is not your cover page, but the first page of your written work. Numbers need to be continuous throughout the whole work, avoid starting each chapter as page one. Also stay clear of using anything other than 1,2,3, whilst Roman numerals may add character - sometimes - it is good to be conventional.

Paperclips, no staples
Some guidelines ask that a manuscript be submitted bound and others that it be loose. Send your pages held together by a paperclip or a similar device unless otherwise stated. Whilst some writers do use staples there seem to be just as many publishers against their use.

Personally, I don’t use staples because if the staple doesn’t go through all pages perfectly the first time, the manuscript starts to look scruffy. For this reason, I always rely on paperclips.

Proposals are used most commonly when enquiring to a publishing house to see if they are interested in printing your book. A proposal usually includes a letter explaining why the publisher should publish the book, why you should be the one writing it, who would read this book and why. Along with the letter, you should enclose three chapters of your work and a synopsis of the remaining book.

Other times you may need to write a proposal are when applying for a newspaper column, a regular magazine slot or anything that would be an ongoing contract.

Publishers’ preferred styles
Always check guidelines to see if publishers and publications have a section on preferred styles or a ‘style guide’. These are more commonly found when researching literary or educational publishers. The preferred styles relate to things like, grammar usage, whether to use ‘ise’ or ‘ize’ at the end of words, whether numbers should be spelled out or digits used, and so on.

This style guide enables a standard of uniformity in writing regardless of how many different authors write for the publisher.

If you have an idea for a manuscript that you feel would be ideal for a publisher but want to find out if they are interested before you start writing, you'll need to send a query letter. Some publishers even request a query be sent to them rather than a complete manuscript. The letter is just as the name would imply, ‘a query’. In one page you need to explain your idea and convince the editor that his readers would benefit from reading your work.

Response times
Three months is the average time a publisher will take to respond to your manuscript. Some publishers promise one month, others six months and then there are some anthology book publishers who will hold onto your work and only respond when they want to publish it. Read the publisher’s guidelines carefully to find out when you should hear back from them.

When signing a contract, it is essential that the writer and the publisher have a clear idea of where the work will be printed, how it will be printed and for how long the publisher can keep printing it. These details are called Rights. Different publishers ask for different rights, always make sure which ones you are being paid for and signing away.

Should you have a manuscript commissioned by a publisher you, as the author, have no rights to sell on the work, nor do you hold the copyright. Since the editor came up with the idea it is considered that the article, the rights and the copyright, belong to the publisher.
Sample chapters
When sending a book proposal the three chapters included in it are referred to as ‘sample chapters’. This is an example of your work. It is preferable that they should be the first three chapters of your book.

An editor might like the idea you are presenting to him but unless he can see the standard of your writing he will not know if you are capable of creating the manuscript to the standard required. Sample chapters overcome this problem.

SASE (Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope)
With all submissions you make through the mail, you will need to include a ‘self addressed, stamped envelope’. Often writers request that the publisher dispose of their unsuccessful work rather than pay return postage. Even if this is your choice, you still need to include the SASE for the publisher’s letter.

The envelope you choose and the postage you include on it should be enough to cover all the expenses.

This is the distance between one line of print and the next. Present your manuscripts with double spacing. Single spacing may save you paper but at the expense of eyestrain. As with margins, the enlarged gap between lines provides room to write in necessary corrections.

This is an abridged version of a book. The reason for a synopsis is to enable a prospective editor to decide quickly if your story line is suited to their publishing house. Condensing a lengthy novel into one or two page synopsis can be daunting, but with practice the task should ease.

Unsolicited Manuscripts
These are completed written works sent to a publisher without prior communication between the author and the editor. Most writers when starting out submit their work this way because the thought of writing a query is too daunting.

Always check that editors are open to this form of submission. If they are not, don’t waste your time and money mailing them your manuscript, consider sending them a proposal or a query instead.

Word length
Many magazines and newspapers have set sections that appear in each issue, a piece of short fiction, a lead article, true stories and anecdotes, for example. Each section has its own style and space within the publication. Should any section vary from its allotted space the entire issue’s layout will be upset and have to be altered. For this reason, guidelines will often quote specific word lengths for the sections. It is important to stay within the criteria if you want your work considered.

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