Tuesday, August 09, 2011

GUEST BLOGGER: Defeating the Slushpile Monster by Cindy A. Matthews

Your Manuscript = Your Business Card

Have you ever been on a job interview? Have you ever attended a business convention? Have you ever owned and run your own business?  If you’ve done any of these things then you probably have encountered business cards.
A business card has a dual purpose. First of all, it tells people who you are. It says, “I’m Joe Blow, licensed plumber,” or “I’m Betty Buys-a-lot, personal shopper.” Secondly, a business card tells a potential customer or client what to expect from you and your service. “Pipes unclogged in five minutes flat or double your money back.”  “Hate shopping for your mother-in-law’s birthday? I can help!”
Pretty basic, huh?
So, what is a “writer’s business card”? Why his or her manuscript, of course.
Remember, the editor is a busy person. She wants to read your manuscript and quickly make up her mind if she and her publishing firm can use your services. She needs to be convinced from the very first line, the very first paragraph, the very first page that you are who you claimed to be—a capable writer—and that you can deliver the goods—a complete, publishable manuscript.
Your job is to make your business card as professional as possible. No sprinkled lavender cologne, no fancy fonts, print faces or paper colors. Remember, this is a professional presentation—not your teenage daughter’s diary. Please act like a professional and you will be treated as such. Which leads us straight into to a very important rule called:

Follow the guidelines—or else

If you belong to a writer’s group then I’m confident this is a topic you need very little help with. Then again, maybe you do. I mean, I wouldn’t be reading—and rejecting—manuscript submissions so much if folks had bothered to read and follow the guidelines and had submitted their manuscripts accordingly. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think following directions implies a certain “wimpishness” on their part so they simply choose to ignore them. I’m here to warn you now that if you choose to ignore the submission guidelines of the publisher (or agent or contest) you’ve targeted for your book then you do so at your own risk.
But how do you know whether or not a publishing firm (or a literacy agency or contest) prefers double spaced, one-inch margins and good weight paper? It’s simple nowadays—check out their web site. The Internet has made it that much simpler for writers. You don’t have to mail in a self-addressed, stamped envelope to a publisher/agent asking for their guidelines and wait for a response if the firm you’re querying has the information online. Most (if not all) publishers, agencies and contests have their manuscript submission guidelines clearly spelled out on their web sites. Writer’s Market is also a good source for guidelines if you can’t locate your target online. Publishing professionals have given writers no excuse to plead ignorance of submission protocol any more. Don’t irritate them by failing to follow their rules.
What happens if you can’t find specific submission guidelines for a publisher or agent anywhere? Don’t panic. Here are a few “standard manuscript submission rules” that should serve you in good stead.
A good rule of thumb is to always double-space your manuscript. Not triple space, not single space, double. Be sure to use at least one-inch margins all around—top, bottom, right or left. Approximately twenty-five lines to a page—less is okay, but no more. Your average publishing professional isn’t worried about the shrinking rainforest so don’t even try to squeeze more words on a page just in order to save paper.
Paragraphs should be indented at least five spaces. Italics to indicate internal monologue or for emphasis on a word shouldn’t be overused. Some publishers want you to use underlining to indicate italics, but since the invention of the desktop computer, more editors have come to prefer italics fonts to underlining.
Never use any font size smaller than twelve point. Times New Roman or Courier New are the fonts considered the most professional looking by industry authorities.  Never be tempted to show off how wonderful your word processing program is by using fancy fonts such as Gothic or Boombox. Always use black ink on good weight white paper. Avoid strange page layouts and no fair trying to squeeze extra lines on a page.  In the end, it only causes eyestrain and frustration for the reader.
If submitting electronically, please use the computer format or program the publisher asks for in their guidelines and no other. If you don’t own a copy of that particular program ask around and see if a friend can convert your file for you. Nothing is more frustrating for an editor reading an electronic submission than not being able to open a file or finding it riddled with “gobbly-gook” caused by incompatible word processing programs.
Play it safe and follow the guidelines. If you don’t, you risk alienating a publishing professional you’re trying hard to impress. An editor may think, “This manuscript doesn’t follow our guidelines—next!”
I don’t think this point can be emphasized enough: Never give anyone an excuse to put your book down! 

Defeating the Slushpile Monster  is a funny how-not-to guide to help serious writers improve their manuscripts’ chances of surviving the arduous submission process. Writers learn that "Only You Can Prevent Formatting Follies" and how to avoid those "Prose Pile-Ups on Publication Road".  Through the insights gained from some not-quite-so-serious examples, writers can polish their works until they shine, instilling their manuscripts with strength to battle their way out of the ever-present editorial slush piles.

Defeating the Slushpile Monster  is available in print through Smiling Assassin Production: http://tinyurl.com/slushpile

This book is also available in e-book formats under the alternative title The Curse of the Manuscript-Eating Slushpile Monster from Uncial Press:

About the author: Cindy A. Matthews is a professional manuscript evaluator, columnist and published novelist. You can read an interview on what inspired her to write Defeating the Slushpile Monster at her web site: http://www.cindyamatthews.com/

In her spare time she writes SF/romantic fiction as Cynthianna (http://www.cynthianna.com/) and Celine Chatillon (http://www.celinechatillon.com/)

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