Thursday, January 04, 2007

Writer Tips: Formating

So you’ve written an excellent story rife with memorable characters, superlative prose, and an engaging theme, yet it keeps getting rejected five minutes after you’ve emailed it. Why? Have you checked your formatting? Many, many markets will reject your submission unread if it isn’t formatted to the industry standard. This is the first (and often fatal) strike a great many writers make. It’s a shame they don’t teach this sort of thing in most creative writing classes.

A good, generic format looks like this: Real Name; Address; City, State, Zip; Country; and your email in the upper left side of the manuscript. Put your approximate word count on the right side. Further down, center your title in all caps; skip a line, then center By; skip a line, then center the name you'll be published as. Skip several lines, write your story, then center THE END when you're done.

In the top header of each page after the first put: Story Name/Your Name/ Page #.
Stories should be double spaced, 12pt. New Times Roman font is most often requested but many people have preferences. If you want something in italics, underline it instead. DO NOT use bold print.

Many markets have specifics, Read Their Guidelines! By not adhering to proper formatting, writers give editors the idea that they’re ignorant of the rules or too lazy to bother with them, not the impression you want to make. For more information, look under "Writing Help" at
Ralan's.

22 comments:

Lucas Pederson said...

As always, thanks for the great advice! I'm very much in your debt for helping me along my way here. And thanks again for this. Finally there's someone out there willing to help unpublished writers with their bad luck.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Mine gets rejected while its still on my laptop. In fact, I've started getting threatening phone calls with muffled voices telling me not to write at all.

Brian G Ross said...

Very true, Chuck. I'm sure many, many good stories are rejected because the author couldn't be bothered to read the guidelines properly. It sounds like such a basic 'Submission 101' thing to say, but ever so true.

Of course... all the better for my chances...

;o)

Chuck Zaglanis said...

I'm glad to be of help. Somewhere in my black excuse for a heart (editors make the Grinch look like a choir boy) I feel bad for writers I know are getting dismissed out of hand because they are so happy to have created something, they didn't bother to investigate the rules of the game.

In a perfect world, we'd all be judged on creativity alone, but pigs don't fly unless you launch them with a catapult.

Lucas Pederson said...

So true, Chuck, so painfully true...

Christina Rundle said...

Chuck: I have only submitted one short story and got rejected because I didn't have an agent pitching it for me. Apparently it's not that easy to get into "Teen Magazine." That aside, I think I might try submitting stories again.

Stewart: lol, rejected while they are sitting on your laptop? Where do you come up with such great lines?

Chuck Zaglanis said...

Writers need an agent to get into Teen? Yeesh! It's pretty rare for genre short fiction to get an agent. Do you really want to share 15% with them? And do they want to bother working for it?

Vwriter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vwriter said...

What "rights" should we ask for when submitting a story to a magazine? I've seen "First North American Rights," but I'm not really sure what that means. Can you give us a thumbnail as to what's reasonable to ask for and what it's called?

And Stewart: I'll stop with the phone calls asking not you to write, but only if you'll increase your word count by another thousand or so words.

Chuck Zaglanis said...

Hi Rick,

You don't ask for rights when you submit a story, you provide them. FNAR is the right you give a market to be the first to print something you've written. It means that you will not let another agency publish your story, article, etc, until a specified time after that market has been published (typically until the next issue of the magazine, 60-90 days, or whatever you agree to).

Make sure to read their guidelines/contract to see how long they want those rights or that they aren't buying additional rights as well (movie, anthology, audio book, etc). If they don't specify that they want FNAR, ask; if they won't answer, fuck'um. Trust no one. Don't take a chance that something you created will get optioned as a movie or something and somebody comes up with a contract that lets him or her have a chunk of your cash. CYA always.

2nd serial rights and so on are reprint rights and typically garner less money (the difference between 1 and 5 cents per word or more.)

Christina Rundle said...

I was surprised with Teen wanting an agent. Some short stories bring in pretty good money, but the % out of say 1,000 isn't going to do much more than buy you bread and milk because in California, you need $40 if you are going to fill your gas tank up.

Daniel I. Russell said...

Chuck.

Just wanted to say thank you for dropping by and joining in the fun! I've got loads of ammo for the office tomorrow...

JR's Thumbprints said...

No no no. You don't want Dr. Brooks teaching advanced creative writing; why not attend the House of Sternberg's alternative education; or better yet, do a crime, get convicted, and I'll see you in a little while.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hi Chuck,

I was slated to teach that class and then got a sabbatical at the last minute for this semester! I will be back next semester, most definitely teaching all the creative writing classes. Thanks for the kind words!

Chuck Zaglanis said...

Hi JR,

I think Stewart's the greatest thing since chocolate, but can 20 students out of a class of 25 be wrong?

And you're much more likely to see my crackhead brother (a Jackson alumnis) than I. Nothing personal of course, I just like taking showers and my only fear is that Norman Bates will come for me.

Chuck Zaglanis said...

That's good to hear Michelle. I'll pass the word on to the rest of the class.

Lucas Pederson said...

Okay, its been what? Two? Almost three weeks?
Now I know you're a busy guy and all, and preocupied with life's little snid-bits, but I think it's time to update your blog....
It's time for you rise out of the ashes and gift us all with your endless wit and knowledge. If you don't...I'll find you...and then, oh boy..you better know the ancient art of Jedi because I'll be coming in swinging my laser scythe.
Just kidding...:-) don't be scared. I'm harmless really.
Or am I?......:-)

Christina Rundle said...

You must be very busy right now. I have a short story I'm working on that I might have the guts to send out. Now I'm worried because my query letters in the past were by far scratches towards the bottom of intelligence. I'm working on my one line attraction hoping it's exciting enough to grab the attention of the publishers.

Chuck Zaglanis said...

Hi Christina and Lucas. I had a story with a deadline I was trying to nail added to my normal workload and the damned thing wouldn't come to a stop. I should be much better now.

Jon said...

Life-Cringe moment number twenty-nine: You have just sent out a story using a cover letter guided by a template that you've perfected for the last two months.
You get home from the post office and see the letter on your kitchen table, addressed to "Mr. R. Alan Smith." That means the template sample addressed to "Insert Agent's Name Here," is on its way to New York.

Chuck Zaglanis said...

That's funny Jon. I often use form rejection letters (there's just too many writers to do a personal one all the time) and I'm paranoid that I'll forget to delete the AUTHOR NAME HERE marker.

james said...

Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.

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