Last week I talked about rejection, and why it’s not always a reflection of your work. This week I break down tip #2: “Stand out by looking pro.” Read last week’s post here.
I’ve been writing professionally for many years, but I never heard of William Shunn’s proper manuscript format until February 2018. It was at Borderland’s Writers Boot Camp. Many of us submitted our assignments in the same format this post is written in: no indents, single space except between paragraphs.
We were introduced to Shunn, and strongly encouraged to never submit any other way. Ever. At the time I thought it was silly and old school. The internet and Google Docs use this ‘blog’ format as a standard. Why bother with indents and double spaces?
But… I did it. I learned to set my documents up this way and saw my submission acceptances improve. If it helps my work get out, I’m willing to go “silly and old school.” Now that I’m publishing a magazine, I have a whole new perspective on why Shunn is so important.
There is a sample manuscript at the bottom of the page. You’ll notice it has the author’s name, their address, word count, email, title, byline and some other vital info. While it seems like overkill, the editor and/or publisher will appreciate seeing all of it here.
Here’s the information I look for, and why:
First is word count. When I pick up a story, my eye looks for the word count first. Why? Because as a paying publication, word count means money. If I see “about 15,000 words” in your manuscript’s upper right, I’ll pause right there and save us both some time. It’s harder to find room and the budget for larger pieces. I have a big pile of stories to read. I have to be honest for both our sake.
I also need word count because I have a loose tally in my head of what I have room for. I know how much I can fit in Space and Time. As I read, I have an idea of that space filling up. If I look up to your manuscript’s upper right and don’t see a word count, I’m annoyed at you.
I can’t just read your story. I have to select all and word count it. Then, as I read I have to remember what that word count was. If I love the story, now I have to go back and select all and word count again, because if your story has wowed me I certainly don’t remember a number I read 10 minutes ago. If I love your story, I’m annoyed at you. If I didn’t love it… Do us both a favor, and just put your word count up top.
Second is your contact info. Not everyone prefers PayPal. If you request to be paid by paper check via snail mail it’s awesome on my end not to have to search your address up in a long chain of emails. I love efficiency. I love to save time without cutting corners. Help me do this by putting your address and email in the upper left.
If I need to pay you I can just go to your manuscript and get the address from that. I can verify that I’m paying the right person for the right work because it’s there on the manuscript. If I need to follow-up by email, I can search a long chain of emails… or look in the upper left of your manuscript.
Do you write under a pen name? I will have that information on your manuscript. Your given name will be in the upper left with all your contact information, but your byline under the title will be the name you publish under. Again, that saves me a search through a long chain of emails. Of course the story needs to be polished and original with a compelling start, but if I look and see all the information I need I already like your story a lot.
Please make use of headers with Name / Title / page number. Do you know what happens when I’m printing and the papers scatter on the floor? Just some mild grumbling unless I find stories with no Name / Title / page numbers. If that happens, I have to throw the stack away and reprint any pages I can’t identify. Do you really want your story to be the John Doe headed for the trash? What if I forget to reprint, run out of ink/paper, get sucked up by a tornado… make it easy and identify your pages in the header.
And if you’re wondering, yes. I have let a few stories go because they weren’t formatted like this. It’s not to be a snob, which is exactly what I thought the whole Shunn hoopla was about in the beginning. It’s about making things easy on the editor who has a stack of 20 stories to sift through… with room for five.
Water will flow down the easiest path, and so does paper. Don’t shun the Shunn and make it easy to say yes to your next submission… which for Space and Time will should be around September 21.
Here is an example of a well formatted submission. Learn all about proper, professional formats for all kinds of writing on Proper Manuscript Format Shunn. Actually read the sample, it’s full of great information.