word craft


Submitting a manuscript

manuscript submissionA good friend once asked me to read a man­u­script. “It’s only sev­en­ty-eight pages,” he said. 

The friend was a good one, so I said yes. 

The man­u­script came and indeed it was sev­en­ty-eight pages. But the mar­gins were one-half an inch wide, top, bot­tom, and sides. The font was size 10. The pages were not numbered. 

After my first gasp as to what I was see­ing I knew I would nev­er read the text. It was blush­ing­ly unread­able. What I sent back were sug­ges­tions on how to make a man­u­script readable. 

If you send some­one a text, you want to make it easy to read. So, to begin, dou­ble spaced and bold, please. Num­ber the pages.

There are many fonts avail­able on a com­put­er. I recall a live­ly con­ver­sa­tion with Kevin Henkes about how we went about match­ing the “right” font with a par­tic­u­lar text. Fonts are not only fun but a real art form. My own favorite is the 18th cen­tu­ry Caslon. (Hey, I do write his­tor­i­cal fic­tion). That said I sub­mit my texts using Times New Roman, at 12 points. It’s fair­ly stan­dard and I think all com­put­ers can repli­cate it. 

My com­put­er allows me to design the text: Reg­u­lar. Expand­ed. Com­pact­ed. I always use expand­ed. Again, eas­i­er to read. 

As for the lay­out of a page, there are infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties. But I sug­gest you use the default lay­out your com­put­er offers. 

In all this, I am urg­ing that there be noth­ing about your man­u­script that inhibits the read­er from read­ing it. That is, after all, the point. 

But since I am a bad speller, and my knowl­edge of gram­mar would put a sev­enth-grad­er to shame, I run my texts (often) through spell and gram­mar check­ers. When I got my first com­put­er and learned how to use a spell-check­er I was thrilled. I have long believed the inventor(s) should have won the Noble Prize for Literature. 

I remem­ber Richard Peck—a for­mer teacher—telling me he nev­er want­ed a spelling or gram­mar mis­take in his books, lest a young writer learn to write the wrong way. Ah, Richard, I miss you. 

So, I have three pro­grams for check­ing. My PC, my Lap­top, and Gram­marly. They don’t agree one with the oth­er or even them­selves over peri­ods of time. Being with­out brains they can be wrong, or out of touch with my writ­ing. It’s always my judg­ment, but I love, love the advice. 

There are also pro­grams for check­ing word rep­e­ti­tions. Do you real­ly want your pro­tag­o­nist to say, “I was daz­zled!” a hun­dred times? 

Too many excla­ma­tion points? Use your word find­er!!!  Elmore Leonard said you should nev­er use them. Hem­ing­way (I think it was him) said “Using an excla­ma­tion point is like laugh­ing at your own joke.” 

Your word find­er will find them for you. And the “delete” but­ton should be your most well-used key. 

Anoth­er agent once told me she received man­u­script sub­mis­sions tied up in rib­bons and bows, along with brown­ies and cookies. 

I send in my man­u­scripts via e‑mail attachments. 

Once I asked an agent how long it took for her to tell if the sub­mit­ting author wrote well. 

Her answer: “The first line of the sub­mis­sion letter.” 

Ever since my sub­mis­sion let­ters read: 


Here is the book about which we talked. 



3 thoughts on “Submitting a manuscript”

  1. I very well remem­ber grow­ing up and learn­ing from what I was read­ing about tech­nique and spelling and I still think about the same thing Richard Peck did — every bit of writ­ing is teach­ing new writ­ers, too. I get a kick out of know­ing you write in a font that inspires and then change it!

  2. Need­ed this now. Thank you for the reminder to use word find­er for ! I just did that for my pic­ture book man­u­script. There are words I tend to use, like began to, start­ed to, just (Yes, I know the word is JUST above this sen­tence) that I will search to replace. And for short pieces I also use the Read Aloud fea­ture to lis­ten for word­ing or rep­e­ti­tions. Then I go back to that word find­er if I’ve dis­cov­ered some­thing. Love get­ting reminders and new ways to revise. I just wish there was mag­ic for get­ting the first draft writ­ten. (Heavy sigh!)

  3. AMEN to every sin­gle point you make here.
    I’m espe­cial­ly sen­si­tive to the over use and plain wrong use of excla­ma­tions. I have friends who replace the qui­et peri­od at the end of sen­tences with excla­ma­tions, and even ques­tion marks get the boot as in, “How are you!”


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