Quick and Easy Tips on

Professional Manuscript Submission

by Roger MacBride Allen,
who wishes to remain anonymous

How to format a manuscript

Many writers have learned that there is no longer any point to writing well. Today's modern, now, a-go-go editors have no time for reading prose. Form has not only become content, it has overwhelmed content altogether. Remember that every moment wasted in thinking about meaning, every second expended in consideration of the words on the page, is a moment that you can't squander worrying about how the page looks.

First and foremost, paper is not merely obsolescent, it is positively old Stone-Age. It is not archival. Even the best bond paper will deteriorate in a matter of a few centuries. How can you words be called deathless if the pages rot away? Many would-be authors ("writers" being the term currently reserved for those bogged down in the idea of verbiage, rather than a proper regard for self-promotion) mistakenly assume that this means books should be submitted on computer disk. This is a fine idea if you are concerned that the average editor does not have anywhere near enough coasters. Unfortunately, most books submitted in electronic form rarely serve any other purpose than of preventing unsightly rings on horizontal wood surfaces. The publishing industry has yet to emerge from the nineteenth century. (Some houses are still waiting for this whole Gutenberg business to blow over.)

Publishing offices throughout the land are cluttered up with abandoned typewriters which have been replaced with new typewriters. The editors got rid of the old ones not because they were obsolete, but because it was easier to buy new ones than to learn how to change the ribbons. Editors are not capable of dealing with books on disk. (Some are not capable of dealing with books at all, but that is another story.)

If paper is not acceptable, and electronic submission is as futile a gesture as translating Shakespeare into Estruscan in hopes of attracting a mass audience, than what is a modern author to do?

The answer is simple as it is non-magnetic: Stainless steel. Enameled stainless steel. Thin-gauge steel can be obtained in bulk from any large steel manufactory. Rolls of steel of the type used for car panels are readily available. Cutting tools capable of forming the steel into standard 8+x11 pages can be obtained from most bankrupt defense plants. You should be able to get about 5,000 sheets to the ton. Natural-finish steel, while durable, does not photocopy well. However, a quite standard industrial enameling process will let you bake a permanent brilliant white surface onto your steel sheets. Set up the enameling line in your basement. (Economy tip: run your enameling line in winter, and the excess heat from the curing furnace should heat your home and most of the rest of the block.)

Once your page stock is ready, there is of course the question of how to put the words on them. Ink won't bond properly, and in any event, the average printer or typewriter platen is not capable of handing steel sheeting. Many writers ask: Will a laser printer work on enameled steel? Sadly, no. The puny lasers inside a standard printer won't even get enameled steel warm. However, there is a solution as simple as a return visit to your local abandoned defense research labs. You can get what you need there: Just about all industrial lasers of 5000 watts or above can easily be adapted into an page etching system, and such lasers are available at most defense tag sales.

You can usually find two or three ex-aerospace engineers loitering around the local Radio Shack. Any of them will be able to rig a Windows-compatible computer control system for laser page etching. From there, it is mere question of issuing a "print" command, while insuring adequate ventilation for the fumes produced by the etching process. Oh! Be sure to wear protective eyewear whenever you are etching your pages.

One other advantage of enameled steel is that, short of laser etching, it is all but impossible to put a permanent mark on its surface. No editor will be able to make a nuisance of herself by marking up your deathless prose -- unless she acquires her own laser marking system. (This is the way an arms race starts, of course --and it might just signal recovery for the whole defense sector.) One last point that will make sure your prose wins instant acceptance: USE AS MANY FONTS AS POSSIBLE. Laser-etch printing can procude any font known to humanity, and many that aren't. By the way, don't feel strait-jacketed by ideas about the words all having to appear in rigid lines, or in the right order, for that matter. Remember, if your work is too accessible -- or legible -- you might well find yourself attracting a dangerously passe audience.

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How to Write a Cover Letter

Before discussing the body of the letter, let us discuss the format of the letter. As in all other areas of professional writing, the appearance of the cover letter, and its adherence to standard format, is far more important than the contents of its actual message.

In all cases, include the following information on the cover letter over the salutation: Your name, address, phone number, social security number, fax number, favorite lottery number, height, weight, shoe size, political affiliation, number of words in the story, number of words not in the story, number of numbers in the story, an acknowledgment of the designers of all the type faces used in your story, and the number of pages in the story. Staple a glossy photo of yourself to the page (be careful not to get the staple through your forehead -- a sure sign of an amateur.)

Many people recommend that you submit to a particular person, rather than just to "The Editor." This is good advice, but it does not go far enough in the present day. The would-be author must make his or her (or its) editor her or his (or its) constant study. Your research into your editor has not finished once you have selected your target. Indeed, it had hardly begun. To illustrate the proper scope of research, consider the information that the savvy submitter adds to the cover letter, above and beyond the conventional editor's name, title, and business address. It is also wise to include the name of the editor's spouse, the editor's home address, her home phone number, her usual hour for leaving the office, the address and schedule for the school or day care center of any children, her bank account numbers, any surveillance photos you have obtained, and any other information that would demonstrate the degree to which you have been studying, obsessing upon, and otherwise stalking the person to whom you are submitting your life's work. Having disposed of the above formatting issues, let us touch briefly on the content of the letter. There are several acceptable techniques. Here is one frequently successful format, reproduced in full.

    Dear [Editor's Name];
    Once upon a time....

The editor will of course turn to the next page to see what comes next. She will then encounter the first page of your story, and, assuming that it is merely a continuation of the letter, will read further. As getting the editor to read the story is one of the would-be author's major challenges, there is much to recommend this technique.

Another, similar, technique, is to retell the story in such detail that the book or story itself becomes superfluous. Many such cover letters are themselves published to wide acclaim. (It is a little known fact that DUNE was in fact nothing more than the cover letter for a much longer work by Herbert.) Many authors find it prudent to threaten or cajole the editor in some way. Warn of the dire consequences if your submission is rejected, and wax eloquent on the limitless riches sure to befall the publishing house savvy enough to take on your work. Editors who fear for their careers, editors blinded by greed and lusting for power, are more willing to take chances. This in turn brings us to yet another useful style of letter: the nut letter. Unlike most other fields of endeavor, the task of writing fiction is one in which a certain degree of mental impairment is a positive boon. Editors know this. You should take advantage of it. Spice up your letters with mention of the shafts of light coming from your eyes, or discuss the merits of one brand of aluminum foil over another in shielding your skull from alien thought beams. Describe, in florid detail, your conversations with Christ, and drop a casual mention that Satan told you to write your book. Nothing is more likely to insure a prompt response to your submission.

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How to Package A Manuscript for Mailing

Many writers bog down in needless worry over the proper way to ship a manuscript. They wish to insure that manuscript arrives safely, and that the overall package offers an appearance of professional competence. Indeed, many writer have found that a proper concern for manuscript presentation is paramount to all other issues. All experts in the field agree that it outweighs any old-fashioned concerns regarding the literary quality of the manuscript itself. Follow these simple instructions, and you too may find that your manuscript box, if not your manuscript itself, will soon find its way onto the bestseller list. The simplest part of the job is in preparing the pages themselves for shipping. Type on one side one, use one inch margins throughout, and, of course, double-space. Try to spell most words correctly. (See HOW TO FORMAT A MANUSCRIPT for more detailed instructions.) In any event, as will be seen, it is highly advisable to render your pages fireproof by one means or another.

Assemble your pages in the proper order, and then spotweld the pages together using a Thor Power Tools Model #666 Paperwelder. (It is essential that you get the pages in the right order before this step.) Set the pages to one side and allow to cool. Measure the manuscript's dimensions, note down the precise width of your manuscript, and divide by two. Dig an 11x17x8 inch hole in your back yard. Using scrap lumber, make up a 8+x11 mold exactly half as thick as your manuscript. Fill the 11x17 hole with a slurried mixture of Sacrete or equivalent home concrete mix. Centering carefully, force the 8+x11 mold down into the slurry. Allow to set 48 hours. Remove the mold, leaving a manuscript-sized hollow.

Repeat the steps to make up another 11x17 form. Place your welded pages in the hole that is left in one half of the form. Place a thin line of industrial epoxy around the outer rim of this form. Be careful not to use too much. Working quickly before the epoxy sets, put the upper form into place and press gently. Allow to set. Using a high-torque hand drill with a masonry bit, drill two holes through both short sides of your assembled shipping module. Drill three holes through both long sides. (Be careful to drill near the edges -- you don't want to drill through your manuscript pages!) Obtain eight #4 explosive bolts and set these in the drilled holes. Wire them in a parallel circuit with a keyclock timer switch with a one-minute delay. Using heavy-gauge stainless steel in a one-inch width, wrap the manuscript in two bands of steel width-wise and two band lengthwise. DO NOT WELD the bands. Instead, set explosive bolts through the bands and wire them into the timer. Wrap the whole package in brown paper. Double-check the zipcode, and mail to the editor of your choice.

When your manuscript arrives, all your editor need do is evacuate the mail room, and, with a fire extinguisher handy, turn the keyclock switch, and run. When the bolts detonate they will snap the steel bands and blow off the exterior edge of your shipping module. A quick squirt with the extinguisher is usually adequate to bring the ensuing blaze under control. It is then merely a question of prying the manuscript module open and dewelding the pages.

Oh! And be sure to put the page number on each page.

How to Prepare a Stamped, Self-Addressed Envelope

Writers, of course, dream of success, but many spend a great deal of time in needless worry over how to fail in a professional manner. They fret over the proper way to insure that their rejected manuscripts arrive back safely from the publisher. In short, they wonder: What is the proper sort of stamped, self-addressed envelope, or SASE?

How best to look good to the editor that has already shot you down? What sort of SASE will get your pricelessly amateurish pages back to you in professional style? What SASE will look so sharp, so professional, that it will tip the balance on a marginal manuscript? What SASE is so good that the editor will not be able to resist rejecting a Pulitzer Prize manuscript, just for the sheer pleasure of using the SASE?

Well, it's been a rough day: I shot half the morning disarming a Federal Express package. But I think I still have the strength to explain how to make a Stamped, Self-Addressed Envelope. Buy one of the large rolls of Tyvek used for insulating houses. Roll out a generous length of it in your back yard. Using a diamond tipped saw (a large surgical scalpel will do in a pinch) slice off your length of Tyvek from the roll. Fold the Tyvek lengthwise, forming a double thickness. Now place the manuscript near one end of the Tyvek and start wrapping the Tyvek around it, as tightly as possible. Using a generous amount of any commercial-grade building adhesive, glue down each wrap onto the previous layer. Bondo brand fiberglass repair material also makes a satisfactory adhesive. Any excess can be used for whatever bodywork your car needs.

By the time you have wrapped the manuscript in the entire length of Tyvek, you should have anywhere between twenty and forty thicknesses of Tyvek, stiffened and reinforced by the adhesive. Slide the manuscript out (if you can) and set it to one side. Using your diamond saw again, cut and fold down one side only of the open tube to form one end of the SASE, and use additional building adhesive to seal the closure.

As Tyvek will not take most kinds of ink, and the standard mailing label will be corroded by the fumes of the building adhesive, it is necessary to brand your return address into your SASE. Any reputable rubber-stamp manufactory or type foundry will be able to run off a brand, or stamp, of your address in stainless steel (do not use lead, as it tends to melt at the temperatures you will be using). Use at least a 12-point font. Sans-serif tends to work best, as there are fewer edges that might fall victim to uneven heating. Helvetica is a good choice. Be sure to proofread the final version carefully, and see to it that your stamp is welded to a sturdy, well-insulated pole.

Using a standard butane handtorch, bring your stamp to approximately 2000 degrees centigrade. (Stainless steel will glow cherry-red.) Be sure your SASE is immobilized (I use sandbags wedged in all around the SASE, with loose sand inside it) and press the stamp down firmly into the center of the flat face of the SASE. Do not be alarmed by the noxious fumes or flames that will occur at this point. Hold the stamp in place, under steady pressure, for at least ten seconds, then remove. If it has become lodged in place, a high-pressure jet of cold water will loosen it within about five seconds. (If you wear glasses, be prepared for them to fog up in the cloud of super-heated steam produced when the water hits the stamp.) If all has gone well, you will have burned through something between a third and a half of the Tyvek/adhesive layers. The charred remains of the adhesive and the Tyvek will serve as an indelible ink. At this point, I generally coat the exterior of the addressed envelope in a polymer resin for additional rigidity, though this is not strictly needed. Allow two days for hardening. Purchase the needed postage (usually $15-$30 will cover the weight of the envelope, if you use fourth-class mail), and bond it to the upper right-hand corner of the envelope using commercial-grade epoxy. DO NOT apply vanish, resin, etc. over the postage, as the postmaster will suspect you of trying to avoid cancellation of postage, and your SASE may be delayed in transit for examination by Postal Inspection Service bomb squads. (It's happened more than once!)

As the weight of your SASE will almost certainly exceed postal maximums if enclosed along with the manuscript modue we built last time, the SASE must be sent under separate cover. Mail it off wrapped in some of your surplus Tyvek, to the attention of your editor. If you've done a good job on it, it will hard for her to miss. But before you send it out, take the time to be courteous -- use your own cutting and forming tools to shape the open end into a closable flap yourself. Do not expect your editor to spend too much time or use her own channel-clamps in doing the job herself. If you take the time to do it properly yourself, it should take her no longer than 2-3 hours to force your rejected ms. into your SASE, drag it back to the mail room, and send it on its way back to you.

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Last Updated: Wednesday, July 26, 1995