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Making Your Manuscript the Best It Can Be
by Susan Denney
Do you remember your last job interview? You probably dressed carefully.
You realized that even though your resume was dynamite, your clothing
was going to make the first impression on your prospective employer. You
may have even asked someone to give you advice or to check out your appearance
before you left your home.
In the same way, you should always be sure that your query, proposal
or manuscript is putting its best foot forward. The best idea or story
can be tossed aside if an editor is offended by a spelling, grammar or
Here are some steps you can follow to make sure that your writing is
the best it can be.
1. Check spelling. You can begin by running the spell check function
on your word processor. But don’t rely on that alone. Consider this
Andrea ran her fingers through her main of golden hair.
As far as my word processing software is concerned, this sentence is
one hundred per cent correct. Although your computer does know the difference
between its and it’s, it cannot distinguish between
homonyms (words that sound alike). Be sure that you know which word you
want. Also, you probably have a bigger vocabulary than the word processing
There is no substitute for a dictionary. Not only do dictionaries contain
more words than your word processing program does, they also give you
alternate spellings and information about usage. Dictionaries are not
all created equal. Spend time looking for one that suits you. You may
prefer using online dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster OnLine
and maybe triple-check the spelling of the editor’s name in your
cover or query letter. None of us like to have our names misspelled. If
you are using snail mail, also check the name of the market and the address
in your cover letter.
2. Correct your punctuation. The reason for punctuation is to make your
written words read as easily as if you were speaking them. Punctuation
also clarifies your exact meaning. The Elements of Style by Strunk
and White has an excellent chapter on punctuation. Eats, Shoots &
Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Grammar by Lynne Truss makes
learning about apostrophes fun. Punctuation in bibliographies can be a
nightmare if you don’t know about www.easybib.com.
Answer a set of questions and this website will create a free bibliography
for you using the MLA format.
3. Check grammar. Your word processing program can find all sorts of
annoying errors like repeated words and problems in subject/verb agreement.
But it can also make mistakes. Here is an example:
How important is it that Alice be here on time?
The correction my program offered was “How important is it that
Alice is here on time?” This means something completely different.
In my original sentence, Alice hasn’t arrived yet. But in the word
processing version, she is already here.
There are many good references on English grammar. The Elements of
Style by Strunk and White is classic in its simplicity and delightful
to read. For those who want to wade deeper into the murky depths of English
grammar, Fowler’s Modern English Usage can be very useful.
If you are completely stuck, the Grammar
Lady will help you for free. Send your question via email to her website
and she will respond. Her web address is http://aacton.gladbrook.iowapages.org/id3.html
4. Check format. Whether you are submitting through email or through
snail mail, formatting is important. Your cover letter should be in standard
business letter format. This website, http://www.writeexpress.com/business-letter-format.html,
has a number of examples of appropriate business letters. They should
The way you format your manuscript depends on the type of writing you
are doing. Some genres, including screenplays, plays, and poetry, require
special formatting. Otherwise, most manuscripts are double-spaced. There
are a number of good articles on the Internet about manuscript formatting.
The Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuscript_format)
is straightforward and well written. The ultimate expert on this topic
is the editor who is looking at your work. Some editors prefer Courier
font while others prefer Times New Roman. Some want italics and others
want underlining. If there are writer’s guidelines for your chosen
market, look carefully for information about formatting.
No matter what format you are following, the following rules apply to
all. If you are emailing, don’t use a fancy or colored font or a
colored background. If you are mailing, use high quality white paper,
black ink and a good quality printer. Always provide a SASE. Remember
that you wore your best suit to that job interview. Your manuscript should
look as sharp and professional as you did.
5. When your manuscript, query or proposal is the best you can make it,
ask someone else to read it. Share your manuscript with a friend, a family
member or a member of your writing group. What looked perfect to you may
have errors that someone else will see.
Once your manuscript is as perfect as you can make it, send it out. Whether
you mail it or send it electronically, your professional-looking submission
will make a good first impression. After that, your writing can speak
© Copyright 2007, Susan Denney
Susan Denney is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. She has published childrens fiction and nonfiction as well as adult articles
on a variety of topics. Check out her website at www.susandenney.com.
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