Wednesday, February 22, 2012

With Writing, Presentation is Everything!

(well, it's something...)

When it comes to presentation of your manuscript,
inner and outer beauty are equally as important.

 For a long time you've been sending your writing out to magazines, and the publishers - much  to your frustration - hardly ever want to accept your work for publication. Your stories / articles / poems read well. So what's the problem? 'The publishers are idiots, right? They have no idea what they're doing.' Maybe... But it might just be that the presentation of your submissions is getting you rejected even before your words can be read.

Who the hell am I, you might ask, to advise you, the writer, on getting published? Well, since 1998 I have edited several independent literary magazines  - Heist! (co-edited), insomAniac, Skive, No Printer Zone - and have published over 500 authors. I know a good story / poem / article when I see it, and I usually know by half a page if I will publish a piece of written work. Please read what I believe will may help you increase your chances of getting published.

The #1 Rule: Follow the Publisher’s Guidelines

If a magazine has submission guidelines, read them and follow them to the letter.  If they don't, here are some general guidelines that could help you. Remember, publishers will reformat your story / poem / article IF they accept your work; this advice is to make it easier for the publisher to read (and enjoy) your work.


  • This might sound dated, but don't submit hand-written manuscripts. Don't use typewriters. Only use computer printers (laser or inkjet) to print out your manuscript.
  • Use White A4 (or US Letter) paper, use only 1 side of the page, don't use recycled paper or paper that has something printed on the other side, and don't use paper that has a scent, no matter how nice you think it smells: the reader could hate it or even be allergic to it.
  • Margins: (format > Document > Margins.) 3 cm all around.
  • Size 12 type for the top section, size 10 for the footer.
  • New Courier or Courier font for main section and footer (including page number). Courier is much easier to read than Times and Arial.
  • Alignment = left, NOT Justified.
  • Line space = x 2.
  • Page number = bottom right
  • For novels, use page breaks between chapters. (Insert > Break > Page Break.)
  • Only single spaces between words. (Also, double spaces after full stops [periods] are very old fashioned and are not used anymore.) Use your Search and Replace to replace all instances of spacespace with space. Just keep doing over again until there are no double spaces.
  • Remove any dedication text (for my friend Sally, who... etc...).
  • Remove any quotes from other authors at the beginning of stories or chapters (I find these pretentious, and you might be breaching copyright). So, 'Batter my heart, three-person'd God' - John Donne etc... Ditto with song lyrics.
  • Underline any words that are to be italicised instead of italicising them (words that are emphasised and name of journals etc.). This makes it easier for the reader to see at a glance (and they will be changed back to italics pre-printing).
  • Spellcheck. Be consistent throughout. If you are submitting your work to an Australian, English or New Zealand publisher, try and refrain from using American spellings ('color' should be 'colour', 'center' should be 'centre', for instance).
  • Check grammar, but I don't recommend the Grammarcheck in MS Word. Get someone who knows what they are doing - an English teacher for instance - to read through and double-check your grammar.
  • Make sure apostrophes are correct:
 cat’s (as in something belonging to the cat).

cats’ (as in things belonging to more than one cat).

’70s (the apostrophe goes before the year, meaning there is something missing, in this case 19. (Another example, Rock ’n’ Roll.)  

Book and film titles should either have single apostrophes (‘Jane Eyre’) or italics (Jane Eyre), not quotes (“”).

Plurals do not have apostrophes. So, more than one hamburger is not hamburger’s.

It’s has an apostrophe when we are talking about an abbreviation abbreviated form of the word. So,

It’s great when the sun is out.

is correct, while

The cat is going to it’s home.

is not.

  • Hyphens in the middle of a sentence should be a space, followed by 2 x minus signs, and another space.

The cat is going to its home -- the Wilkinsons left a bowl of water as the weather was hot.

  • Sentences that are contained entirely within parentheses () need a full stop before the last parentheses. So, the sentence just mentioned looks like:

(Sentences that are contained entirely within parentheses () need a full stop before the last parentheses.)

If you need parentheses within parentheses, use square brackets (which I ignored in the above sentence).


The colonel wanted to break for lunch (and his newspaper [The Courier Mail] was ready for him on the table.

There should be a double space between minor paragraphs. So:

The car climbed the hill as the sun reached its apex for the day.

Three tables left for rubbish pickup leant on each other for security.

Definite paragraph breaks will require three spaces. So:

The car climbed the hill as the sun reached its apex for the day.

Three tables left for rubbish pickup leant on each other for security.

Marty met his doctor on the golf course for a chat and, of course, a regular game of golf.

  • If you must have a major break, use 3 x * (* * *) but align these in the centre.
  • Seasons do not have a capital letter unless the word starts a sentence.
  • Don't use tabs.
  • Don't staple your manuscript, put a single, regular-size paperclip on the top left corner, enclosing your cover page and story / article.


  • Presentation of poetry is more or less the same as for the above with a few exceptions. Poetry is a little more idiosyncratic than other forms, sometimes using tabs, multiple spaces, larger or different typefaces in the same poem. Leave in only if they serve a purpose.
  • Continue to use a cover page, but instead of words, indicate how many lines are in the poem. In the poem itself, I recommend either single or 1 & 1/2 line space.
  • Indicate on every page if a stanza is new or if it is continued from the previous page. So,
‘The Altered Clouds’ by Basil Green -- new stanza...


‘The Altered Clouds’ by Basil Green -- continued stanza...

If you can, try and start a new stanza at the top of a new page. (No fancy tabs if sending to a website)


  • Read the Guidelines for each competition you are entering. If in doubt, contact the competition organiser.
  • Use the points mentioned above re: paper, document size etc... for competitions.

– Matthew Glenn Ward

Please Follow Me and I will Follow You

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