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    Spaghetti with Cheese: Those Defining Details

    The cover letter stated: "Enclosed are four pages of my original manuscript..." The editor scratched his balding head, looked inside the envelope, turned it upside down, and then scratched his head again. There was no manuscript!

    At the adjoining room, another editor crumpled a manuscript. He shook his head and threatened, "Those careless writers! They won't get anywhere with me!" The crumpled manuscript was entitled, "Five Truths about Friendship." There were only four!

    At the Fashion and Beauty section, an associate editor shrieked as a piece of staple wire pricked her finger. Disgusted, she tore the manuscript she was holding. It was another careless submission: page six was stapled after page three!

    Attention to details makes a writer stand out from among other writers. Ironically, that is where a lot of writers falter.

    • Check attachments whether in hard copy form or for e-mails. State what you attached (photo, manuscript, graph, proposal, etc.) so that the recipient can check if everything was indeed sent.

    • Check if you placed page numbers. If a format (upper right, center, lower right) is specified, be sure to follow it.

    • When stapling hard copy, check that the pages are arranged in chronological order and that they are all upright and printed side up.

    • Put a moustache ( =0= ) mark to signify the end of the article. Some writers use their initials or asterisks or simply the word "END."

    • Hard copy manuscript is stapled at the upper left corner of the page. The position of the staple wire should be slanted instead of straight horizontal or vertical. Unless it is stated otherwise, it is advisable to staple the pages to lessen the possibility of being misplaced. There are so many papers going around in an editor's office. If one or two pages of your work get misplaced, your article may be set aside in favor of a complete manuscript!

    • Check the spelling of the addressee, designation and the complete address. Names should include their proper titles (Dr., Atty., Mrs., Mr., Editor, Publisher, etc.). If a person uses Sr., III or Jr., then include that too.

    • Don't forget your byline, contact numbers, address, e-mail address and real name if you're using a pen name, especially if it is the first time you're submitting an article to a publication. You want to get paid, don't you?

    • Use the appropriate envelope. Do not stuff a 20-page manuscript in a small letter envelope! Likewise, do not use a long Manila envelope for the usual 8.5" x 11" manuscript.

    • Use plain white paper. Scented and/or printed stationery should not be used for manuscripts. Those are for love letters!

    • Use black ink to print your manuscripts. Standard manuscript font is Times New Roman, size 12, unless specified. Lines should have double spaces in between. Margins should be 1" all around, again, unless specified in the writer's guidelines.

    • If your approved query includes a sidebar, be sure to send the sidebar along with the main article and not one or two days later because you forgot all about it!

    • If you're sending photos with your article, be sure that you include the corresponding captions. Again, spare time to check that your captions are complete and precise.

    • When submitting a book manuscript, don't forget the other likewise important "amenities" such as the table of contents, dedication, foreword, preface, appendix, glossary, etc. All these should be submitted at the same time and not on installment basis.

    • Include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped-envelope) with your submissions if it is required. Do not presume that your article will be published any way!

    • For online submissions, double-check the manner of submission they prefer. Some publications specify the cut-and-paste method while others prefer attachments.

    • Most of all, check your addressee (the specific department/person) and subject line. Editors' e-mailboxes are bursting with submissions. Your article stands a higher risk of being ignored if you don't follow every word of their submission guidelines.


    Being meticulous should not be limited to submissions alone. Being attentive to details in the way you deal with editors, publishers, co-writers and everyone else in the writing profession will work for you in the long run.

    • Always bring some business cards (your own, of course!) and don't forget to give them away. Include all your contact numbers, e-mail addresses and the writing services you offer. A lot of opportunities slip by unknowingly simply because people do not know how to get in touch with you or do not remember you from your calling card! (Is this the florist or is she the Math tutor? Is she the one who writes for kids or is she the PR girl? Hmm...)

    • In the same way, when you're given a business card, indicate a few details at the back so you can easily recall the person (and the event too) who gave it to you. For example: Manila writers' conference, critiques manuscripts or Cebu authors' convention, needs ghost writers...

    • Never end a phone call without asking for the name of the person you talked to. Address the person by name and thank him/her. That creates rapport. If it was an important communication (you're pulling out an article, you're inquiring about your fee, etc.) note the date, time and the name of the person you just talked to. That will make it easier for you to follow-up your business.

    • Always repeat names and numbers being dictated to you. Spell out difficult names. Be careful about the letters B, V, S, Z, T, P and F.

    • When you are informed of any writing opportunity, always ask for a particular contact person and/or telephone number you can call. That information will keep you from being tossed like a basketball from one department to another in a very busy publishing office.

    • When you bump into any writing opportunity, always ask for the writer's guidelines. That saves you precious time and effort. Imagine how tragic it can be if you have to constantly shorten or lengthen your articles just because you don't know the minimum and/or maximum number of words (or pages) required! Be practical!

    • Request for an appointment if you want an audience with the editor. Editors are busy people. It's a waste of time if you'll just drop by, wait because you're there anyway, only to be told after an hour that his schedule can't accommodate you.

    • Make use of your e-mail signature line to plug your books and/or columns. This feature is wasted by many writers when it's a great opportunity to advertise yourself and/or create an image. Don't know how to create one? Click "Mail Options" (for Yahoo! e-mail users), click "Signature" then type your message and save. You can even format the font and look you want. It's that easy.

    • If you're taking your chance at being a walk-in contributor, bring some unpublished works that you can submit then and there and a copy of your bio whenever you go to publication offices. Better be "armed" at all times so you can impress the editors.

    Being attentive to details is a healthy habit that every writer should develop. You may think that details are not that important. But then, would you prefer spaghetti that's served without some cheese sprinkled on top?

    Copyright © 2003 Lizzie R. Santos

    Lizzie Santos writes features, literary pieces, scripts and other writing projects both in English and Pilipino. She also lectures at creative writing workshops. Her first book, The Laughter of the Leaves and Other Musings, was published by Giraffe Books. She is working on her second book. Contact her at liz_pages@yahoo.com.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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