Writer's Guidelines

Once you have done some market study and have chosen a handful of magazines or publishers that you are interested in, it's time to get specific. Each magazine or publisher handles submissions differently. It is up to you to find out what they expect in a manuscript submission. You can find this information by consulting the writer's guidelines. Many magazines or publishers will have this available on their website. If not, you can send a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) with a request for their writer's guidelines.

Writer's guidelines tell you specifically what is expected of your manuscript. They give you detailed information on what format your manuscript should be in, how to send it, where to send it, how long is should be, what your story should and shouldn't do, etc. No matter your opinion, FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES! A manuscript that does not adhere to guidelines is tossed into the trash without a second glance.

Not only are they essential in helping you to know how to submit your story, but guidelines also save you from wasting time submitting your story to the wrong magazines. For example, if your story is 1,500-words long and the magazine you're interested in only accepts stories up to 800-words long, don't waste your time, money, and effort with that magazine. They won't accept your story. Instead, look for a magazine that does accept fiction work in that word count range. Writer's guidelines help you to determine the best place to send your story. By the way, book publishers have guidelines as well, but they aren't usually as detailed.

The Keys to a Good Query

Because publishers are inundated with thousands of manuscripts, most prefer to receive a query letter instead of your complete manuscript. The purpose of a query letter is to introduce yourself and your story or article. In this letter, you tell the length of your piece, the age group it is intended for, a BRIEF summary of your story, and any qualifications you have for writing the story.

Basically, a query letter is your chance to sell yourself and your work to the publishers. If they don't like your query, they won't request to see your story, and you've saved yourself a lot of time, postage, and disappointment. On the other hand, if they do like your query, they may request to see your story, but keep in mind that doesn't mean they will accept it. It just means they are interested.

There are many ways to outline your query, but below, you'll find one of the most popular templates for query letters.

Your Address
City, State, Zip
Phone # E-mail Address

Editor's Name
Name of Magazine
City, State, Zip

Dear Mr./Mrs. [Editor's last name]:

In this first paragraph, it is essential that you hook the editor with information about your story or article. You can use a quote from your piece, a question to evoke a response, or a mind-boggling fact. Whatever you use, make sure it is powerful and compels the editor to keep reading.

Next, tell the editor a little about your story or article. What is it about? What special slant or angle does it have? How long is it? What age group is it intended for? Why should the editor be interested in it?

After that, give a brief paragraph about yourself and your qualifications for writing the article. Be sure to only mention information that pertains to your story or article. Random facts about your background are not going to go over well with the editor. Get straight to the point and explain why you are the best person to write this piece. If you have been previously published, be sure to mention that in this section. If you haven't been published, there is no need to say so. Allow your work to speak for itself.

Lastly, close with a brief statement of thanks. Don't forget to include a SASE with your query (if you are mailing it) and also to mention in this closing paragraph that the SASE is included.

[Your signature]

From there, place your query and SASE in an envelope, stick it in the mailbox, and then get started on another project while you wait for a reply. Response times vary depending on the publisher, but many can take six weeks or more to reply. Don't waste that time. Get busy on your next project, or if you feel compelled, send the query to another publisher. There is no limit as to how many publishers you can send you query to. Just remember to study each publication before approaching them to ensure that your piece would be a proper fit.