Ten Tips for Formatting Short Story Manuscripts

Here’s a snippet from my presentation on publishing short stories, delivered before the inaugural Jewish Fiction Writers’ Conference at the 92nd Street Y last Sunday. The presentation was designed for fiction writers, but this segment happens to be relevant for essayists as well. More on the conference to follow here and at my other blog, My Machberet.

Top Ten Tips for Formatting/Preparing Short Story Manuscripts

1. Double-space your manuscript.

2. Print only on one side of the paper.

3. Use black type (no fancy colors).

4. Use a simple, conventional font (like Times New Roman 12-pt).

5. Number your pages, and unless you’re told differently, include your name and/or the story title in the header.

6. Proofread. Reading the entire story aloud is an excellent strategy that helps writers “catch” mistakes computer spelling and grammar programs don’t always find.

7. If the story is longer than a few pages (my limit is four, plus the cover letter), don’t stuff it in a regular/business size envelope. Place it in a larger (in the United States, 9″X12″) envelope.

8. Always include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) for a response. (Here’s where those “forever” stamps really come in handy.)

9. Keep a copy of your submission for your own records.

10. Keep a copy of your cover letter. You might consider establishing a separate binder to track your submission correspondence. Otherwise it becomes all too easy to forget which story went to which publication when. And if you’ve submitted simultaneously, you’ll need to tell all the other journals you’ve sent a story to when it’s accepted elsewhere.

Anyone want to offer other suggestions, in comments?

2 thoughts on “Ten Tips for Formatting Short Story Manuscripts

  1. Jolie says:

    What should the cover letter include? Just the basics, or should we give details about the story’s content? Does it need to “pitch” the story like a query letter for a book would do?

  2. Erika D. says:

    Thanks for your question, Jolie. I talked about this at the conference as well. Cover letters for short stories should definitely be short, simple, and businesslike. Do NOT pitch the story as you would a novel. Try to address your letter to the appropriate editor by name and use a professional salutation. Say that you are submitting your story (use the title) for possible publication in his/her magazine. Thank the editor for his/her consideration. In general, you should NOT explain the story or give details about its content. If you have previous publication credits, mention a few, but do not list a story you published in your high school literary magazine or a letter to the editor of your local newspaper as a credit. It’s far better to say little (or nothing) than to embellish your exaggerate your publishing experience. Finally, take a look at this essay by C. Michael Curtis. Don’t be put off by the title. The essay also discusses cover letters, from the perspective of someone who has read quite a few of them!

    Good luck!

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