How to Write a Short Story/Chapter 6



When you have expended your best energies on your story, and by careful revision have brought it to the highest degree of excellence of which you are capable, it is ready to be dressed up in a fetching manner for the editorial eye. You must now recopy it in such a way that no mark of your workmanship in recasting and reconstructing will show. Fine clothes do not make an acceptance, any more than they make a gentleman, but they command respect in both cases.

First of all, your manuscript should be neatly and correctly typewritten. I don't care how legibly you may write, you can't compare with the printed letters of the machine. Moreover, you are stringing a thousand-word story over great pads of paper, when you might print it on four thin sheets. An editor's time is economized as much as possible, and he will run through three typewritten stories sooner than plod through one penscript. He knows, furthermore, that the careful, experienced writer will send him type copy, and that the chances are ten to one that the script is full of blunders and errors common to the beginner, who has never studied the subject of writing. Penscripts are signs of inexperience. Editors appreciate this fact, and the sooner young writers do, the better will be their chances of success in literature.

In typewriting a manuscript, it should be doubly spaced. This is done for two reasons. First, it is much easier on the eyes if the lines are not close together. Munsey is said to get three thousand manuscripts each month. Of course, these are handled by a great many readers for the company, but at the same time one man has to read a large number of them. The strain on the eyes will be readily apparent, and the thoughtfulness of the writer who seeks to make easier the task by double spacing his work will be appreciated. Again, if a manuscript can be made acceptable by changing it somewhat, the space between the lines gives plenty of room for correction. Nothing that will serve to lessen the work of an editor should be left undone.

Now that the story is typewritten, the name and address should be added in the upper, left-hand corner. It is much better to do this with the machine than with a pen, as most people write their names so hurriedly that it is almost impossible to decipher them. It seems to me that there is no reason for a signature on the manuscript, though some disagree on this point. At all events, it is imperative that the name and address, in some form, be on the first page.

The number of words should now be estimated and placed in the upper right-hand corner. This estimate need not be exact; indeed it is foolish to say the manuscript contains 3,449 words, or any other precise number. It should, however, be fairly accurate. Count the number of words in the average line, the number of lines on a page, and the number of pages. No allowance should be made for short lines. In this way, it is easy to get the approximate length of the story. The editor will appreciate this courtesy, as it enables him to tell at a glance the amount of space the story would occupy in his magazine.

The top of the first page of your manuscript will now appear something like this:

J. D. Banner, 3,500 words.
Blank City, N. Y.

James Darken Banner

Just beneath the title of the story should be placed the name of the author as he wishes it to appear in print. If he is writing under a nom-de-plume, an affectation countenanced neither by good sense nor good business ability, it should be placed here.

A soiled manuscript tells its own story of previous rejections, and invites others. "You are not taking an unfair advantage of an editor," says Albert Bigelow Paine, "when you renovate your much-traveled manuscript, or recopy it on clean paper. You are taking an unfair advantage of your manuscript when you do not do it, and you are insulting the editor, who does not care where your story or article or poem has been, so long as it is presented to him invitingly."

The paper on which the story is copied should be of good texture, light in weight, but not transparent. A size about 8½ by 11, folded twice, has a great many advantages. Never fasten the sheets of your manuscript together in any way. They should be loose, to be shuffled as the editor finds need. Two sizes of envelopes should be purchased, one to fit within the other without folding. A stamped, self addressed envelope should accompany every manuscript.

If the name and address of the writer are on the first page, no explanatory note is necessary. As a matter of courtesy, however, a very brief one may be sent. It should be somewhat along the following lines:

Editor, Blank Magazine,
New York City.
Dear Sir:

The enclosed manuscript is submitted with the hope that it may be found available for publication in The Blank Magazine, at your usual rates.

Never display your lack of common sense by any of the petty little tricks common to the writers who believe their manuscripts are not read. If an editor finds the sheets of your story lightly gummed together, he will not take the trouble to separate them. Neither will he sort out pages not properly numbered. He cannot afford to waste time on writers who stoop to such detestable actions. He knows they will never be able to please him with their work.

Your manuscript will be read if it is worth while and properly prepared. If your first page is dull, your second may never be read. But if you have good material, served up in such a way that the reading is more of a pleasure than a task, your manuscript will be considered on its merits, whether it is signed by Rudyard Kipling or by John Brown.

I have had the pleasure of reading manuscripts by such writers as Jack London, Albert Bigelow Paine, Charles Battell Loomis, and a great many of the best authors of the day; and I say unhesitatingly that their copy, without exception, was the neatest and most correct that ever came under my eye. These men have won their positions in current literature by pure merit, and their example in the preparation of copy is worth following.