Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Second Rule for Literary Magazine Submissions: Manuscript Editing

This maybe should have been the first rule in literary magazine submissions because before you need to worry about developing a system (see my post of May 27), you need to have a great piece of writing ready to submit. Once you’ve got the content to be the very best you can make it, you need to polish your prose and iron out all the kinks so that you’re putting your best foot forward. Here are my steps:
1.       Spell check. Obvious point maybe, but often overlooked. Not running spell check and having any kind of typo in your manuscript that Spell Check would have found is sloppy!
2.       Read your manuscript out loud to yourself. Any spot that you stumble over while reading needs smoothing out. This also helps you find overused words.
3.       Have someone else read your manuscript out loud to you. This person will actually read what you have written, rather than what you think you wrote, something that is almost impossible for the writer to do after working on a text for a long time. This is also great way to catch misused homophones, or words that are spelled correctly but that are not the right words, something Spell Check won’t do for you.
4.       Do a word search for commonly misspelled words such as “you’re” vs. “your,” or “its” vs. “it’s” and look closely at each instance that comes up to make sure it is correct.
5.       Do a word search for your word ticks. You should know what they are. For instance, I like to start sentences with “And” which in most cases is not appropriate. So I do a word search on “. And” to catch them.
6.       Do a word search for filler words you like to use, such as “just” or “very.” In most instances, you should omit them.
7.       Do a word search for “ly” as this will help you weed out adverbs. See if you can’t drop some of them or replace them with stronger verbs. This will make your prose smoother and more impactful.
8.       Insert page numbers.
9.       Make sure your name is on the manuscript unless the publication you’re submitting to wants to read blindly (this is often the case with contests).
Do you have any steps to add?


  1. I'm posting this to my Facebook page. Great advice.

  2. Annette, I'm so glad that I discovered your blog during the WordCount blogathon. I'm considering getting my MFA, but I already feel like I'm in school with your posts here. All the best, Alison Law

  3. You offer excellent content on this blog, Anne. I'm glad we have discovered each other. I haven't submitted many stories to literary journals because after I won some awards in a literary competition sponsored by the Kalamazoo Gazette, I then focused on the blog and social media. Now I am itching to write a book-length manuscript.

    I think the only thing I would add is that if you have any friends who are editors or published writers, and you can get a critique from them (perhaps in a writer's circle), the work will get better, and you will have more confidence after doing the rewriting that comes from suggestions you trust.

  4. What super advice!! thanks!!

  5. Shelly, thanks for posting on FB. Maybe we should friend each other?

    AL - you couldn't have paid me a greater compliment. Thanks! I actually didn't learn those practical aspects during my MFA program; the benefit there is really to workshop your writing with top people. Let me know when you're seriously looking into MFA programs, I have some opinions on that!

    100memoirs - yes, I'm glad, too, that we found each other, Shirley! Regarding critique groups, I think that should come before editing as revising is really a separate thing from editing. Dealing with the little editorial details should come after whipping the piece into shape by getting feedback.

    Anjuli - glad you found this helpful.

  6. Great post. I would add another to the list. If time is not an issue, put the manuscript aside for a while. Return to it after a few days and read it aloud. This time around you are more likely to spot errors.

  7. Great advice. I always read my text out loud and have my daughter read it (she's 11, so she easily stumbles if a sentence is awkward). I'll be referring to this list often (and love the idea of searching for my writing mistakes like overusing "that").

  8. I'm participating in the SITS challenge and saw your post, so thought I would comment. First I'm blogging so I can get back into the practice of writing, so this website will be a great resource to me personally. Secondly, the content on this post is fabulous, although I'd like to recommended bolding your main point to make it easier for the reader to scan.

    Finally, I'd suggest reading through the material from the target audience perspective and eliminating or modifying 'big' or 'little' words. For example, if
    audience is highly educated using a word to describe them like 'erudite' may be appropriate. In more informal situations, 'smart' may be the better choice.

    Happy writing!

  9. twoplacescalledhome - thanks for your comments. Thanks for reminding me to bold, I went back and did that! Good idea, too, to check word choice.