This one’s going to be pretty nuts-and-bolts elementary, but you don’t have to read it if you have no intention of writing anything any time soon.


I. How do you get to be a writer?

  1. You sit down and write something.
  2. Finish what you write. Pensées don’t count. Neither do short stories without an ending.
  3. If the next morning you think it’s any good send it to some editor who might buy it.

  4. Repeat as needed.

II. How do you prepare the manuscript?

  1. Type your story (no handwritten works need apply) in black ink on white 8½ × 11 paper. (Unless you’re British, in which case the only typing paper available to you may be slightly larger.)
  2. “Type” is understood to include typing on a computer.
  3. Remember to number the damn pages! You would be astonished how many otherwise reasonably intelligent and quite good writers have not figured out how to make their computers number the pages. Can you imagine what happens if the wind blows the manuscript?

III. How do you send it?

  1. Put it in a manuscript-sized envelope. Put in with it a self-addressed return envelope.

  2. If you’re using the postal mail service (recommended) include return postage. I recommend paper-clipping the stamps to the envelope instead of sticking them on. If the editor buys your story, he gets to keep the stamps, which some of them like to do. Of course, this is not enough to make him reconsider a rejection and instead buy the thing, but it may lead him to have a kindlier thought of you, and how can that be bad?
  3. If you prefer to use Fed Ex, etc., tell the person who sells it to you that you want to pay for return and he’ll take care of it.
  4. Submit by e-mail if (and only if) the publisher’s submission guidelines say you should.
  5. If you are submitting a novel, you don’t have to send the whole thing. Just send the first 40 or so pages with an outline (can be short, since all you’re aiming for is to get him to read the whole thing).

IV. What do you put in the cover letter?

  1. Only what is necessary for him to know about you.
  2. Include any writing awards you may have won. Do not include telling how much you need the money because your baby is sick and you can’t afford to buy medicine. If you are a good-looking woman, do not include pictures of yourself in a bikini. Make it as brief as you can.

V. Good luck!

Related posts:
Fred’s Distilled Writing Wisdom,
Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


  1. Phoenix says:

    “If you are a good-looking woman, do not include pictures of yourself in a bikini.”

    I’m afraid to ask this, but is there a story behind this bit? And wouldn’t bikini pictures of people who aren’t good-looking women be worse?

    I haven’t commented here before, so as long as I’m doing so I’d like to mention that I discovered your work last year or so and became an immediate fan. Still haven’t read very many of your books, but I’m remedying that as fast as I can and love the ones I have read. I also very much enjoy this blog and am always happy to see it updated. Thanks for helping make my world a better place.

    -Phoenix, who’s stuck trying to master part I. 2.

  2. EdS says:

    And if you can figure out how to number the manuscript pages then you’re probably also smart enough to find and use the spell checker.

  3. John Murphy says:

    I wish I had read this yesterday — I just sent off my first story to a magazine this very morning and it never occurred to me to paperclip the stamp on the SASE. I will have to remember this in the future, because that does seem like a very considerate thing to do!
    (Thankfully, I did indeed remember to number the damn pages, but I have to admit that I only thought of it just before printing the final copy)

  4. Tina Black says:

    “If you are a good-looking woman, do not include pictures of yourself in a bikini. Make it as brief as you can.”

    Less, eh? I have to get rid of that visual.

  5. Gary Farber says:

    “And if you can figure out how to number the manuscript pages then you’re probably also smart enough to find and use the spell checker.”

    Which if you rely on it, will lead to homophone errors; you need to proof by eye to avoid all the errors a spell-checker will leave you with anyway, or which the spell-checker will even helpfully generate for you if you follow its suggestions, and you’re better off practicing your proofing by eye so as to increase your practice.

    People who are dyslexic, or with sight problems, of course, don’t fall in the category of people who might benefit from this advice.

    Spell-checkers are an example of techonology that frequently cause far more problems than they solve. Train your own brain and eye to proofread, and if that’s not sufficient — most folks aren’t at all consistently up to professional level — and seriously wish to avoid errors, find a fellow human who is.

    If you want to be almost sure to have errors, just use a spell-checker, and skip using a competent human proofreader.

  6. Rimmerstern says:

    You would think that I points 1-4 goes without saying. But they don\’t, I guess. Stephen King lists them also in his \"On writing\".. He also says something that I then will dare add here, that if you truely wants to write and get paid for writing, you need to go about it as you would any other job. Which means you should schedule your writing, at least 2-4 hours a day, and this even if you haven\’t got anyting to write about. For training purposes and for getting into the habit, sitting and staring at a blank piece of paper for hours straight is absolutely priceless.

    @Gary Farber – you\’re right, I would go for a human proofreader over a spellchecker, anytime. Also, if a story is otherwise good, the spelling needs to be really, really bad for it to get ejected on that account.

  7. Anne K Gray says:

    I have to say, Gary, I pretty much completely disagree with your thesis that spell checkers cause more problems than they solve. I’m a professional proofreader, and I use them all the time. (Partly because almost no one can completely proof their own writing — you read what you meant to write, regardless of what’s there).

    What you do need to do, of course, is use a spell checker intelligently, without assuming it will correctly guess what word you want — and I advise *against* having your word processor do any autocorrecting as you type — in that, it is likely to be wrong and, worse, you might not even notice while you’re typing that it just changed your sentence. But using a spellchecker to highlight words it doesn’t recognize can be invaluable. And if you have a long manuscript and nonstandard names, telling it to “ignore all” on the correct name spelling is also an excellent way to check to make sure you’ve been consistent throughout – variations will stick out like a sore thumb.