Lesson No. 1: Universal Manuscript Format (push it to the editor’s desk) with Rae Bryant, Founding Editor of The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review


An editor opens her submissions queue and finds she’s received 600 unsolicited submissions this week. She looks at the middle school poster on her wall, it is of a unicorn with a pink main and tail and golden horn. She’s named the unicorn Unsolicited Submitter. She sighs then assigns the submissions to her readers. There are three of them. They are entry level staff volunteers whose jobs are to weed out the obvious declines and promote the maybes. 


Reader #1: Bob

Bob was just rejected by his favorite literary journal that morning after the journal kept his work for 285 days. He really wants to be head editor and hates slushing through unsolicited submissions. Each time he can demote a submission, he does so zealously, clicking the thumbs down icon with such force that the mouse sometimes flies off his desk. He giggles when this happens. Bob wants you to know that he doesn’t hold his personal rejection against you but that, truth be told, today, it feels a little bit good when he can demote a manuscript for obviously ignoring submission guidelines.


Reader #2: Jillian

Jillian always feels bad when she has to decline a submission for improper formatting. She says a small pagan prayer each time and makes hand gestures toward the four corners and seasons and sky and earth. She hopes that the karma will balance out. She has been vegan, officially, for three months now, and she wants you to know that. She also wants you to know that after she has demoted your manuscript for bad formatting, she reads your first sentence to commemorate the manuscript, an act of mourning. She’s very sorry. Really.


Reader #3: Fancy

Fancy just came off a punk revival cover band tour. She’s decided she wants to be a writer now. She read Less than Zero in elementary school and has carried it around with her ever since. She has a good eye and a fierce hatred of entitled writer people. She has a black T-shirt that says exactly this. Though her mohawk is three feet tall, on a good day, and is pink, her manuscripts go out to editors, always, in plain, boring universal manuscript format, unless the journal requests something different. Each time she opens a submission that obviously did not follow the journal’s guidelines, she gives it the middle finger and shakes her head sadly. She will often mutter the word “dude.”


Reader #4: Jane

Jane is an excellent reader and doesn’t really care about the formatting as long as it isn’t outrageously odd. She tries her best to give each manuscript a full read. She isn’t able to read as many submissions as her colleagues, but she sleeps better at night. When she finds a manuscript she likes, she will reformat it to the journal’s specifications before forwarding it to her editors. She is also the friend most likely to be the Maid of Honor.


What do Bob, Jillian and Fancy look for as they open the 600 submissions they have to review? They look for obvious signs that the guidelines were not followed and then quickly demote the submission without being read because their editors have told them to do this. Why did their editors tell them to do this? Would you want to work with a writer who can’t follow easy instructions and has so little regard for your journal that they submit improperly? Of course, there is a chance that your first reader will be Jane. And there is a chance that your manuscripts is so perfectly written that the context of the work will infuse the reader osmotically thereby minimizing the italic script. There are always chances. But why leave first impressions to chance?


The Truth About Submissions

Literary journals receive far more submissions than can be read completely through. Readers look for submissions that first, follow guidelines (and, yes, editors do sometimes add specific expectations in their guidelines so that this is an easy tell), then they start reading until they have lost interest. If a manuscript is on its game and suits the aesthetics of the journal, a reader will make it the whole way through. At this point, the manuscript has a chance at making it to the next level.

There are obvious “demotable” signs: submissions that include fancy “happy” fonts OR a “pretty” font color OR have a picture of a unicorn OR try to stand out in any way that has nothing to do with the context and language of the narrative. BIG NO NO. We like unicorns at Eckleburg. We think everyone should like unicorns, but adding unicorns to your manuscript, when the manuscript does not contextually call for a unicorn, is a bad move.

When the readers and editors look at your narrative manuscript, the only elements that should stand out are what are created within the contexts of the narrative itself. Of course, if you are submitting poetry, intermedia, innovative, hybrid, etc., structural play might very well be an important element within the narrative itself, but even in these scenarios, professional writers will still attempt to submit the innovative work as close to the guidelines as possible. 



Universal Manuscript Format

At The Eckleburg Workshops, we do follow the Universal Manuscript Format. Unless your instructor specifically requests something different, you should always follow this format:

  • MS doc or docx,
  • double space,
  • 12 pt.,
  • Times New Roman,
  • no spaces between paragraphs (the single space, extra space between paragraphs is an online format that you should NEVER use when submitting to journals and/or workshops unless specifically requested by the editor/instructor),
  • indent each paragraph (including the first paragraph),
  • use section breaks, CENTERED (*** or #), so the editor can easily see them.

The above link for Universal Manuscript Format will give you a very specific and easy to follow visual. Please make sure to view this.

These guidelines are in place, market wide, for valid and time-tested reasons. Though some editors and agents have their particular unique preferences, universal standards are usually preferred because: (1) Times New Roman 12 pt. is one of the more easily read fonts, which saves editors’ eyesight over time; (2) Asking an editor or instructor to reformat your manuscript when the expectations were already clearly made gives the impression that you do not follow guidelines, did not read the guidelines and/or consider yourself entitled and above the professional standard considerations; this doesn’t give the impression of professional writer with whom an editor would want to work; (3) Double-spacing makes it easier to read the text and make comments if the editor prints the text out; even if not printed out, the double-spacing is how most editors are accustomed to reading manuscripts and it’s not our jobs as writers to question the reading preferences of editors and agents; (4) Proper headings assure the editor and instructor can contact you and that the submission, whether printed out or read digitally, will always be in tact whether or not pages were dropped to the floor.

Remember, the submitted manuscript format has nothing to do with the writer’s preferences. While the writer is writing his or her work, it is certainly natural and suggested that the manuscript be formatted to suit the writer; however, before submitting, the manuscript should be formatted exactly to the editor’s/instructor’s preferences down to every detail. Do not start off by giving the editor/instructor a bad impression of your thoroughness as a writer and potential contributor. Always pay close attention to each step of the submissions process.

Unsolicited submissions do not have “rights” from editors past confidentiality. The editors can read or not read based on their own preference. No contract has been made. For this reason, and more, we expect all writers at The Eckleburg Workshops to follow and practice Universal Manuscript Formatting so that the good habit is formed and so that our instructors, who are reading many manuscripts over a week’s time, do not need to reformat and so on. This is one of the easiest and most effective submissions lessons we can teach you.

The best reason for writers to follow guidelines for each individual editor, agent, instructor, journal, etc., is to give your manuscript the best first impression you can. If your reader must reformat your manuscript before even reading, your work already has a strike against it and/or it will be thrown out or declined without being read at all. Always follow guidelines in workshop, journal, publisher and agent submission practices. It’s in your best interest and in your work’s best interest.

RAE BRYANT’s short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, released from Patasola Press, NY, in June 2011. Her stories and essays have appeared in print and online at  The Paris ReviewThe Missouri ReviewStoryQuarterlyMcSweeney’sNew World WritingGargoyle Magazine,and Redivider, among other publications and have been nominated for the Pen/HemingwayPen Emerging Writers&NOW Award and Pushcart Prize. She has won awards in fiction from Whidbey Writers and The Johns Hopkins University as well as fellowships from the VCCA and Hopkins to write, study and teach in Florence, Italy. She earned a Masters in Writing from Hopkins where she continues to teach creative writing and is editor in chief of The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. She has also taught in the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa. Rae is the director of The Eckleburg Workshops. She has a Bachelors in Humanities from Penn State with a concentration in Eduction and English Literature and minors in Art, History and Philosophy. In addition to her Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins, she completed graduate coursework in Curriculum and Administration at Penn State. She has been teaching and lecturing for over twenty years in campus classrooms. Rae is a member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts

Lesson No. 2: Dress for Success (unfortunately looks really do count) with Chelsey Clammer, Nonfiction Editor with The Nervous Breakdown

Scene: It’s been one of those days. One of those days in which you were done with it within the first hour of waking up. The coffee that sloshed onto your shirt, the prying and belittling email from your mother. The shoe you couldn’t find and the phone charger you couldn’t find and the keys you couldn’t find. Highways clogged with two different accidents and too many drivers trying to get a peek of who knows what. And then the work day. More terribleness. So, you get home, you’re tired, but you can’t quite go to sleep what with all of the frustration that has built up inside of you throughout the day. Since you can’t sleep, you decide to hop onto Submittable and catch up on all of those submissions you’ve been dying to read these past couple of days. Maybe you’ll find something inspiring. 

In less amount of time than it took you this morning to recognize how much you already hated this day, you open five different submissions that all make your brain hurt, and so you decline them without reading every page of each piece. You know there might be some life shining later on in the work, maybe even on the third or fourth page, but what you see when you open each document makes you recoil. And a recoiling editor is never a good thing. 

What could have been so terrifyingly terrible?!? 


1) The Cover Letter 

 ultimate path larger

5 reasons why this is a terrible cover letter:

  1. Salutation
    1. Whom isn’t concerned with this submission since it’s obvious the author didn’t take the time to look up an editor’s name or even make the greeting just a tad more personal with at least the journal’s name
  2. Over-formality
    1. Be polite, not sterile. Submitting is not an act of asking the editor for her daughter’s hand in marriage, thus the superfluous formality needs to just go
  3. The author tries to sell herself
    1. If the submitter is as a good of a writer as she claims to be, shouldn’t the editor already know who she is? And since the editor doesn’t know this writer, the only way a writer should “sell” herself is through her actual writing
  4. Pompous
    1. Oh ick. ‘Nuf said.
  5. Explaining the work
    1. The summary of the submission should not have a higher word count than the work itself

Which brings us to our next factor: 

2) Length 

Good Essay Is Too Long

“Oh hey, this story sounds pretty interesting. I’m only on the second page and already it looks really promising. Wait, what?!? What does that say? IT’S 45 PAGES?!? What the… 

Word count maximums are there for a reason. They should always be respected unless you contact the editor directly and ask if you can submit something longer than the guidelines state.

Next up:


The Baker and the Gardener

No typos.

(Though I do have to admit there is an incident in my work history in which I applied for an editor position and the first sentence of my cover letter said, “I’m a freelance writing and editor in Denver.” Needless to say I didn’t get that job. So, yes, typos happen. But do everything you can to thwart each one of them before you submit a piece.)


4) Font Size 

A Large Problem

Just looking at this makes my eyes hurt.

And finally:

5) No really, I’m serious about this. Font size is key. 

Good Essay Hard to Find

Just looking at this makes my eyes hurt.

So, in summation, keep these three questions in mind while making a submission:

  1. How are you presenting yourself?
  2. What does the submission actually look like?
  3. Are you following the guidelines?

Now go submit that excellent writing of yours!

Sally forth.

IMG_0918Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago, and is currently enrolled in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. She has been published in The RumpusEssay DailyThe Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review (forthcoming) among many others. She is an award-winning essayist, and a freelance editor. Clammer is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a columnist and workshop instructor for the journal. She is also the Nonfiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Her first collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Winter 2014. Her second collection of essays, BodyHome, is forthcoming from Hopewell Publishing in Spring 2015. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.

Lesson No. 5: Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do

Every writer knows this scene. We create our own versions like fifteen-year-olds fantasizing cherry ’65 Mustangs in driveways, giant sweet-sixteen bows and gas cards. Unfortunately, our actual discovery moments are brief and the subsequent mechanizations of the publishing industry can be as riddled with ambiguity as writing the first novel. Then the euphoria of first discovery will marinate with the uncertainty of the process. And the great publishing veil falls.

Publisher’s Marketplace

If we are lucky, we have an excellent and communicative agent. I am forever grateful for mine, though, I have friends and colleagues who have shared horror stories. No return emails or calls for weeks. The artistic anxiety ratchets up. Uncertainty. The break up or worse, long, cold dark out. Don’t let me scare you. There are many fantastic agents and editors out and about who are passionate not only about the books they represent but also the writers who birth them. Still, there are enough of the “other.” And there are resources to help newer writers navigate this gauntlet. I often recommend to my students and friends Publisher’s Marketplace, where writers can research both books and agents that are successful and hard working for their writers.

Whether or not you have a literary advocate and guide, knowing the processes and complications of an editor’d journey from “the potential book” to the bookshelf can help writers be better equipped to handle the pressures, uncertainties and anxieties of the process. Editors and agents are human, too, and when they take your book into their care, it is because they believe in it and are willing to put their career into it. This doesn’t always mean the book will ultimately find its bookshelf. It doesn’t mean that if the book finds its bookshelf, that it will market and sell well. But this should all be secondary to your primary responsibilities and passions as the writer. 

Below is “Breaking Faith: A Publisher’s Parable,” originally published in Publisher’s Weekly. You can read the full work in Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do: Third Edition (Grove Atlantic), a comprehensive and valuable insight into the publishing process in both the large houses and small presses, written and edited by some of the most successful editors talking directly to you, the writer.  

Breaking Faith A Publishing Parable

by “Maxwell Gherkin”
Excerpt from Editors on Editing
Originally published in Publisher’s Weekly

David R. is a gifted novelist in his forties. His first book, a strongly drawn account of an auto worker’s family that is torn apart by the conflicts of the 1960s, had been successful—glowing reviews, a $50,000 paperback sale, a National Book Award nomination, an immediate place in the sun. His next two were shorter, more experimental novels, one about a surreal commune in northern California, the other a metafictional treatment of people trapped inside a detective novel, andthere was a sharp tailing off in review interest and sales. He wrote short stories for several years, trying unsuccessfully to find a way to score again.

David had taken all of this hard. He’d wanted to explore the different ways of telling a story, of imagining the world. But coming from a working-class background, he was particularly motivated to get ahead, to make his writing pay, and his attempts to develop his powers had made him lose ground; his career seemed to be going backwards, from modest riches to rags. He was also very conscious of the new generation of novelists, the so-called Brat Pack, who were getting so much attention and astonishing advances for what he dismissed as “go-go writing” but by whom he felt eclipsed. Stuck in a teaching job at a small university in Ohio, where he ran the writing program, burdened by family responsibilities, and bored spitless by the small-time community where he had been living for twelve years—the sort of town that novelists of previous generations had fled from—David felt himself sinking into the excuses and cynicism that he had seen mark the end of the line for a number of writers.

But then an NEA grant came through, and soon after he hit upon a story idea that was rich in possibilities, maybe even commercial ones. Spurred on by his returning powers, he wrote a three-hundred-page novel in eighteen months. Thinking it both the best book he had written and the riskiest, he sent it off to New York, and in the weeks that followed felt like a man awaiting a jury verdict…. (Editors on Editing)

Long story shortened, David becomes increasingly entrenched in his own frustrations and misunderstandings, understandably so. Martha is increasingly frustrated with the limitations of her position, irritated with David’s pushing, understandably so. David ends up sending an “angry letter” to the publishing company that succeeds in ostracizing him from the publisher and Martha, the one editor who repeatedly championed his book as much as she was able within her publishing house.

Martha showed a professional empathy and understanding of David’s concerns. If David, in turn, had understood the complications and processes of Martha’s position as an editor, he might have handled things differently, with more tact, thereby keeping the relationship with his publishing company and editor in better standing. All in all, the publishing world is equal parts talent, hard work, diligence, efficacy and a bit of luck. Great books are not always given their due. And this is painful for the authors who birth them, the agents and editors who champion them and the readers who love them. But this is the way of it.

Prepare and Educate Yourself

Prepare and educate yourself on the joys and realities of publishing. Then do what you are meant to do. Write. Let the agents and editors take care of their end and do your part to support your book. Be courageous, smart and empathetic. Writing is not about winning the shelf. It’s about sharing your words. Try not to lose sight of what first brought you to your words.


Rae Bryant is the author of the short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals. Her stories and essays have appeared in print and online at  The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, Diagram, StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s, New World Writing, Gargoyle Magazine,and Redivider, among other publications and have been nominated for the Pen/Hemingway, Pen Emerging Writers, &NOW Award and Pushcart Prize. She has won awards in fiction from Whidbey Writers and The Johns Hopkins University as well as fellowships from the VCCA and Hopkins to write, study and teach in Florence. She earned a Masters in Writing from Hopkins where she continues to teach creative writing and is editor in chief of The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. She has also taught in the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa. Rae is the director of The Eckleburg Workshops. Rae is a member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, AWP, NBCC, CLMP and Johns Hopkins Alumni Association. She is represented by Jennifer Carlson of Dunow, Carlson and Lerner.