Christopher DeWan is author of the book, Work and Other Essays, and has published over three dozen stories in journals including A cappella Zoo, Bartleby Snopes, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, DOGZPLOT, Jersey Devil Press, JMWW, Juked, Necessary Fiction, and wigleaf. His fiction has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. As a screenwriter, he has been recognized by CineStory, the Creative World Awards, Final Draft, the PAGE Awards, Screencraft, and Slamdance. He works as a strategist and storyteller for new media, collaborating on videogames, web series, and other second-screen and transmedia properties for Bad Robot, Paramount, Universal, the Walt Disney Company and others. In 2013, he was a featured copywriter on AMC’s The Pitch. He has an MFA in critical studies and theater from the California Institute of the Arts and an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Cornell University. He has been a consultant for the literary magazine Electric Literature, a contributor at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a guest artist at the Music Center of Los Angeles, a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and an instructor at the California State Summer School for the Arts, teaching fiction and screenwriting.
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.”
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?
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.
IF IN DOUBT, ALWAYS USE UNIVERSAL MANUSCRIPT FORMAT! IF THE GUIDELINES DO NOT CALL FOR SPECIFIC FORMAT, ALWAYS USE UNIVERSAL MANUSCRIPT FORMAT!
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.
Read more tips from editors, writers and instructors at the FREE WORKSHOP: “The Importance of Following Submission Guidelines.”
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 Review, The Missouri Review, 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, 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, CLMP and NBCC.
The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review now offers a wide range of workshops! From How to Write a Killer Essay to Magic Realism workshops, not to mention the Intelligent Eroticism in Literary Fiction, Flash Creative Nonfiction and Flash Fiction workshops, we’ve got some amazing opportunities for you to workout those writing muscles and build up your skills. Take a look at our workshop schedule (which includes a great one-on-one personalized and intimate workshop with an Eckleburg editor), and read the interview below about what you can expect during the workshop experience from a past workshop participant herself.
Question: Briefly, what is your background in writing?
Maya Kanwal: Although my formal academic background is in mathematics, I’ve done a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde between my day job and midnight writing sprints for a decade. Two years ago I took the leap into full time writing and am now deep into a literary short fiction collection. I’ve also completed a contemporary young adult novel.
Q: What were you looking for in an online workshop and what made you want to take the How to Write a Killer Essay workshop?
MK: Three things. One, I craved interaction with the active literary community adding so significantly to the body of thoughtful current literature, and I find little opportunity for that where I happen to live. Two, fiction comes naturally to me, but my terror around writing nonfiction rivaled only my terror at the thought of writing poetry, but I knew that this was mostly because I didn’t yet have an instinct for what made nonfiction tick, which I hoped a strong workshop might be able to give me. Three, I knew this workshop would have to be with a group whose voice and attitude resonated with me personally, and I get such a kick out of Eckleburg that I knew I had found the one when this workshop was announced.
Q: Have you taken other online workshops before? If so, how did the How to Write a Killer Essay workshop differ?
MK: I’ve taken distance workshops before, but none in the highly interactive group format of this workshop. The opportunity to discuss our individual analyses of the assigned readings, mutually critique new work in a supportive and smart environment and share insights with the other students provided the kind of intense learning opportunity that I had previously thought one could only get from a classroom setting.
Q: What did you think about your interactions with the other workshop participants and the instructor?
MK: Our instructor’s enthusiasm about the subject matter, responsive interaction and prompt feedback on all conversation threads and submitted exercises was invigorating. The students picked up on this spirit and emulated this approach with each other as well. Also, the online discussion forum was technically well designed so that we were able to hold conversations at various levels from commentary on broad topics down to individual observations.
Q: What were some of your favorite aspects of the workshop?
MK: The ability to discuss the assigned readings with the other students in such an interactive format made for a much deeper, more multi-faceted learning experience than I had expected. And the instructor’s high-energy engagement with our creative work as well as her supportive attitude gave me the confidence to experiment much more boldly with my writing than I would have dared to on my own.
Q: What are some of the main things you got out of or learned from the workshop?
MK: The variety of readings we covered, from Gertrude Stein to contemporary experimental essays, surprised me with the breadth of forms we managed to analyze, as well as the depth of learning we managed in such a compact workshop. The writing prompts based on what we were reading were a fantastic opportunity to flex our creative muscles in ways I would not have tried on my own.
Q: Has this workshop experience changed any of your views or approaches to writing?
MK: Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this workshop for me was to realize that it was okay for me to push the limits of my voice and writing forms, to feel free to experiment with language in service of what I want to say, rather than letting standard forms limit my expression.
Q: What are your writing goals and did the workshop help you obtain or get closer to obtaining any of them?
MK: This workshop allowed me to address some of my writing fears, which is very important to me in my evolution as a writer given the themes I find myself addressing in my work. I am now more willing to tap reflectively into my experiences and express my thoughts in more constructive forms.
Q: Do you plan on taking any other Eckleburg workshops in the future?
MK: Yes, definitely whenever I see an opportunity to hone in on an area of writing that I’ve been flirting with but tentative about. In fact, I’m already rubbing my hands together over the Magic Realism workshop in December 2013.
Q: Is there anything you would like the readers to know about your workshop experience?
MK: I’d say it’s a well-balanced mixture of a formal academic writing program, the ease and community of online social network interactions and the joy of a truly engaged writing critique group.
Spots are still available for the Flash Creative Nonfiction workshop that starts Monday, November 4th. And you can still enroll in the Intelligent Eroticism in Literary Fiction and the Flash Fiction workshops in December. If you’re interested in a personalized one-on-one workshop to work on a project or manuscript, information about that service is here.
Maya Kanwal’s fiction appears in Squawk Back journal and Quarterly West. She has completed a contemporary YA novel set in Pakistan and is working on a literary short story collection inspired by her roots in the Indus Valley.