Basic Guidelines for Submitting to Online Publishers

by Renee Faucher

A submission for an online publisher should be no less prepared than one for a print publisher. Some writing sites receive huge numbers of visitors. Site visitors and e-zine subscribers are comparable to circulation numbers that print magazines prize. However, the information on a web site may remain posted and visible for longer than an issue of a print magazine is available on the newsstands. In addition, web sites are available to anyone with an Internet connection ANYWHERE in the WORLD. Don’t give them less respect than a print magazine. While some of the guidelines for electronic manuscript format are similar to print formats there are subtle differences that if not addressed can send you to the rejection pile.

Know your market. This is something everyone who writes for periodicals has heard…get to know your market before querying or submitting materials. It’s true. Don’t waste your time or the editor’s time. In addition, online or print, editors will remember someone who impressed them with his or her total LACK of consideration. If you’re sending the wrong submission to the wrong market, you’re imposing on someone’s time and efforts.

Find the information yourself when possible. Unless there are instructions on the web site stating that you must write to a particular email address for more information, try to find it yourself. Most well designed web sites will have a listing under “About,” “Submissions,” “Guidelines,” or “Contact” for submitting queries or manuscripts.

Nothing irritates an editor more than receiving a query for something that is clearly posted on the web site. Some publications only accept electronic submissions and won’t read print submissions. What is an electronic submission? Electronic submissions are submitted digitally. There are three ways you to submit your work to an electronic publisher: in the body of an email, as an attachment to an email, or on disk.

Read guidelines carefully and pay attention to details. Once you get the guidelines, pay attention to the details. If a site is willing to publish new release information about you for free, don’t make the editor look through signature lines or links on your email to find the information. Submit everything the publication wants in the appropriate format. Check all your links before you send your email and be certain that they work. If you submit bad urls, an editor is not going to write to you for clarification. If a site accepts books for review, never send an electronic copy of the book without querying. Email is important to online editors and several megabytes in unnecessary downloads are a nuisance. We don’t all have high speed Internet connections.

Format according to required guidelines. Most publishers accept submissions sent in plain text (ASCII) or a rich text (RTF) format. Never send an image attachment unless requested. Be sure to check if the publication prefers MSWord DOC format. However, due to the risk of malicious macro viruses, most online publishers do not accept DOC format. If you write in DOC format, you can save your submission in RTF without many problems. Saving the file in plain text will cause it to lose any italics, bold, highlighting, and most font formatting. Use an asterisk before and one after a word you would like to appear in bold (without the spaces between the * and the word) like this: *word*. For italics, use an underscore symbol before the word and one after the word (also without spaces) like this: _word_. These notations can easily be converted to bold face and italics in a word processor from your plain text submission.

Many online editors will need to prepare your submission for publication through HTML (HYPER TEXT MARKUP LANGUAGE) and certain features available to you in a word processor will drive the person responsible for the conversion crazy. Not everyone works in the same operating system, and though cross-platform compatibility has increased remarkably in the last few years, don’t take any chances. First, documents that are readable on a MAC may appear corrupt when attached to an email received by a PC. This can sometimes be remedied by the recipient who can save the attachment and rename it to include the “.doc” extension. However, this does not always solve the problem. Besides, not all editors have the time to figure out what may be wrong with the file you have sent. Therefore, an unreadable file may land your email in the trash folder.

Avoid special characters. When converting your file to ASCII format make sure you have not used “smart quotes” since they may not convert as quotes in HTML. Characters like é, &, —, “ ”, may show up as a dot [ · ] in the HTML version of your text. This applies to “curly quotes” (both double and single). Interpreting nullified characters can be very confusing for the web designer or editor since he or she may have no way of knowing what you intended. Be certain to use straight quotes only (turn off “smart quotes.”)

Every space counts. When submitting to an e-zine, count the number of characters per line. For this you may need to use a good plain text editor. Do not submit a document that has more than 70 characters per line. This is very important for plain text formatting used by e-zine publishers. Do not apply “right justification” to your text–leave the right margin ragged. Use single spacing between lines unless specified. Avoid trailing spaces and excessive hits to the return key. Do not indent. When writing for the web, remember to double space between paragraphs rather than hitting the tab key. Break up long paragraphs and write in smaller blocks. Economize your word choices. Web site visitors have shorter attention spans. Indicate the end of your submission with three number signs, ###. This might sound unnecessary but it’s very helpful when editing documents.

Put your best face forward. Choose a common font such as Courier, Times New Roman, or Times Roman. Remember that your editor might not have that unusual font you found at a free fonts web site. In addition, NEVER use a playful or informal font, such as Comic Sans, Lucinda Sans, Andy, Bees Knees, Gothic, or ANY type of script or handwriting font face, when writing to an editor you don’t know. Do not include “smiley” gifs or images. If you use an email client that offers “stationery” and animated characters or other features, turn them off. Write your email queries carefully and professionally. Would you send a print magazine or book editor a letter on children’s stationery? Think twice before hitting that “send” button.

Type out web addresses. When including urls or web site addresses in your submissions, do not hyperlink the text. Type out the addresses–separate the title of the site from the url. For example, The Fiction Forum, It is okay to set the url off with parentheses or commas. Do not use angle brackets, , that are common in HTML since an url that looks like this: <> will show as incorrect HTML in popular authoring tools like Dreamweaver and can be difficult to edit.

Label attachments correctly. Do not save your documents with punctuation (other than a simple dash) or spaces in the file name. For example, do not call your short story submission: “You ain’t my chile’.doc.” Why? Even though MSWORD will save your files by the first line of text, don’t submit it that way. There are several things wrong with that file name: spaces between the characters, apostrophes, and length. Some operating systems seem to be able to handle the spaces and the apostrophe while others cannot. Try to use the old rule of eight characters or less for file names when possible. It is acceptable to use a dash in the file name like this: jones-503.doc.

Always list your name within the body of the attached document or at the top of the section of an email (when submitting the text in the body of an email). Include your contact information and, especially, your email address. Do not assume that your email address will pass along through the header of your email. If you have attached your submission to an email, it will be DETACHED and saved separately. If your name is not on your submission, your submission may be discarded.

If using headers and footers for your contact information, do this when submitting according to guidelines that require DOC or RTF formats only. Do not write your submission in DOC format, convert it to plain text, and then expect your letterhead information to remain in the header and footer of your document. For emails and plain text submissions, type out your contact information on the top of your text. If your email client has signatures available to you, use this feature but do so professionally.

Address the appropriate editor, appropriately. No one likes to receive emails addressed to the wrong person or “To-Whom-It-May-Concern” current names and contact addresses are listed and easy to find on a publication’s site. One problem with the instant gratification aspect of email is the haste in which we all send our correspondences. Take the time to spell check your submission AND your email. The email you send is the first impression you will make. Write it with the same care as a print cover letter. After all, it is your cover letter. If you write in ALL CAPS or lowercase, misspell words, fail to punctuate or have a CHAT ID in your email header, then you’re not making your best impression. For instance, would you want to read a submission for a fiction magazine submitted by BUD_GUZZLER or faNCyPanTZ? Set up a separate email address for writing submissions and use your real (full) name as part of the address. Do not send a submission from a temporary address or your friend’s email address and then write back to the editor at a later date to change your contact information. Respond from the same address that you wrote to the editor from initially. If you do change your email, send a professional request for an update in the contact information. Never write to an editor from one email address and then correct that editor for replying to you at that email address. Be aware that response times from publications may not be what you expect. Do not nag editors with emails asking about the status of your submission. Sending a follow-up email one month from the original correspondence is professional and a good idea. Emails do get lost. Email “inboxes” overflow with submissions. Sending a professional, non-emotional, reminder is a good way to handle the need for a reply.

Never send mass mailings to editors as part of your query routine. This is an important point. Web sites, in general, receive a lot of spam directed to every email address connected to them. Some sites contract with services to remove spam automatically or their Internet Service Provider may filter mass mailings. If you want your email make it into the INBOX of an editor, NEVER send a mass mailing. Address each email to one address on a site and use the editor’s name if possible. Do not send the same email to several addresses. This appears unprofessional to the editor and it’s annoying. This is especially true for small sites run by several people since the webmaster, editor, and submissions contact may be the same person.

Represent yourself honestly. Don’t pad your bio with fake publications to generate publishing clips or credits, falsify email headers, or create ghost-written email referrals. Online publications are more willing to work with new writers so don’t lie about your skills or credits. If an online editor checks up on you and finds you are lying, you could be “blacklisted” from certain publications since email travels fast.

Publication on the web is a rewarding and attainable way to gain writing credits. If you treat online publishers with the same respect that you would print publishers, then you may develop lasting and professional relationships. Email submissions are more important now than they were several years ago so preparing them correctly is essential to surviving the daily culling of unwanted email.

Copyright 2003. Renee Faucher. All Rights Reserved.
This article may not be displayed or copied without permission.

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