Always use a good quality 8 ½" X 11", white, 20-pound bond paper, at least 25% rag content (preferably 50%). Never use erasable bond. Your name, address and phone number should appear in the upper left-hand corner of the first page. If you have a fax machine or an e-mail address, these should also appear there. For articles written on assignment, add your social security number to this information. In the upper right hand corner state the approximate word count of the article. You can determine the number of words by counting exactly how many appear on three pages and dividing by three to get an average per-page count (those using modern word-processing programs can use the "word-count" functions). Then multiply this by the number of pages (making allowances for pages that are not full), and round the number off to the nearest hundred.
The title of the article should be capitalized and centered half way down the page, with the text starting two or three spaces below. The standard indent is five or six spaces, and all text should be double spaced.
If you are using a pen name, you should put this below the title: center "by" below the title, and center your pen name below that. There is one school of thought that says you should put your real name below the title if you are not using a pen name, but this is really unnecessary. Whatever you choose to do, be consistent.
There are also those who recommend including information about what rights you intend to sell and a copyright notice under the word count in the upper right-hand corner. Again, this is probably unnecessary, however, that does not mean you should not do it if you feel better including that information. (For a good summary of exactly what "rights" means, refer to the information pages in the front of your Writer's Market.)
Margins are one thing about which editors are particular; they all like them wide. During the editing process, they need room to make many notes in the margins concerning what form the editing will take. Many professional writers use excessively wide margins, while some use no more than the standard one inch. An inch and a half on the top and bottom, and an inch and a quarter on both sides are adequate and will please the toughest of editors.
Some writers, the late Issac Asimov for instance, are stingy with margin space, pointing out that the more words you can get on a page, the less your paper costs will be. This may be acceptable for writers who are famous and in demand, but not for the average professional. The slight difference in paper costs will be more than compensated for in editorial good will.
Even if you have the capability, do not "justify" your text, that is make it so that each line ends perfectly aligned with all others on the right side. This often creates odd letter spacing, which can be hard to read, and whatever you do, you do not want to make an editor's job harder. Editors don't care how ragged the right margin appears in a manuscript.
On each succeeding page, in the upper right-hand corner, type your last name, a slash (/), a word from the title that will identify the article, another slash (/) and the page number. Some writer's advisors say that this should be put in the upper left-hand corner. Editors, however, could probably care less. Whichever corner you use, be consistent.
The reason for identifying each page is that in editorial offices pages will often be passed around from desk to desk for editorial opinions and fact checking. If each page is identified in this way, the manuscript can be easily reassembled. If they are not so identified, the editor may be faced with the difficult task of finding a missing page using only the wording before and after. In this case, you may be asked to submit additional complete copies, costing time for the editor and money for you.
Corrections are another point of disagreement both among writers and among those who teach writing. Some say that one or two visible corrections per page is acceptable. We disagree. Our advice is never to submit manuscripts containing visible corrections.
The end of the article should be marked with the word "end" or a symbol such as "-30-", or "***." This should be centered a few spaces below the last line. Following this, you should list the names, addresses, titles, phone numbers, etc. of each person consulted for or quoted in the article. Nowadays, it is also a good idea to list Web sites you have visited during your research and e-mail addresses for your contacts. If the contact list is a long one, it is sometimes best to add a separate page or two.
A cover letter should accompany the article in order to inform the editor of certain things that cannot be included in the manuscript. First, if the article was done on assignment, mention this fact and the date the assignment was received. Next, if photos are included, tell the editor who supplied them and whether or not they need to be returned. If you have located a source of photos, but were unsure exactly what the editor might require, inform him or her of this fact and offer to secure them on request.
You should also list any other sources of information that were used in your research, and include copies of these, or mention that they are available on request. If your interviewees have made any specific requests concerning how they wish to be identified, this information should be included. Finally, relate any information about the article that is not evident in the text, such as whether you have contacted the interview subjects for quote approval, or sent copies of the manuscript to them because you were unable to contact them promptly by phone.
Photos should be handled with care. If they are slides, pack them well in slide boxes or plastic sleeves. Prints should either be packed in appropriate mailers, or backed with cardboard to keep them from getting creased. On the outside of the envelope print "PHOTOS, DO NOT BEND" in large letters. If they are originals that must be returned, it is a good idea to send them registered, requesting that they be returned the same way.
Captions should be provided for any photos sent. Often, your words will not be used, but captions are necessary to identify the photos. Captions inform editors of photo contents, where and when taken, and the photographer's name. These can be typed on separate sheets, folded in half, and the photo inserted in the fold. In the case of slides, the captions should be typed on a separate sheet, numbered and the slides numbered to correspond.
For short manuscripts (ten pages or less) always back them with cardboard, and always mail them flat in 9"X12" or larger envelopes. 8 ½" by 11" chipboard backing sheets can be inexpensively purchased at any print shop. The backs of legal pads can also be cut and used for this purpose. Some writers fold manuscripts of less than five pages and send them in smaller envelopes, but I recommend against this practice. The heavy rag-content papers retain creases, which can be annoying to an editor.
If you wish to have your manuscript returned in case of a rejection, include a SASE of the proper size, and with sufficient postage. If you do not care about the return of your original, include a legal-sized SASE for the editor's reply, and mention in the cover letter that the manuscript should be discarded if not accepted. (If you use a word processor and printer, it is usually less expensive to run off another "original" than to pay for the envelope and postage.)
Your manuscript package should include: the cover letter, the manuscript, any supporting research documentation, the backing sheet, and your SASE, clipped together in that order. If you are sending photos, these should be put immediately after the backing sheet, with another backing sheet next and then the SASE.
If the article was done on assignment, even on speculation, write "Requested Material" in the lower left-hand corner of the outside envelope. This will let the mail room workers know that it is expected and keep it out of the slushpile where it could languish for days. It is a good idea to write "FIRST CLASS" prominently on the front and back of all manila envelopes. Many of these are mailed at bulk rates, and unless the postal workers can see that they are supposed to go first class, they are liable to be inadvertently thrown in with lower class mail. Established professional writers send most everything electronically or by fax nowadays, but whenever they do employ the U.S. Postal Service they almost always use the cardboard Priority envelopes. Though these can be more expensive than straight First Class, they eliminate the need for cardboard backing sheets and carry a bit more importance in their appearance than a standard manila envelope.
Always keep file copies of your manuscripts. When you become a volume customer of the USPS, you will soon find that the loss of mail is far more common than you may have expected. In addition to this, editorial offices are notorious for misplacing part or all of a manuscript. Keeping electronic "files" as copies may give you the illusion that you are protecting your work, but computers are vulnerable to things like hard-disk crashes, accidental file erasure and simple loss through mis-filing. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep hard copies of everything you write, including cover letters, queries and general correspondence.
Keeping records of your articles is of utmost importance. The system you use will depend on your own personal tastes, but it should be easy to maintain and update on a regular basis.