Monday, March 29, 2010

Manuscript Advice from Mid Rivers Review Editor, Teddy Norris

Last Saturday, Teddy Norris, English Professor at SCCC, poet, and Editor of the Mid Rivers Review, gave a presentation at Saturday Writers on "Creating Winning Manuscripts." Teddy spoke about the basics and shared some tips she learned while on a sabbatical at a poetry manuscript workshop in Western Massachusetts. Here are some notes I jotted down during her presentation on submitting your manuscript:

#1 Rule: Proof, Proof, Proof, and Revise, Revise, Revise. The competition is fierce to get an editor to select your manuscript. Even if you write like Hemmingway or are a poet on par with Elizabeth Bishop, your work had better have flawless grammar and spelling. Read your manuscript out loud before submitting.

Other suggestions and observations:

* Real the submission guildelines carefully for specifics, such as:

"To clip or not to clip." Some editors prefer paper clips over staples.

SASE should be business letter size.

Cover letter should be short and to the point. Bio should be succinct. Include a statement "edit as needed for space." If listing publishing credits, quality is more important than quantity.

* If an editor asks for changes, respond quickly. Editors are generally flexible and will work with you, but they are working under deadlines.

* Simultaneous submissions - Be honest with the editor. Editors are writers, too, and understand if you have submitted the piece elsewhere. It is courteous to mention that in your cover letter. If your work is accepted in one publication, notify others where you have submitted it right away.

* Online journals are changing the market. There are more places to be published, but check out the publication (both print and online).

* Publication credits - If a piece has been published online or in a student lit mag or publication, it is generally considered published. Again, find out what rights the editor is wanting. Some accept reprints. Just be upfront with the editor.

* In poetry, non-rhyming has the edge. Don't force the end rhyme. Line is critical. Be clear on line breaks and endings. Honor the white space. Each poem gets its own page. Most editors prefer poems that can fit on one page because of layout issues.

* Centering poetry is the mark of an amateur. Left justified is easier to work with.

* Titles are important in poetry and prose. Untitled doesn't work; it makes the submitter appear either pretentious or unimaginative. You can market your piece with the title. Avoid one-word titles. Titles are also a way of layering your work or adding symbolism.

* Don't use fancy fonts or colors. Use standard fonts, such as Times New Roman or Courier.

* Dialogue - Should sound like real conversation. Watch dialogue tags.

* Cut, cut, cut. "Pruning makes trees stronger; it will make your writing stronger, too."

* Watch overuse of adjectives and adverbs - "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." (Stephen King)

* Trust your reader. Rather than summarizing or wrapping up at the end, let your story end naturally. End with a quality of "mystique."

* Produce "small amazements" for your readers.

* Just like "iron sharpens an iron" being in a workshop with other poets or writers and listening to their works will make your writing stronger.

* Editors review submissions quickly. Quality is expected; you must go beyond. Use provocative titles to get their attention, then follow-through from there.

Final word of advice: Proof, Proof, Proof, and Revise, Revise, Revise.

There you have it in a nutshell.
Teddy was so gracious and generous with her time and talent, and she donated her speaker's fee back to Saturday Writers. Aren't writers great?

Today in St. Peters, MO: Sunny, high 58 degrees.


  1. Teddy did such a wonderful job. Her presentation was full of helpful information.

    Writers may wish to look into Teddy's fall writing class offerings at St. Charles Community College. What a great way to sharpen writing skills!

  2. Hi Pat,
    You are right; Teddy dis a wonderful job.

    Thanks for the reminder about her fall writing classes. I also forgot to mention Open Mic night in April. I'll post about that in the next week or so.

  3. Donna, thanks for posting all this helpful information. I wish I lived closer to a big city so I could attend all the writers programs.

  4. Thank you, Donna, for posting all this information. I found it very useful for my needs.I have not met Teddy Norris but I have talked with her briefly on the phone about one of my poems she accepted. Wow, she was great to work with on the poem; she was helpful and I learned things just seeing how she thought as an editor.

  5. Donna, Thanks for this post. It was filled with great tips. Hope you;re feeling better. I missed your posts.

  6. Wow, Donna, you've been "redecorating"! Love the new look at the Book Pub :-) And thanks for sharing tips. Whenever I take notes from a speaker, I think I'll post them. But mostly, I just lose them :-)

  7. Hi Mary,
    You should come visit our neck of the woods sometime.

  8. Hi Claudia,
    Congratulations on getting one of your poems accepted for MRR. During her talk Teddy mentioned how she goes over line breaks and specifics with to poets to make sure they appear as the poets want. I learned so much listening to her.


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