Rx for Writers

Writer's Support Room - Manuscript How-Tos

Jan Fields, ICL web editor,  has published in many and varied children’s and family magazines including Boys’ Quest, Highlights For Children, Shining Star, Crayola Kids, Ladybug, Single-Parent Family and Charisma-Life.  Though she began her career writing for adults exclusively, she was soon lured into the challenging world of children's writing. Jan has taught adult and children’s writing for over twenty years. In addition to this busy schedule, Jan co-moderates the busiest Internet mailing list for children’s writers and is the editor of Kid Magazine Writer e-magazine. She is a member of the SCBWI and a repeat speaker at local SCBWI conferences. Her articles about writing have been published both in print and online markets such as Keystrokes, Byline, Children’s Writer, and Children’s Book Insider. In her spare time, she sleeps.

"Postage-Free Submissions"

by Jan Fields

A quick tally of magazines listed in the Magazine Market for Children's Writers 2006 show over 300 magazines that will accept email for either queries or submissions. Not surprisingly, that number falls sharply for book publishers, but the Book Markets for Children's Writers 2006 lists about 50 publishers who will accept email queries or submissions - mostly educational publishers or small niche publishers. With over 350 opportunities to contact publishers via email, it's clearly worthwhile to know how to make the best impression via email.


Anything you do that makes an editor's job harder is going to weigh against your manuscript so there are certain things you'll always want to be certain to do…

  1. Be certain your correspondence includes all contact information (name, address, phone number and email address) in the body of the email you are sending. Don't assume having your email address in the "from" line is enough.
  2. Be certain that you do not include attachments unless specifically asked to do so. The vast majority of publishers accepting email submissions do not want to see ANY attachments. Many will not open an email with attachments - meaning you don't even get a rejection. It just gets deleted.
  3. Be certain that your email does not include any strange formatting codes that will produce gobbledy-gook on the publisher's end. This happens when you cut and paste from your word processing program into an email. Most word processors include "invisible" code that tells the program how to render the text on the page. When you paste from the word processor into the email - those codes become visible when the email arrives in the editor's box and interfere with reading your submission. [More on the cure for this in a moment.]


In order to cut and paste successfully from a word processor to an email, you're going to need a "middle man" - you will need to save the document as a plain text file. On a PC, one way to do this is to open "notepad" and paste your document into that first. Then copy from notepad into the email document.

Eek! Did you lose all your paragraphing and italics? That's to be expected. You actually would not have retained those things in most emails anyway…when the email reached the editor, it would have just had "code" for those things. So, you'll need to fix the formatting manually in the email before sending it.

But that's hard and dull and time-consuming! Yeah, it's work too. But unfortunately, someone has to do the work to make your piece readable, either you or the editor. And a busy editor just doesn't have time.

By the way, the format for a manuscript pasted into email is (in almost all cases) different from one submitted via printed-paper and post office. In an emailed manuscript, you single space, and signify new paragraphs by double-spacing. This is the easiest format for editors to cut and paste from out of the email and into a new file. It's also the easiest format to read in email. If the editor wants a different format, and has already begun the process of "relating" to you - she can then ask for an attachment (and feel safe in opening it because she's expecting it.)


An email submission begins with the cover letter (or query letter). You will begin the letter with the same kind of salutation you would use in a print cover letter. Although some editors are comfortable with a slightly more casual air to email letters - some are not. It's best to wait until the editor responds in a casual manner, before getting too casual in your remarks. So Dear Jane Doe (when you know the editor's name) or Dear Editor (when you don't) is better than Hi! or no saluation at all.

The letter then will look like any cover or query letter. It will present the product you are selling (story or article) and will tell anything the editor needs to know (length? Target age? Genre? Theme the piece relates to? By the way, if a magazine only targets a narrow age range (like Ladybug, for example), you don't need to mention age range in your letter. Age range is mentioned when your product matches a particular segment of the audience of a magazine that covers a wide age range (like Highlights or Pockets). Note also, because italics/underline are difficult to render in email, magazine titles are written in all caps.

You need to tell the editor exactly what you're including. If just the product (story or article) that's fine. If you're also including a bibliography or a sidebar, then tell the editor what will be included and give the list in the order the editor will find it. You might say: "I have included the 500-word article at the end of this letter, followed by a 200-word sidebar and the bibliography for both." The editor will then know what she's getting and in what order.

Finally, you'll mention any completely relevant information about yourself - like publishing credits or special expertise. It won't include things like education (unless your education relates to the very specific product you are selling). Just as I don't mention my BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill (editors don't care), so also you won't mention writing classes you've taken (again…editors, they don't care.) I would only mention my education is I were submitting to an editor who had been one of my instructors - then the editor might care.

Then, after your signature, you'll list your complete contact information. You need your mailing address because no one is going to email you a check for your work, and even in non-paying markets, the editor may be mailing you contributor's copies of the magazine with your work in it. Your phone number allows the editor to contact you for very quick responses if she needs to. And your email address keeps the editor from losing your address if the email is printed out without the header and the original deleted.

After your letter section, you'll put some kind of divider line (there isn't a rule about this - it can be dashes, asterisks, pound signs, no one is going to fret about it.). Then you'll include the actual manuscript - with the title flush left and the byline flush left. You can't really center things in an email, so don't try. Setting your title in ALL CAPS will be especially helpful in an email submission as it makes it easier for the editor to find the beginning of the story when scrolling.

The story itself is formatted just like the cover letter - single-spaced with an extra space between. A very few editors like to see an email submissions double spaced but this is so rare that you're almost always safe to simply single space unless guidelines specifically say otherwise. Then between your main piece and any sidebars or bibliographies, you will just do another spacing row (just as you did between letter and submission) and use ALL CAPS for the title of the next section - for example: BIBLIOGRAPHY or SIDEBAR 1: FROM COAL TO DIAMONDS). Again, using all caps makes it easier for editors to find the new sections when scrolling.


Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2006 08:10:11 -0400
From: Jan Fields [jan.fields@forums.institutechildrenslit.com]
Subject: Submission - "Sarah Sparkle"
To: Edda Tour [editor@niftymagazine.com]

Dear Edda Tour:

Sarah knows what she wants for Christmas. And she's been very, very good. She knows the Santa deal. Now all she has to do is get Santa to hold up his end of the bargain. "Sarah Sparkle" mixes humor and action to produce a rollicking story of a little girl who wouldn't give up. I believe it will be a good fit for your "Jolly Ol' St. Nick" theme. I have included the 800-word manuscript at the end of this letter.

My short fiction has appeared in LADYBUG and WEE ONES - I hope to see it in NIFTY MAGAZINE one day.


Jan Fields
Member SCBWI
Street address
Phone number


By Jan Fields

Sarah was the smallest Sparkle. She had a big mother and a very big father. She wanted to be big too. She wanted to put the star on top of the Christmas tree like Daddy. She wanted to take power walks like Mom. She wanted to get cookies from the jar all by herself.

Every day Sarah ate growing-up food, like broccoli and carrots and yucky lima beans. Sarah did growing up exercises, like tippy toe walking and stretchy reaching. She drank her milk and took her vitamins. She stayed small.

"What would you like for Christmas?" Mom asked.

"I want to be big."

"Santa gives things, not wishes," Mom said.

Sarah thought about this for a long time. Then she drew a picture of what she wanted. She put the picture in an envelope and Mom wrote Santa's address and carried it across the street to the mailbox.

On Christmas Eve, Sarah hid behind the couch and waited for Santa. She heard bells and rattling and a swoosh in the chimney. Then she watched Santa pile gifts under the tree. Some were little. Some were big. None were big enough.

"Excuse me," said Sarah.

"Oh, oh, oh!" Santa spun around and tumbled into the fireplace.

"You didn't bring my present," Sarah said. "I was good - very, very good."

Santa brushed ashy smears off his fuzzy red pants. "I brought you many lovely presents, little Sarah."

"You didn't bring what I asked for," said Sarah. "I sent you a letter."

"Oh, yes," Santa said. "I got that one. I didn't think it would be a good idea."

Sarah frowned. "I know the rules. When kids are good, you bring them what they want. I was good. I ate lima beans."

"But, why would you want such a strange thing?" Santa asked.

"It will help me do big things," Sarah said.

Santa smiled. "But being little is wonderful. You can cuddle with your parents for story time. You can swim in the bathtub. And you're a very good hider."

"Being little is full of can't," Sarah said. "Can't reach. Can't do stuff. Can't tell when people are fibbing about what Santa brings good kids."

Santa sighed. He reached into his bag and pulled. And pulled. And pulled. And pulled out a polar bear with a bright ribbon around his neck. The bear was bigger than the fireplace. He was bigger than the couch. He was almost bigger than the Christmas tree. Sarah ran and hugged the bear.

Santa sighed again. He patted Sarah on the head and zipped up the chimney.

Sarah climbed on the Polar Bear's back. "Let's have some cookies."

The cookie jar was not too high. Sarah munched a sugar Santa. The polar bear ate a sugar angel, a chocolate chip camel and three gingerbread bears. He licked the inside of the cookie jar and chewed a hole in the lid. He drank up the eggnog. He ate a fruitcake, foil and all.

"Wow," said Sarah. "I didn't think anyone ate fruitcake. Daddy is going to love you."

The bear stood up and looked for snacks on top of the fridge. He ate the box of Cocoa Booms, a loaf of bread and all the dust bunnies.

Sarah climbed on top of his head. "Let's go touch the star."

The star was not too high. The polar bear stood up tall and leaned on the tree to balance. The tree rocked, and swayed, and flopped into the fireplace. Sarah peered down from the bear's head. The star was in the fireplace. Sarah reached out and touched it with her toe.

"I think it's time for a power walk," Sarah said. She slipped down to the polar bear's back and they trotted outside. They power walked across the yard and right through the neighbor's fence. They power walked over a snowman and under a tree covered in lights. Finally they power walked back into Sarah's house and settled down next to the fireplace. Sarah picked fence wire, carrot bits, and Christmas lights from the polar bear's fur. Being big was hard work. She snuggled down next to the bear and fell asleep.

"I've been thinking about this," said Santa as he swooshed down the chimney again. He looked around the living room. He looked at Sarah and her polar bear. Then, he patted the bear gently. It turned into a big soft stuffed bear with a bright ribbon around its neck. Sarah smiled in her sleep as the soft fur brushed her cheek.

"Now, you've been big," Santa whispered before he zipped back up the chimney. "When you're ready. You'll be big, again."

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