Submitting Your Manuscript for Consideration in 1898

Tonight I came across this little gem in Journalism for Women: A Practical Guide by Arnold Bennett, published in 1898. Sigh. The submission process has always been painful.


Your paragraph or article having been composed, there arises the question of the proper way to copy and dispatch it:

  1. In the majority of instances it is unnecessary to typewrite. Typewriting is somewhat expensive and often inaccurate, and unless you happen to possess your own typewriter, there is no reason why calligraphy should not suffice for your needs. (A few editors, however, insist that all copy submitted shall be typewritten.) Use quarto paper—that is, the size of a sheet of note-paper opened—and only one side of it. Write very plainly, not too small, leaving a wide margin at the left hand, and a good space between the words and between the lines.
  2. Fasten the sheets together at the top left hand corner with a paper fastener, the pointed ends of the fastener being at the top. Do not pin the sheets; do not stitch them; whatever else you do, refrain from stitching them all the way down the left hand side, as this process makes it irritatingly difficult to turn them over.
  3. Write your name and address not only at the top of the manuscript itself, but also on the back, so that they may be prominent when the manuscript is folded up. Write boldly on the first page the exact length of the article in words.
  4. Enclose a stamped and addressed envelope —not a book-post wrapper; manuscripts which see much of the world (and your earlier manuscripts will probably see a very great deal of the world) become damaged and ruinous by travelling in a book-post wrapper. Be sure that the envelope is sufficiently stamped, and be sure also that it is large enough to hold the manuscript.
  5. Never send out a dirty or ragged manuscript. The editor is prejudiced by the first sight of such a manuscript, for he knows at once that it has been refused elsewhere.

Her manuscript decently dispatched, the aspirant will feel happy and well satisfied till shortly before the earliest hour possible for its return. Then begins suspense. She will sit awaiting with counterfeit calm the postman. She hears his tread on the pavement outside; he mounts the steps, knocks; there is the gentle concussion of a packet against the bottom of the letter-box. Is it the article returned? She still keeps hope. Even when one day the large envelope, addressed in her own writing, is put into her hands, she says to herself that the editor has only returned it for a few trifling modifications. . . .

Invariably the thing does come back, sooner or later, with some curt circular of refusal. Moodiness and discouragement follow. But it is as wise to be annoyed by editors as to quarrel with the weather. Idle depression must instantly give place to renewed activity. The journalistic instinct, says Noble Simms in When a Man’s Single, “includes a determination not to be beaten as well as an aptitude for selecting the proper subjects.”

If at first you fail—as will certainly be the case; you may sell nothing whatever for twelve months—be quite sure that it is not—

Because there is a conspiracy among editors to suppress talented beginners.

Or because the market is overcrowded.

Or because your manuscripts have not been carefully read.

Or because editors do not know their business.

Try to convince yourself that the true reason is—

Because your stuff has not yet reached the (low) level of merely technical accomplishment which the average editor exacts.

Or because your topics are devoid of interest for any numerous body of persons.

Or because you persist in sending your articles to the wrong papers.

The first defect ought to be remedied speedily. The second is more difficult to deal with, and the third is most difficult. The eradication of these two will necessitate careful and continuous study of journalism in all its manifestations, and nothing but successive defeats will teach you how to be victorious. However, perseverance granted, the hour will come when an article of yours finds its way to the composing room. A day of ecstasy, upon which every disappointment is forgotten and the way forward seems straight and facile!

As soon as you can rely upon selling one article out of four, count it that you are progressing.

* * As to remuneration, a few papers send out cheques at regular intervals without putting their contributors to any trouble in the matter. Others, and among them some of the best, never pay till a demand is made. Some, including one or two organs of note, never pay till they are compelled to do so. If a remittance is not received during the month following publication, it is advisable to deliver an account, giving the date of appearance, exact title, and number of pages, columns, or inches.