How to Write Articles That Sell: Preparing Articles for Submission
Why Presentation Matters to the Freelance Article Writer
The market for freelance articles is competitive. Editors receive many more articles than they can publish. If an editor must choose between several well-written submissions on the same topic, good presentation may give you the edge over the competition.
Following submission guidelines to the letter and presenting your work professionally will guarantee it receives an editor's attention. An editor may dismiss work which is not presented well without even reading it. If you've gone to the trouble of researching your market, writing, editing, and proof-reading your article until it's the best it can be, make sure the presentation reflects the quality of the content.
The bottom line is that a well-presented article is more likely to sell. If you're freelancing to make money, presentation is as important as content. This article tells you everything you need to know to make sure your work has the best chance of catching an editor's eye.
Many editors prefer to receive work by email and online submission portals. But several still prefer paper submissions in the mail. In both cases, standard manuscript format is the same. Every professional freelance article writer should know how to prepare a paper document for submission.
Following submission guidelines to the letter and presenting your work in a professional manner will guarantee it receives an editor's attention.— Austin Hackney
Presenting Your Work: Paper, Font, Mailing
When sending a mailed submission, always choose good quality paper. 80 grams is an ideal weight. The size must be A4 and the color, white. Your name must appear on each sheet unless you're entering a competition which requests anonymity. Print your name and contact details on the top left of the first page and the bottom right of the last.
Use Times New Roman font, size 12. Most editors prefer it because it's clear and easy to read. Don't even think about using anything else.
When you mail your work, if it's only two or three pages long, you can fold it once so that it fits in a 9" by 6" envelope. Otherwise, use an A4 envelope and send the work flat. It's a matter of courtesy (and good sense if you want to make sure you get a reply) to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope with enough postage for the return of the manuscript if it's rejected.
Before sending anything, check that the editor is open to unsolicited submissions. If you must query first, you can do that by email. Note that if the submission guidelines state that the publication doesn't accept unsolicited material that doesn't mean they don't accept freelance work. It only means you can't send a complete piece "on spec". You can always send a query with a brief outline of an idea.
Presenting Your Work: Electronic Submissions
When submitting work either via email or an online submissions portal, make sure you read the editor's guidelines and follow them to the letter. Paper submission standards are almost universal. Electronic submission requirements change from one publication and editor to the next.
Many editors specify precise requirements such as pasting the copy into the body of an email, or attaching it as a certain file-type (.doc, .docx, .rft, .txt, and .PDF are the most common). if the editor requests submission via an online portal, either the house's own or a third party service such as Submittable, follow the link given and fill out the form according to the instructions.
When submitting work either via email or an online submissions portal, make sure you read the editor's guidelines and follow them to the letter.— Austin Hackney
Word Processing Software for Freelance Article Writers
Every professional freelance writer has her favorite word processing software. Many are happy to use Microsoft Word, several enjoy a plain text editor, others prefer a writer-specific program such as Scrivener or one of several open-source programs such as Open Office.
The choice is personal. If you're serious about your writing career, it's worth investing a little time and money to experiment before choosing the software which works best for you. In all cases, a computer loaded with good software is essential these days. Few editors will read a typewritten manuscript. You should never send hand-written work!
To get started as a freelance article writer you need nothing too complex or fancy. The only important functions are:
- a suitable font and text size
- paragraphs and tabs
- headers and footers
- page numbering
So even the most basic software will be fine to take you from a rough draft to your first sale. As you develop your "niche" or broaden your range, you may discover other needs, but as a beginner you need little and free word processing packages are an affordable investment!
Now let's look at standard manuscript format.
Standard Manuscript Format
Whether submitting articles by email, a submissions portal, or in the mail, standard manuscript format is the same. Every professional freelance article writer should know how to prepare a document for submission like this.
- in the top left-hand corner of the first sheet add your name, address, telephone number, email, and the date of the submission
- in the top right-hand corner add your "catchline"
A catchline is an indicator of your article’s content. You can invent it. It should be short, even a single word, and related to your content. For example, if your article is about extreme weather events, you might use "Tornado" or "Storm" as a catchline. Never use "Kill" or "Spike" as these are in-house terms instructing a sub-editor to destroy or delete the manuscript! The catchline should appear at the top of every page followed by sequential numbers (Storm 1, Storm 2, etc.)
- center your title, followed by your byline, in the middle of the page
Capitalize your title. You can underline or bold it if you wish, but that’s not necessary. Your byline is the name you wish to appear in print; so, it might be your real name or a pseudonym.
- double space your text unless the guidelines say otherwise
- leave one inch margins all round
- if printing, use only one side of the paper
There's no need to indent paragraphs these days unless an editor specifically requires you to do so. It's more common now to leave a blank line between paragraphs. If you must indent, use tabs and set them up to leave between 5 and ten spaces at the start of each new paragraph.
Avoid splitting paragraphs between pages. It's better to leave an extra blank line at the foot of a page than have just one line of a paragraph which continues on the next page.
In the bottom right of each page of your text except the last, type MF (for "more follows") and on the last page type END. This way, an editor knows when she's finished reading your manuscript.
Standard Manuscript Format
While you must understand how to create a document in standard manuscript format, never assume that's what an editor wants. Always read the submission guidelines with great care and follow them with accuracy and precision. It's a sad truth that in today's competitive marketplace editors look first for reasons to reject a manuscript. Poor layout, or a submission which deviates from the guidelines, is often reason enough to reject your manuscript unread.
How to Present a Cover Sheet
A cover sheet is necessary when making a paper submission by mail. It's often not needed for electronic submissions. But several publications which use electronic submissions portals also ask for cover sheets, so it's important to know how to write one.
Cover sheet formatting is like the standard manuscript format used in the main article body. But you must add the date under your address and contact details at the top left of the page, a word count under the title, and the rights you are offering for sale at the bottom left of the page. You can also write in the bottom right-hand corner if you have enclosed any photographs or other inclusions.
Here's a sample cover sheet layout:
If you email a manuscript, then you can include all the information in the standard cover sheet in the body of the email without the above formatting. But if you include the document as an attachment to the email, you should include a cover sheet as above as many editors print out documents they're interested in buying.
A Word About Word Counts
It's vital to include the article's length on the cover sheet and the first page of the document itself. The word count must be exact. Don't guess a rough figure. If the editor thinks she has a 500 word piece to fit in and designs the page, font, and layout on that basis only to discover the article runs over 600 words, you could be responsible for a deal of trouble.
Use your computer's word count facility to get an exact and precise figure. But you can then round to the nearest 10 if your piece is less than 1000 words. If it's over that, round to the nearest 50.
How to Present a Cover Letter
Whether you're sending an unsolicited manuscript or one requested by an editor, you must include a cover letter. A good cover letter is always short, business-like, and demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely. I recommend you to follow this advice:
- Always address the editor by name
Don't know the editor's name? Find out! Print publications usually list the editorial staff somewhere on the inside front or back pages. Otherwise, do your research, pull up a telephone number, and call to ask to whom you should address a particular piece.
- Keep to the point
The cover letter is not the place to offer a biography or even earlier publication credits. Only include information pertinent to the piece you're submitting. Don't describe the piece in detail or explain what it's about. The editor will find out when she reads it. Focus on why you are qualified to write it and why her readers will love it.
- Edit and proofread your letter
The cover letter is the first thing an editor reads. It may be the first impression she has of your work. It must be professional in tone and the grammar and spelling must be faultless. Edit and proofread your cover letter with as much care and attention to detail as you have your article.
A good cover letter will make sure the editor reads your article. If you've done your market research, chosen a good topic, and written a good piece, you stand a good chance of either selling your work or getting an invitation to send further work in the future.
How to Present Your Manuscript: Check List
...read the submission guidelines?
...followed standard manuscript format where appropriate?
...given an accurate word count?
...written a clear, concise cover letter?
...included a properly laid out cover sheet?
...addressed the editor by name?
...included all your contact details?
Now Submit Your Article
You must take as much care over presenting your article as you did to write it. The freelance writing marketplace was never more competitive than today. Good presentation gives you the edge and increases your chances of selling your freelance articles.
Follow these guidelines and you'll put yourself ahead of the game. Now it's time to send your article. I hope you make a sale. Good luck!
© 2018 Austin Hackney