The Blog of John Hewitt

Formatting a short story for submission to a potential publisher

These are the guidelines for formatting a short story for submission to a possible publisher. As stated, these are guidelines and are not an absolute industry standard. There is no absolute standard. Different publications have different submission requirements. Always check the submission guidelines of any publication you submit to because they may vary from these guidelines in important ways. If the publication does not give conflicting information, however, fall back on these guidelines to get you through the process.


  • Paper should be white, unlined and 8.5 x 11 inches.
  • Outside of the United States and Canada, A4 size paper is used in many countries. If you live in one of those countries, you should already know this. If you are submitting to a foreign country, you need to check on the paper standards for that country.
  • Only use one side of the paper; do not print on both the front and back of pages.


  • Use a standard, readable typeface/font. Times / Times Roman, Helvetica and Arial are typical fonts.
  • Font size should be at least 10 (point) at most 12 (point).
  • NEVER use a script style font.

Margins and Spacing

  • Leave a 1 inch margin on all sides of your manuscript.
  • Except when specifically instructed to do otherwise, double space your lines throughout the story.
  • Do not include extra space between paragraphs.
  • You are not required to indent the first line of each paragraph. If you choose to, you may indent the first line 1/2 inch from the left margin.

Page One

  • In the upper left-hand corner of the page, include the following information. It should appear flush left with each item of information on a separate line. This portion of your manuscript is the only portion that needs to be single-spaced.
    • Your name
    • Your mailing address
    • Your city, state or province, zip or postal code (and country if sending outside of your own country
    • Phone number(s)
  • In the upper right-hand corner of the page, flush right, include the approximate word count, rounded to the nearest hundred for stories under 10,000 words and to the nearest thousand for stories above 10,000 words.
  • In the exact center of your page (vertically and horizontally) type the title of your manuscript. You may use title case or all capital letters.
  • Two lines below your title, centered, include your byline. This is either your real name or a pseudonym.
  • Example: by John Hewitt
  • Begin the body of your manuscript (your story) four lines below your byline. This portion of your manuscript needs to be double spaced.

Pages other than page one

  • In the upper left or right side of each page include the page number and your last name. This should appear about four lines above your body text.

Things to avoid

  • Do not include your social security number
  • Do not type -30-, the end, or end at the conclusion of your manuscript. Just end it.
  • Do not staple or otherwise bind your manuscript. You may use a paperclip or a butterfly clamp to hold pages together.
  • Do not include information about rights, a copyright notice or any other personal details on your manuscript. If you must discuss these, do so in a cover letter

How to Express Yourself Through Writing

Most people who write poetry or fiction do so because they want to express themselves. Self-expression takes many forms, but poetry and fiction are two of the purest forms. What you write will always be an expression of your inner self. Still, expression is not always a simple task. Anyone who has sat down to write knows how hard it is to find the words to say exactly what they want to say. What comes out is often close to a person’s feelings, but rarely seems to express them perfectly.

Below are the four barriers to self-expression that come up most frequently. If you want to write what you feel, you must learn to overcome them.

Poor Grammar Hurts Self Expression

Learning and practicing the basic rules of grammar and style is a key to self-expression. When you know and accept the rules of a language, those rules become tools instead of barriers. William Strunk’s excellent guide to grammar can be found free on the web at: This is an older, public domain version of the book The Elements of Style. This book is about as concise and inexpensive a guide to grammar as you can find. Buy it, read it, learn it, live it. There are many more guides, most of them more detailed and explanatory. I have at least a half a dozen different grammar guides, but as the occasional email points out, I still make mistakes.

Poor Vocabulary Hurts Self Expression

The second barrier to self-expression is vocabulary. I do not mean that you need to know hundreds of four-syllable words in order to express yourself, but knowing the right word to express your thought is an essential element of good writing. Most people think a thesaurus is a good way to build their vocabulary, but frequently a thesaurus can lead you down the wrong path. Just because two words have similar meanings does not mean they have identical meanings. It is far more important to read a dictionary than a thesaurus. Look up words, even words you think you know, and pay attention to the definitions. An excellent dictionary to buy is The American Heritage Dictionary. I am not a big fan of Webster’s Dictionaries; most of their definitions seem incomplete to me. The king of all English language dictionaries is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It is the most in-depth and comprehensive dictionary in the history of man. The OED is almost as expensive as it is extensive, so visit your local library if you cannot afford a copy.

A Lack of Honesty Hurts Self Expression

While the first two barriers to self-expression are technical, the third is psychological. Self-expression requires a level of honesty and fearlessness that most people do not possess. To begin with, you need to know what your feelings are. This requires taking the time to look at yourself and to try to understand why you do things. Once you know what your feelings are, you need to be brave enough to put them on paper. Some people never achieve that level of honesty. One way to work on breaking down barriers is to try automatic writing. Sit down with a notebook or your computer and write whatever comes to mind, as quickly as possible. Do not edit yourself and do not try to control what goes onto the paper. You can do this for increments of five to ten minutes or longer. Personally, I find that I don’t get a good automatic flow going until I’ve been at it for over fifteen minutes.

A Lack of Effort Hurts Self Expression

Writing well requires hard work. There is no easy way around this. The more frequently you write and edit, the better you will get at it. Most professionals spend hours a day writing. If your goal is to become adept at expressing yourself, especially through poetry or fiction, you need to understand that you won’t automatically be perfect at it. Even after years of practice, not everything you write will be worth reading. The key is to keep writing. When you have significant writing experience, you can plow though the dry times and take greater advantage of inspiration when it comes.

One of the most inspirational books I have ever read about writing is If You Want to Write by the late Brenda Ueland. When I read her book, it usually takes only a couple of paragraphs before I feel like writing again.

Can you make money writing novels?

Can anyone write novels?

There are no educational or social requirements to becoming a novelist. Education helps you develop writing skills and get involved in the community of writing, but it is not a requirement for success. The main requirement is that you write a novel. The better written and more marketable your novel is, the better your chances. In the end, the elements that lead to the successful marketing of a novel have little to do with educational or social background.

What types of novels sell well?

Genre novels tend to be the easiest to market. There is a built-in audience for genres such as romance, horror, children, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and thriller. A new genre, chick-lit, in which the protagonist is a modern single woman experiencing relationship and career issues, is currently popular. Novels that fall outside of these genres aren’t necessarily doomed, but they are harder to market, and most major publishing houses are looking to publish novels that they are confident they can sell in great numbers.

How do I find a publisher?

There are many small and mid-sized publishers who are open to new writers. The problem with smaller publishers is that they don’t have the money and clout of a major publisher. Typically they will publish a print run of about 5000 books and try to sell those before they print more copies. Your chances of getting published with a smaller publisher is better (though you are still competing against many other novelists) but few of them can bring you the royalties required to make a living. Major publishers are the ones that can bring you big sales. It is harder to get a major publisher to notice you, but it isn’t impossible.

Typically a writer is represented by a literary agent. An agent is someone who has read your book and believes that the book is marketable enough for them to sell it to a publisher. They take advantage of whatever connections they have in the publishing industry to get your book read by acquiring editors, who decide what books their publishing company should publish. The acquiring editor then makes a proposal to their board of editors (or whoever else has final authority) and if all goes well you get your book published.

How many novels do I have to sell to make money?

Here is where you run into trouble. While there are many, many variables involved in how much a writer makes when his or her novel is published, a good rule of thumb for estimating your profits is a dollar a book. That means that you would have to sell 50,000 books a year in order to earn a solid living. While there are some people who publish multiple books a year, the typical novelist manages to produce a single book a year, so you would have to sell 50,000 copies of each book you publish, assuming that you find a publisher for your books.

While the Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings of this world have no trouble selling millions of books, the typical novel sells about 5000 to 10,000 copies. Less than ten percent of published novelists manage to sell 50,000 copies or more of their book, and selling 50,000 copies of a book in no way guarantees that you will find a publisher for your next book. Major publishers are looking for big wins. They want to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and they are going to stick with the writers they think will deliver them those numbers. Keep in mind as well, that the delay between having a book accepted for publication and getting that book published is generally about two years and often longer. That is a long time to wait to see profits from a book.

Are there other ways for novelists to make money?

Many novelists hold full-time jobs in publishing or education. These jobs provide their main income. Novelists can make some money by giving readings or getting paid to attend writer’s conferences. A novel can also get sold to a movie studio. Whether the novel gets made into a movie or not, the novelist gets paid a certain amount. If the novel becomes a successful movie, the novelist is usually in a much better position to get their next novel published.

Can I self publish?

Self-publishing is an option for people who want to get their novel read, but the option seldom leads to substantial profits. The upside of self-publishing is that you can make much more per book than if someone else publishes your work. The downside is that all of the risks and all of the expenses are on your shoulders. That means that you have to find a way to sell enough copies of your book to make back your initial investment and then to make a profit. This is possible, but it is a lot of hard work. Keep in mind that the time you spend trying to publish and sell your novel must be subtracted from the amount of time you have available to write your next novel.

I’m sad now, can you cheer me up?

While the prospects of making a living as a novelist aren’t good, there are some people out there who manage to do it. A few people even manage to get quite wealthy. I recommend that you write novels if it is something you enjoy doing and if you want to produce something you can be proud of. Those are excellent reasons to write novels. By all means, once you produce a novel you are proud of, send it out into the world and try to find a publisher. Maybe you’ll strike it rich and maybe you won’t. At minimum you’ll have written a novel, and that is something to feel good about.

Average Salaries for Writers and Editors

This is a list of the average salaries for a number of writing and editing professions. The figures represent typical scales for a mid-sized metropolitan area in the United States. Larger markets tend to pay more and smaller markets tend to pay less. Remember that these are typical salaries for people who are employed by other companies. There is a much greater income variation among people who freelance or own their own businesses.

Note: These figures were compiled using a variety of sources including salary information at,

  • Acquisitions Editor: $37,000 to $57,000
  • Assistant Editor: $26,000 to $40,000
  • Associate Editor: 33,000 to 44,000
  • Blogger: $17,000 to $38,000
  • Copy Editor: $21,000 to 42,000
  • Copywriter: $41,000 to $63,000
  • Editor: $37,000 to $54,000
  • Editorial Assistant: $24,000 to $38,000
  • Editor-in-Chief: $51,000 to $95,000
  • E-learning Developer: $42,000 to 75,000
  • Fact Checker / Researcher: $25,000 to $37,000
  • Grant Writer: $35,000 to $47,000
  • Junior Copywriter: $29,000 to $44,000
  • Junior Technical Writer: $31,000 to $42,000
  • Legal Editor: $36,000 to $45,000
  • Managing Editor: $37,000 to 49,000
  • Medical Copy Editor: $29,000 to 44,000
  • Medical Editor: $37,000 to 52,000
  • News Editor: $25,000 to 35,000
  • Newspaper Reporter: $24,000 to $51,000
  • Online Editor: $31,000 to $50,000
  • Proofreader: $29,000 to $41,000
  • Proposal Writer: $41,000 to 69,000
  • Public Relations Writer: $34,000 to $46,000
  • Publications Assistant: $25,000 to $37,000
  • Senior Copywriter: $54,000 to $80,000
  • Senior Editor: $42,000 to $66,000
  • Senior Technical Writer: $56,000 to $81,000
  • Speech Writer: $51,000 to $73,000
  • Technical Copy Editor: $36,000 to $52,000
  • Technical Editor: $36,000 to $57,000
  • Technical Writer: $42,000 to $63,000
  • Web Editor: $22,000 to $44,000

What is a short story?


I define a short story as a brief, focused fictional piece that contains at minimum the following key elements: plot, setting, characterization and some sort of resolution.


In my opinion, the optimal length for a short story is between ten and fifty double-spaced pages of text. To me, anything longer than this is a novella (a short novel). Some other ways of defining the length of a short story are:

  • Short stories are short enough to be read in a single sitting (from a half hour two hours). This definition can be traced back to Edgar Allen Poe, one of the first great short story writers.
  • Short stories are less than 5000 words.
  • Short stories are shorter than a novel.


In my opinion, the true difference between a short story and a novel is that a short story has a unity of theme, character and plot that is much more focused than a novel. Here are some other ways of stating the difference:

  • Short stories tend to concentrate on one major event or conflict.
  • Short stories have only one or two main characters.
  • Short stories create a single specific effect.
  • Short stories are more compressed than novels.
  • Short stories do not have sub-plots.


In my opinion, a short story has all of the elements of a novel. Specifically, they tell a story, as the name suggests. One or more characters experience an event or conflict, and that event or conflict has an observable effect on the character or characters. This differentiates a short story from a character sketch, which serves only to illustrate or flesh out a character. It also differentiates a short story from anecdotes or parables, which are often amusing or demonstrate a lesson, but which do not necessarily call for a character to be changed in any real way.


Short stories are as varied as novels. They can come from such genres as horror, fantasy, romance, erotica, adventure and science fiction. They can be action packed and exciting or introspective and philosophical. They can be romantic, sexy, satirical, cynical, bleak or optimistic.

I tend to write what are called literary short stories. Literary short stories focus more on character and tone than plot. In most cases they avoid other genres. I also tend to include a lot of humor in my stories, often unintentionally. That is simply my style. Your style can be whatever you want it to be.


The downside of the web is that most of the stories we can access by major authors are older, public domain stories. With that said, I found a nice variety of short stories to get people started.