Guest Post: Give’Em What They Want! Why Formatting Is Important By: Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Shhhhh… It’s me, Jennifer…. I got a glimpse of this article before Danielle posted.  Since she is an editor, too, she knows her stuff on this topic.  I asked her if she’d come back and share in detail later on.  Yay!  She said “yes”.  So look for her detailed suggestions on formatting your submissions later in the summer.

Bye!  — Posted from a coffee-house in the middle of nowhere.


The Writer’s Toolbox: Give ’Em What They Want! Why Formatting Is Important  By Danielle Ackley-McPhail

(Originally published in Allegory Magazine ©2011)


 Telling the greatest story is not enough.

Having the best grammar is not enough.

Hitting the perfect market trend is not enough.

Nothing is enough if the editor in question is not even willing to read your manuscript.

The Truth about Submissions

Psst! I have a secret for you…well not really a secret, unless you are really new at this, but anyway…here it goes:

Editors look for reasons NOT to read your manuscript.

(ooh…I can just hear a lot of minions going “Wha?!”)

Sorry, it’s true; I’m not making it up.

See, the reality is there are a loads of people that want to be authors. Even though only a small portion of those following the dream ever reach the stage of actually submitting something, that still means that editors of all sorts have piles and piles of things they need to go through. And frankly, most of it is drek. Editors just don’t have the time or inclination to put in extra effort puzzling through a manuscript that only might be acceptable and then cleaning it up afterward. Think about it, the longer the production process takes the longer money bleeds out instead of—with hope—flooding in.

Besides, they want to know you can follow directions and there are very few publishers out there—book or short fiction—that do not have submission guidelines available somewhere. Look for them. And if you don’t find them, ask! You want to stand out because of the quality of your writing, not because your manuscript is an annoyance filled with stylistic errors. The best thing you can do is show that you will make extra effort to meet their requirements.

Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over seventeen years. Currently, she is a project editor and promotions manager for Dark Quest Books.


Her published works include four urban fantasy novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, and The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale. She is also the author of the non-fiction writers guide, The Literary Handyman and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Dragon’s Lure, and In An Iron Cage. Her work is included in numerous other anthologies and collections, including Rum and Runestones, Dark Furies, Breach the Hull, So It Begins, By Other Means, No Man’s Land, Space Pirates, Space Horrors, Barbarians at the Jumpgate, and New Blood.

She is a member of the New Jersey Authors Network and Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives somewhere in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, mother-in-law Teresa, and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on LiveJournal (damcphail, badassfaeries, darkquestbooks, lit_handyman), Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail), and Twitter (DMcPhail). To learn more about her work, visit,, or

Website and/or blog,,



Amazon author page



12 responses to “Guest Post: Give’Em What They Want! Why Formatting Is Important By: Danielle Ackley-McPhail

  1. Good reminder. When you get in the last stage of polishing, it’s so easy to say, ok, good enough, when it might not actually be good enough. Thanks.

  2. Yes, yes, thanks for the reminder. We need to be creative to “hook” that reader/agent/editor, but we also need to follow directions. That’s using two different sides of the brain! :+)

  3. It was great seeing you Marie. Hope you enjoyed your day.

  4. Jennifer, I bumped into Danielle on Saturday at the “Pillage the Village” event in Mount Holly and then I come home to see your blog on her.

  5. Thank you all for reading. I hope you’ll come back for future installments where I go into the specifics of the whys and what-fors of manuscript formatting.

    Until then, good writing!

    Danielle Ackley-McPhail

  6. Thank you for this post. When I slow down, I’m good with directions. I have to work at slowing down.

  7. Your article is introspective. I try to always read submission guidelines before I submit. I’ve become more detailed over the past few years as I’ve learned about the business. This comes from a girl who had to copyedit and write police reports everyday for the newspaper. Thank you for your article!

  8. It took me a while to find an editor, I always suspected that they are looking for reasons, since they mostly say something like ‘I need to fall in love with your work from the start’… I don’t mean to brag, but ppl always say we got hooked on the first page.

  9. Thank you for this. It reminded me of an article I read a little while ago written by a top publisher here in the UK. He was talking about how manuscripts really need to be as perfect as you can make them before you submit them. He said he fairly regularly receives manuscripts, with accompanying letters saying things like “I know this still needs a lot of work – chapter 2 doesn’t make sense, and I’m probably going to change Bob’s character to make him more dominant, and I know the ending needs to be rewritten, but I’d really appreciate you having a read and giving me you initial thoughts”. It’s quite surprising that people think publishers have time to do such things!