I want to begin this post by saying that I am not an agent, so my version of a slush pile is (hopefully) different than what they receive on a daily basis. I teach. And recently I assigned a 500 word short story to my students. I gave them two weeks to complete this assignment and then held my breath to what I’d receive from my mostly 12th grade class. I covered the basics that I expected–a beginning, middle, and end; formatted to 12 pt. font Times New Roman, and double spaced. 

Here’s what I got from them:

1. 52/180 followed my formatting guidelines. Most chose random fonts and point sizes. Some chose to write in all CAPS. (I felt like I was being yelled at the entire time.) And though I didn’t say it, I expected the margins to be standard–nope, those were all over the place too.

2. Speling and grammar are paramount to helping your reader get to the end.

3. Storytelling. Most were the same told with varying names. Very few were original. Even fewer had a sense of voice.

Now, I know…teenagers. I should take it easy on them. I really should. But after reading through 180 of them over the course of a weekend, I wanted to pull my hair out. 

From doing this, I learned some very important things and I thought I’d share them with you because, believe it or not…it’s important.

FOLLOW DIRECTIONS! I’ve done my share of contests and there were always those few random people that would argue their font choices or special formatting. I never thought much of it when I saw those people complain. I thought they must have their reasons. Let me tell you this: your reasons don’t matter. If someone is going to take the time to read your manuscript, do them one service and make it easy on them. Your weird fonts don’t make you look unique or creative, they make you look lazy and difficult to work with.

Next…spell check, grammar check, and then check it all again.

If you’re a good writer or at least a decent one, you will never have your story told if you can’t do these simple things.