Herbert P. Elkanbury rolled the paper out of the typewriter and laid it carefully on his desk. He pushed his horn-rimmed glasses a little higher up the bridge of his nose and examined the words on the page line by line, using a magnifying glass just to make sure. Yes, all the words were sharp and clear; changing the typewriter ribbon every 40 pages or so had paid off.
Next, he measured the margins, moving a ruler around each side of the paper (20-lb. bond, the best quality available locally). Ah! One inch precisely...
He eyeballed the space between each line, and measured the indentations on each side of the words “THE END.” Yes—perfect, perfect...
And then he saw it. Second paragraph, third sentence, first word: “Definately.” How could he have missed that? All those hours spent thumbing through his well-worn dictionary, all the money he had paid to have grammar and spelling cleaned up—had all that been wasted?
But Herbert P. Elkanbury was not discouraged for long. Such setbacks had kept him from submitting his manuscript for several years. But he could retype that page tonight. Carefully.
And so he did, fearfully and slowly, knowing that a single mistake would render everything else on the page useless. He would not submit a manuscript that had a single erasure or correction. Or a single spelling mistake, of course. Not if he could help it.
Nerves took over near the end, and he typed the last paragraph with one finger. Then he scrolled the page out, examined it carefully, and was satisfied.
He had followed every criterion—he was sure of that. The placement of his contact information, the page numbers and author name on each page, the restrained use of underscoring to indicate italics...
And as for the work itself? Why, he had no qualms about that. It was a thrilling and well-written novel, the sort that would always be popular. Only the details of manuscript preparation could ruin his chances with an editor, and he had taken care of that.
He placed the manuscript (unbound, of course) into its precisely sized heavy cardboard box, enclosed the proper amount of postage for its return, and added his beautifully written cover letter.
There! He had done what he could. His story would have to do the rest.
* * *
“Hey, Joe, you gotta look at this one! You’re not gonna believe it...”
“You kidding? I’ll believe anything. I got one today, Hitler Versus the Martians...”
“Just take a look...”
Joe, the jaded book editor, sloshed coffee out of his cup as he grabbed the manuscript one-handed from his colleague and fellow cynic, Pete.
“Hey, careful there!” growled Pete, and Joe shrugged and put down the coffee.
“Okay, so what’ve we got? Revenge of the Scarlet Widow... Yep, sounds like a winner.” He flipped to a random page. “Hey, listen to this Pulitzer prose... ‘She drew me like a moth to a flame. Her smile was like rainbows and moonlight, but her kiss was like a torch. Sooner or later, she would have to know that I knew the truth about Ed and Saul and Billy and all the other moths she had incinerated. But until then, I basked in her light...’”
“I know, I know,” Pete interrupted. “I mean, I read 50 pages of it...”
“Pete, buddy, they don’t pay you enough for that...”
“Yeah... but Joe... look at it, will you? Just look...”
And after a while, Joe saw what he meant.
* * *
Herbert P. Elkanbury was surprised to get a letter with his agent’s familiar return address. He hadn’t expected to get any more royalty payments—not now, when computers had made everything so painless for aspiring writers.
But he opened the envelope and found a check in the usual small amount, something like he had gotten every now and then for the past 30 years.
He read the letter, which was also very much like the others in his files:
Dear Mr. Elkanbury:
We are pleased to inform you that Everything You Need to Know about Publishing Fiction, 18th Edition, includes three pages from your manuscript, Revenge of the Scarlet Widow, in its chapter on proper manuscript preparation...
He filed the letter and put the check with his bank deposits, sighing rather wistfully as he did. He still hoped that someday, someone would want to read his masterpiece...
But until then, the money wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.
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