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What Does An ‘Over The Transom Submission’ Mean?

over the transomHi Anne,

I’ve got several questions about something I see occasionally in magazine market listings or in articles that refer to magazine writing:

What does the phase, ‘over the transom’ actually mean?

Where does it come from?

Is it something I really need to know as a freelance writer?



Hi RH,

It’s interesting how often this comes up, but it’s easy enough to answer.

“Over the transom” comes from the days before air conditioning. It is said that authors would literally throw manuscripts into a publisher’s office through the window above a door that was opened to allow air circulation.

I’ve often wondered what happened in winter when the transom was likely to be closed, but the term lingers.

It’s come to mean a manuscript submitted to a publisher (or even an agent I suppose) without an invitation or assignment. Another term for the same thing is “submission on spec” or speculation.

The invitation, when issued, is usually in response to a query or query letter.

Many writers prefer to query rather than completing a manuscript in hopes they can get an assignment and even some editorial direction.

And yes, I think anyone working in the freelance writing industry needs to know what terms like over the transom and submission on spec actually mean. All industries have their own jargon and knowing it will help you understand how it all works.

Do you have a question about freelance writing? Email me and I’ll do my best to answer it.


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