19 June, 2013

Standard Manuscript Format Doesn't Even Require Linguistic Evolution

Some writers will start out like this, looking all uncertain and unprofessional, poking the typewriter with a single finger, naked but socially acceptable thanks to a covering of thick fur...

Anyway, what you need is knowledge of how to submit your story to a publisher, magazine editor or literary agent.

Standard manuscript format (SMF) exists for everyone's benefit. It's simple, straightforward and known by every professional in the industry.

But our story does not end with the universal, because neither do submission guidelines. A minority of editors ask for their own specific pet peeves to be satiated, often because they find a particular format easier to read on screen, and sometimes simply in some diva-like bid for satisfaction of a power fetish. But we don't want to express annoyance with these people. We want them to fall in love with us and our work.

What I outline below is STANDARD practise. That means two things:

1) Always read the specific guidelines. If nothing else, you'll get some sense of the magazine, and you want to know if editors have their own specifications.

2) If they don't specify, send them SMF. If they don't like it, screw them.

I have met psychotic diva editors who not only have their own pet peeves, but will not inform writers of them. Don't worry about them. Everyone who's anyone agrees that these idiots don't deserve to exist. Interestingly, all the diva editors I know wanted to be authors back before they gave up. It's an issue of grudges.  If any of my relevant acquaintances are reading this, they know who I'm talking about. What's the emoticon for a middle finger?  oIoo  That will do.

SMF is simple.

12 point font, double spaced, usually Courier New or something else that's mono-spaced (meaning all letters take up the same amount of space) making it easier to detect spelling mistakes. Some like Times New Roman, which isn't mono-spaced. Some like Ariel. Some hate one or the other. Reading all day gives a person very strong (one might say irrationally so) preferences. I'm not certain as to whether the particular mental disorder has been named. I hereby copyright OCFD (Obsessive Compulsive Font Dictator). The nice part is, good OCFD sufferers acknowledge the need to tell you. They understand that they have a problem and they only want to be treated with respect.

Do read the guidelines. I know a guy who hates Courier New font. It fills him with rage. He doesn't know why. But he's a good chap and he's professional enough to tell people on his submissions page. If you submit in Courier, he is not only filled with irrational rage, but he knows the only thing you know about his magazine is the email address.

Back to SMF:

Do not put a double margin between paragraphs.

Indent the first line of all paragraphs in the usual manner. (1.25 is what Microsoft Word does automatically, so that's fine. Other programs do 1.27. Nobody will notice.)

In the top left of Page One, do not indent. Put your real name, address, email, phone number if you like. In the top right put your word count. Often magazines like you to state underneath that whether it's a short story, novelette or novella. Again, they read fast and churn through the slush pile quickly. They want to know what they're getting into.

Do not embellish your title in any way whatsoever. Leave it as plain font, the same size as everything else.

In the top of each page APART FROM THE FIRST should be:

Smith / Town Placeville / [page number]

Note: last name, SHORTENED title (if it's a long one), page number starting with page 2.

I use two spaces after colons and periods. Some writers don't. Some editors hate two spaces. Some hate one space. If they have a strong preference they should tell you or they can go to hell. You've noticed the theme behind this post now, I'm sure. To be clear, I'm not just a ranting writer. I'm stating the opinion of every professional, good, hard-working person in the industry. It's the editor's job to tell you. That is, tell you everything beyond the assumption that you'll know about SMF.

Note how "The Ice Man" did this at the end of his scene:


blank space
blank space

Blam!  New Scene!

At the end of the story, make it clear. Write


or some such thing. No big deal. Just signify.

There. Simple. This'll not only make you look professional, but it'll make your work not be annoying. Editors are used to this format. They expect it, unless they notify you otherwise. If OCFD sufferers or editors with any other strange compulsion fail to tell you, use SMF secure in the knowledge that they're the ones being unprofessional. You'll have your pro-groove writer clothes on, so to speak, and you'll look more like this:

Any further questions, check out William Shunn's comprehensive article.

Happy (e)mailing.

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