What We Learned, Part 3: Manuscript Format

During our submissions window, we received stories in a number of different formats. As noted before, we didn’t reject anything for being in the wrong format, but we did discover some solid preferences.

Don’t Shun Shunn

The single most commonly linked web page from submission guidelines has got to be William Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format. Turns out there’s a good reason for this.

Not only does Shunn update with the times (back when I started collecting rejection slips, he only had “Classic Manuscript Format” in Courier) but everything he recommends is for a reason:

It makes life easier for your editors.

Okay, some of it is a holdover from the days of paper submissions. We probably don’t really need your address and phone number, and it’s not like a reader’s going to drop your electronic file and scatter the pages everywhere, so having your name and title at the top of every page isn’t quite so essential anymore.

But the rest? Pure gold.

  • The word count saves us from having to check it ourselves.
  • The centered title and author help differentiate between your legal and credited names.
  • Page numbers help us track length and pacing.

How about the change from Courier to Times New Roman? Turns out Courier is kind of a pain to read on a computer screen. Times New Roman is much easier on the eyes. (Apparently Courier was preferred in the old days because it’s a monospace font—every letter takes up the same amount of space. That made it easier to estimate word count, back before the computer could give us an exact number.)

Another formatting quirk going the way of the dodo is underlining words that should be italicized in publication. This came around because typewriters couldn’t italicize. Nowadays it’s way easier to have italics in italics, so they copy-paste over correctly.

Speaking of typewriter hangovers: don’t put two spaces after a period. That was a typewriter thing (don’t ask us why) that hasn’t been necessary since the advent of word processing, but it still gets taught in some places. There’s no need. Your computer is constantly adjusting the spacing between words anyway, and it’s smart enough to leave the right distance between sentences.

Putting a hashtag octothorpe pound sign at every section break, however, is still very much recommended. When a story is copied over for editing and typesetting, those #s really help!

File Formats

We requested files in either Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) or PDF (.pdf) format. They all came in that way except for one rich text (.rtf) file.

Word docs wound up being easier to work with. Word automatically gives a word count, and copy-pasting from Word is easier (PDFs tend to copy everything, including headers and page numbers).

That said, we’ll continue accepting both formats, since not everyone has MS Word.

We’re also accepting flash fiction in the body of the submission email. That might change if it starts causing copy-paste problems, but for now it’s working fine!

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