PSA: Manuscript Format

No writing this AM — too little sleep, too much upset, too many cramps.

I will be leading one of the novel writing workshops at WisCon this year, as I have for the last couple of years. The same thing has happened this year that has happened for the last couple of years, so I thought I’d say something. Again.

The submission guidelines for the workshop CLEARLY state that all submissions must be in manuscript format. Yet, again, this year, some aren’t.

I just — don’t get this. Why would you ever submit anything without following the guidelines? It makes you look so unprofessional. For that matter, why would you ever submit something when it wasn’t in manuscript format? It isn’t as if manuscript format is that difficult to learn. . .

Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has a bunch of articles about manuscript preparation, as well as other really useful articles, here:

http://www.sfwa.org/writing/

So please, do yourself a favor. Look for, read, then follow the guidelines before you submit anything. Or I will sick Miho on you. When she’s feeling playful.

Comments (24)

  1. It may be that a newbie simply doesn’t know that the phrase “manuscript format” has a specific meaning; they may just think it’s saying “it should be formatted in pages (as opposed to a continuous plain ASCII text file or something)” or something else vague and not realize that this is an established phrase with an established specific meaning. This seems like the sort of thing that an experienced person takes for granted and forgets that they were once a newbie and had no clue that “manuscript format” has a specific narrow meaning.

    Workshops and contests probably ought to always not just say “manuscript format” but make clear that this is a specific standard, violation of which can cause your manuscript to be discarded, and give a link to info about it. (I have no idea if the WisCon guidelines do that or not. 🙂 If someone STILL sends a story in some nonstandard format, THEN they’re stupid, not just ignorant. 🙂

  2. Many newbie writers simply do not know that there is such a thing as standard manuscript format. They generally require only one or two whacks with the clue stick.

    Some non-newbie writers prefer nonstandard formats (especially the use of Times font and single spacing) because it saves paper and ink, or because they dislike Courier. To them I say, learn to cope.

    Some non-newbie writers miss tricksy little details like putting the page header in the upper right corner, omitting the page header on the first page, using underline instead of italics, and using straight instead of curly quotes. Some people are just not detail-oriented, I guess. These little errors drive me up the wall, but I don’t know how important they are to actual editors — I note them in the manuscript and try not to make a big deal about them.

  3. There’s one complication, though it may not be the issue you’re running into: whether a nonproportional font is “standard manuscript format” is very much in flux.

    My experience is that in some fields folks insist on this and berate those who don’t understand it’s standard; while in other fields they wonder why you can’t get a more updated font on your computer; and all fields have variation within them.

    On every other format issue, I’m with you. But while I’ve never minded Courier and the like, I don’t think they really are standard ms format anymore–I’m not sure there is a standard, in that regard.

  4. As one who needed to be whacked with the clue stick myself, I’ll be honest. As a former (and still occasionally freelance) technical writer/editor, I found WisCon’s directions very difficult to follow. As you noticed, I wasn’t even sure who was teaching the workshop. In WisCon’s defense, maybe they’ve made the Web site a little easier to read/navigate these days. In my defense, I was nearly crazy with grief over my father’s death at that time, so I’m surprised my entry even made sense. And that you liked it…:)

    There’s also the genre thing. For instance, we do things in nonfiction a little differently for essays and chapters of memoir, etc. (At least in my experience…)

    All that said, though, you’re very right. It does look unprofessional and is annoying to the dear souls who are taking the time to run the workshop (aka you!). I wonder if maybe this link you’ve posted above could be linked to the words “manuscript format” on the WisCon site. That would give us clueless ones no excuses!

    Have a great time! I’m so sad to miss it!

    • said: The submission guidelines for the workshop CLEARLY state that all submissions must be in manuscript format.

      said: I found WisCon’s directions very difficult to follow.

      Hmm… I just went to http://www.sf3.org/wiscon/respite.html and found not one word about the manuscript format. This might explain why the submissions didn’t use standard format.

      • Yep, I actually looked, too, after my response (of course). I scanned it several times and saw no mention of ms format. So, maybe I’m absolved? 😉

  5. It may be that a newbie simply doesn’t know that the phrase “manuscript format” has a specific meaning; they may just think it’s saying “it should be formatted in pages (as opposed to a continuous plain ASCII text file or something)” or something else vague and not realize that this is an established phrase with an established specific meaning. This seems like the sort of thing that an experienced person takes for granted and forgets that they were once a newbie and had no clue that “manuscript format” has a specific narrow meaning.

    Workshops and contests probably ought to always not just say “manuscript format” but make clear that this is a specific standard, violation of which can cause your manuscript to be discarded, and give a link to info about it. (I have no idea if the WisCon guidelines do that or not. 🙂 If someone STILL sends a story in some nonstandard format, THEN they’re stupid, not just ignorant. 🙂

  6. Many newbie writers simply do not know that there is such a thing as standard manuscript format. They generally require only one or two whacks with the clue stick.

    Some non-newbie writers prefer nonstandard formats (especially the use of Times font and single spacing) because it saves paper and ink, or because they dislike Courier. To them I say, learn to cope.

    Some non-newbie writers miss tricksy little details like putting the page header in the upper right corner, omitting the page header on the first page, using underline instead of italics, and using straight instead of curly quotes. Some people are just not detail-oriented, I guess. These little errors drive me up the wall, but I don’t know how important they are to actual editors — I note them in the manuscript and try not to make a big deal about them.

  7. There’s one complication, though it may not be the issue you’re running into: whether a nonproportional font is “standard manuscript format” is very much in flux.

    My experience is that in some fields folks insist on this and berate those who don’t understand it’s standard; while in other fields they wonder why you can’t get a more updated font on your computer; and all fields have variation within them.

    On every other format issue, I’m with you. But while I’ve never minded Courier and the like, I don’t think they really are standard ms format anymore–I’m not sure there is a standard, in that regard.

  8. Hmph. Once again, format advice that refuses to notice that in some genres, and even varying by market within genre, some publishers do not care whether it’s a proportional or non-proportional font. Applies more to novel than story markets, because they’re not worried about casting off column-inches. But it’s not the iron-clad rule that so many think it is. Which just means, you have to know what’s the standard in your market segment, and use that.

    The rest is good advice. I just wish poetry would setting on a standard submission format.

    —L.

    • Somehow, having been the recipient of lots of submissions, I doubt that Leah is complaining about proportional fonts or curly quotes. I bet she’s complaining about stuff coming in with justified column lay-outs, single spaced.

      Which so many people seem to think is a good idea, and which so is not.

      Manuscript format: double-spaced, mono-spaced font (not required, but preferred) big enough to read, adequate margins all around the page for the writing of notes. Paginated, with author’s surname and significant words from the title in the header.

      No columns. NO COLUMNS! And no binding!

      Ahem. Thank you. I’ll go away now.

      • You’re right — it’s recieving a 70+ page manuscript with NO PAGE NUMBERS that gets to me. Or getting a manuscript that’s using a 9 point font, if that.

      • Sorry — wasn’t pointing that comment at you, Leah, but the articles you linked to. Unclear.

        —L.

  9. As one who needed to be whacked with the clue stick myself, I’ll be honest. As a former (and still occasionally freelance) technical writer/editor, I found WisCon’s directions very difficult to follow. As you noticed, I wasn’t even sure who was teaching the workshop. In WisCon’s defense, maybe they’ve made the Web site a little easier to read/navigate these days. In my defense, I was nearly crazy with grief over my father’s death at that time, so I’m surprised my entry even made sense. And that you liked it…:)

    There’s also the genre thing. For instance, we do things in nonfiction a little differently for essays and chapters of memoir, etc. (At least in my experience…)

    All that said, though, you’re very right. It does look unprofessional and is annoying to the dear souls who are taking the time to run the workshop (aka you!). I wonder if maybe this link you’ve posted above could be linked to the words “manuscript format” on the WisCon site. That would give us clueless ones no excuses!

    Have a great time! I’m so sad to miss it!

    • said: The submission guidelines for the workshop CLEARLY state that all submissions must be in manuscript format.

      said: I found WisCon’s directions very difficult to follow.

      Hmm… I just went to http://www.sf3.org/wiscon/respite.html and found not one word about the manuscript format. This might explain why the submissions didn’t use standard format.

      • Yep, I actually looked, too, after my response (of course). I scanned it several times and saw no mention of ms format. So, maybe I’m absolved? 😉

  10. Hmph. Once again, format advice that refuses to notice that in some genres, and even varying by market within genre, some publishers do not care whether it’s a proportional or non-proportional font. Applies more to novel than story markets, because they’re not worried about casting off column-inches. But it’s not the iron-clad rule that so many think it is. Which just means, you have to know what’s the standard in your market segment, and use that.

    The rest is good advice. I just wish poetry would setting on a standard submission format.

    —L.

    • Somehow, having been the recipient of lots of submissions, I doubt that Leah is complaining about proportional fonts or curly quotes. I bet she’s complaining about stuff coming in with justified column lay-outs, single spaced.

      Which so many people seem to think is a good idea, and which so is not.

      Manuscript format: double-spaced, mono-spaced font (not required, but preferred) big enough to read, adequate margins all around the page for the writing of notes. Paginated, with author’s surname and significant words from the title in the header.

      No columns. NO COLUMNS! And no binding!

      Ahem. Thank you. I’ll go away now.

      • You’re right — it’s recieving a 70+ page manuscript with NO PAGE NUMBERS that gets to me. Or getting a manuscript that’s using a 9 point font, if that.

      • Sorry — wasn’t pointing that comment at you, Leah, but the articles you linked to. Unclear.

        —L.

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: