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A rant on proper manuscript formatting
Bella
ellen_datlow
Recent reading and editing has brought to my attention the fact that some writers have suddenly (well, since using computers and email) decided that the usual rules of mss preparation are no longer necessary.

Three examples:
1) I have received print submissions without PAGE NUMBERS (not often, but still, this should never happen).

2) I have increasingly been the recipient of manuscripts that don't underline words meant to be italicized in the story's final, printed form. The reason editors/copy editors/and whoever does the production on a mss need to see underlines is that some typefaces don't show italics very well, and even if they did--it's quicker to "see" underline than italics

3)I have been receiving mss without anything indicating space breaks. What happened to ###? I'm in the middle of reading a printout that seemed to be missing at least two pages because there were no transitions...When I checked the efile, lo and behold, the sentence breaks were in different places so I could actually see that there were supposed to be space breaks. Writers--new and pro--please please show your space breaks by putting in hash marks.

4) Paragraphing--before online publishing, paragraphing was shown by indenting margins...Guess what, folks? Most publishing (especially of books) is still print, which means that paragraphs are indented.

Rant over

And that's precisely why I don't submit anything to you. If I can't be trusted with sharp objects, then why should I be trusted with manuscript formats?
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formatting

(Anonymous)
(from Steve Tem)

I feel your pain. Just to give you an author's perspective, I've gotten notes from more than one copy editor lately asking me to convert my underlines to italics throughout. And more than one editor has asked me not to use underlining in submissions. I assume this is because more publishers are using electronic copies, but I hate the trend. My eyes have a hard time distinguishing courier italic--it gets confusing.
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Re: formatting

(Anonymous)
This is true. I've had many editors tell me not to underline and that ### means the end of the story, not paragraph breaks. The "standard" formatting is now so muddled I get afraid to submit anything, because I'm going to end up screwing up without realizing it. (I get over it.) Now I go solely by the submission guidelines - if it doesn't say to underline italics, I don't. Particularly since in some of my work, flashbacks are in italics, so you'd have pages and pages of underlined material - that could get really old fast.

I get how this can be annoying, though.

There is no excuse for not numbering pages.
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thank you, ellen datlow.
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You're very welcome.
From one editor to another ;-)
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I see a lot of strangely formatted work, despite the fact that my guidelines require standard manuscript formatting. I think many new writers don't know how to format their manuscripts and skim right past that requirement when it shows up in publication guidelines.

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You mean you don't like the 7-point light pink Lucinda with lipstick kisses on the 3rd page?
*SOB*
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I'm truly surprised by the paragraphing one!
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I think that paragraph thing might come from screenwriting, where a treatment is written in big non-indented blocks. I recently had some newbies give me "stories" to read, and they looked just like screenplay treatments.

In fact I suspect they WERE treatments (these kids wanted to write both prose and screenplays). I confess I was a bit brusque when I hurled the manuscripts back and told the poor quivering things to please learn proper formatting.
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I really don't understand why so many people argue about this. The manuscript format is for the EDITOR'S convenience, not the writers.

They should:

1) Write however they like: Times Roman, Garamond, Unicorn Sans, a hand-cut pen made from a phoenix plume using their life's blood on handmade papyrus, whatever.

2) When the time comes to submit, if the market has formatting guidelines, do that. Don't argue.

3) If there are no guidelines, use Standard MS Format of double spaced 12pt Courier, 1 inch margins, paragraphs indented 1/2 inch, black ink on white USLetter paper, pages numbers on top, etc.

DON'T ARGUE! Don't make it EASY for your work to be rejected!
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thank you :-). Some of these are by writers from whom I've bought stories before!
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I've seen scene breaks denoted by both ### and #. Are both correct?
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My lame excuse for the Haunted Legends MSS which may or may not make it to you, is that it had proper indents before I turned it into an RTF file.

I shake my fist first at myself for not doing the right thing and turning off auto-indent and damn well using tabs, and second at the sorry state of RTF exports for not letting me get away with less-than-optimal formatting.
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Yeah (and not that I got a haunted legend story done, but) conversion to .rtf tends to lose my page numbers as well as my indents. And of late, my line spacing too. Don't know why; it all shows up fine on my screen.

That's where I think hard copy wins over an e-sub: you know what it'll look like on the other end.
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Will, I've always said that I prefer Times roman but I finally realized that I'm not sure I even notice the difference in print mss. It's only in the efile that I hate reading courier...
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I live in fear that when I convert a .wpd doc to .rtf format, an editor will open it in Word and I'll lose my headers or it will look otherwise strange...

I know, I know. I need to get with the program and just buy MS Word already. *shakes tiny fist at Bill Gates* But I don't wanna.
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Thanks, Ellen. It can't be said too often.

Even with electronic deliveries (I don't take electronic submissions at all), no matter how it's formatted when it comes in, I do a global reformat into 12 pt. Courier, double spaced. All your fancy formatting decisions, they are gone into the aether in a moment.

As for the Times new roman vs. courier debate, it's no debate. TNR is a proportional font. We do not want proportional fonts; they make it impossible to get an accurate cast-off.

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Courier vs time roman for novels vs stories

Aha! See? Be careful re: times roman vs courier--it depends on who you're submitted to and what for...novels are different from short stories in that way.
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"The reason editors/copy editors/and whoever does the production on a mss need to see underlines is that some typefaces don't show italics very well, and even if they did--it's quicker to "see" underline than italics"

Funny thing - I actually stopped doing underlines a few years back because I got a submission from Nick and he didn't use underlines, and I figured he knew better than I did and this was no longer a technical requirement.

My god, I am so confused.
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I was going to comment that as a copyeditor I see more and more manuscripts with italics instead of underlining, but I see from the comments in this thread that some writers are being told to do this. I didn't know that. It's definitely a pain in the ass when copyediting.
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My last novel manuscript was an e-sub. I was told to change my underlines to italics, and italics are damned hard to pick out in Courier 12. But that's what they wanted, so that's what I turned in.

It still feels strange for me to use italics, as though I'm cheating or something.
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I don't know how people edit or copy edit manuscripts in italics. It just seems wrong to me--and a lot harder on the eyes.
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As one who recently forgot page numbers on a MS I recently submitted to you, I bow my head in humble remorse.
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And as one who used the word "recently" twice in that recent sentence, I kick myself for my redundant redundancy.
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Minor data point: At the SFWA manuscript site, two articles (Vonda N. McIntyre, and Chuck Rothman) suggest "#" (single pound, on line by itself) for scene breaks.

Either way, agreed that a scene break indication is crucial. Otherwise the editor (aka the decision-maker) goes "WTF?" and leans towards passing.

Me, I use "#" for scene break and put a big "# # # END # # #" at the end. Just so everyone (including me) knows :-)

As for underline = italics, that's in those articles. What if a writer wants bold text? I've heard use "*" (asterisk, aka star), like "*This text would be bold*", but what's the latest thought?

And as berry_k says above, and as Lawrence Watt-Evans says in John Gregory Betancourt's article on the SFWA site, if the market has specific guidelines, read them and use them.

- yeff
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I too have always thought that the single pound is the kosher varient and it's what I use if I get that gritty with it.

Frankly. I'm a fan of using the LaTeX "sffms" style, which produces a properly formated manuscript every time. And I can write it how ever I want it, and it still produces a perfect mansucript. every time. And there are pretty simple ways of taking, easy to write formats into LaTeX and then science fiction styled manuscripts. and it's easy.

I'm no editor, but I'd do bold I'd use **two** asterisks. one seems flimsy. I also tend to read single asterisks as italics, but maybe that's just me.
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One reason I haven't done writing workshops for awhile is because now and again I would want to talk about things like proper manuscript format, proper spelling and grammar, and so on, but the workshop coordinators would get huffy and say they did not want to include technical discussions. In a few cases they made it clear that they thought technical discussions would impinge on creativity. In cases where I pointed out to a class that editors might not even bother looking at a manuscript containing errors of language or format, some coordinators got downright angry, implying that playing by the editorial rules was a detriment to creativity.

I don't know if this is related to your rant, but I deeply suspect it or something similar may be.
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What kind of workshops do you attend? Mainstream ones?
Most sff workshops I know of would never say such a thing.
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Italics is definitely a problem of mine. I'm used to typing online in a text-only environment. So I got into the habit of typing /this/ or _this_ for emphasis. If I'm writing, I might do that automatically and then forget to change it. It looks normal to me when rereading.

And I've definitely been told that italics should be in italics nowadays. So I don't think I've ever submitted anything with the italics underlined.

At least all of that has made me limit my use of italics, so I'm not in danger of wearing them out.
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Robert Stephenson

(Anonymous)
I understand this oh too well. I get single spaced justified and unparagraphed submission to my agency. Sometimes, when I am feeling generous I do read a page, but am usually left disappointed. These days if a mss comes to me badly formatted I just dump it - life too short. Cruel, I know, and maybe I might miss a gem but if you can't submit properly it immediately tells me you haven't done any homework on the industry at all. If you can't get simple things like that right how could you get the complexities of a novel right?

When doing anthologies I'm a little more forgiving but problems still exist and they aren't getting any better. A good format means I'm more likely to read your work.

I'm with you Ellen, and it is from your many examples of work that I have taught myself some elements of editing.
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The thing about formatting is that you don't want to distract from the story!

I don't want to scare off writers--I can see just from this conversation that formatting varies among different media--electronic formatting is different from print format. Novel formatting can be different from short fiction formatting.

It's good to be aware of why certain formatting is asked for and use your judgment (or read the guidelines or ask the editor if there are certain formats she prefers).
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1 and 4 are gimmes, EVERYone should know them. I never knew about the underline thing (not having submitted any manuscript) but it makes a lot of sense to me! Not sure if I follow 3 - out of curiosity, what do you mean "space breaks?" Is that like where you hit return twice for more space between sections of writing, or something else?

I wonder if there's an online guide that gives you all the ways to do things (like #2)...
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The extra spacing between paragraphs that show time passing.
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the great spacing debate (Anonymous) Expand
P.S. not having submitted any manuscript

That was supposed to be manuscripts. I think. I fail at grammar! But that's because I haven't slept more than 3 hours (literally) in the last 2 days. WAH.
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Ellen: I'm just adding this because I saw there were 99 posts and I figured, "Why not make it 100," although, as you know, I do often forget to underline the italics words.
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I've always used # instead of # # #.

Now Now I know why you've rejected all of the manuscripts I've ever sent you, Ellen.
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Yup. That's it.
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Sorry about the late post. Now I'm freaking out that all formatting was lost as a result of sending my Haunted Legends sub via email. BTW, I've read all your advice you posted on the FSF forum (with Gordon Van Gelder and JJA); really, really useful stuff. Thanks for that.
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Presumably, Nick would have noticed...I've heard other people say that if a file is saved properly in word first, then the formatting should not be lost in rtf...I've sent rtf files with no problems.

You're welcome.
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