CAUTION - RANT ABOUT FORMATTING SUBMISSIONS FOR ZINES

I love my computer. I really do. It does a lot of things faster and better than that old IBM electric typewriter. The only thing I dislike about it is that something happened along the way to regular, conventional formatting of manuscripts to send to publications. What happened was that the publishers and editors must have said, "Oh, good, we can now get the writers to do part of our job for us by requiring them to submit their stuff just the way we want it to be in order to put it in OUR publcation. No matter that every other publication out there will want it differently. No matter that if we don't accept it, it's totally useless to the writer because we require three spaces for a tab, and all the other publications out there want either none or five. So, the writer has to change that, plus all the other things we demand."

All my manuscripts are written in Courier New with one-inch margins all around, double spaced lines, two spaces between periods, with indented-five-spaces paragraphs, header with title and author top left, and page numbers to the right in header. If an editor prints it out, there's plenty of room to make comments and corrections between the lines or in the margins. I have a template all set up for it. What could be easier?

I wonder how many writers are discouraged from submitting because of all the hoops they have to go though. The guidelines themselves are not in any particular order, and sometimes are quite lengthy. I have to wade through them to find out what font to use, how many spaces between periods, and so on. Then I have to go and make each change, trying not to miss any.

Does the publisher want:


Double spaced, indent paragraphs or not. Indent can be three or five or any number of spaces editor likes.


Single spaced, two spaces between paragraphs. Indent paragraphs, or not. Indent can be three or five or any number of spaces the editor likes.


Single spaced, no extra line between paragraphs. Indent paragraphs, or not. Different number of spaces for tab.

Any of those above with only one space between sentences.


A particular font and font size different from everyone else on the planet.


Underline or italics. What fun it is to go in and change those! I usually end up with some of each.



Page numbers in different places.



No name or title on every page, or formatted differently from old style.



A manuscript can be changed more than ten ways. Also some only want RTF. If I have to submit one story to eight markets to get it placed, I may have to reformat it every single time, which takes as much as half an hour each go-through. So, four hours to format it before an editor takes it? How about submitting it in the old style format, and if the editor wants it, s/he asks the writer to format it how it needs to be for that publication? That seems fair to me. I wouldn't mind that at all, especially for those zines I know are done more for love than for profit.

I love my computer. I really do. I just never knew it would turn me into a typesetter. Unpaid.

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Comment by Sandra Ruttan on February 1, 2008 at 7:51am
I'm not fond of pdf, but some people resist Windows and can't take word. I tried to weed us off the pdf and people kicked up a huge fuss.

:(

I do agree that there should be some standards. Unfortunately, I don't think most people running the ezines would agree to them. If there was a generic standard for fonts/format, I'd switch.
Comment by Dana King on February 1, 2008 at 6:48am
Jan, I agree completely about at least some level of standardization. I don't mind a few little things changing - how they want the personal data and word count displayed, maybe the pagination, pick one of two or three standard fonts - but I once saw an agent who wouldn't accept manuscripts with italics; he wanted everything underlined. Young guy, too. I guess he didn't realize the reason typewriters used to underline italicized passages was BECAUSE THEY COULDN'T DO ITALICS.

Sorry. Sometimes in a rant I wind up channeling Sam Kinison. I'm better now.
Comment by Jan Christensen on February 1, 2008 at 4:03am
Dana, thanks again for commenting. Yes, I can see it from both sides. But standards would be great for all, wouldn't they?
Comment by Jan Christensen on February 1, 2008 at 4:01am
Ah, PDF. I have never understood why people like it. With a slow compuer, which I used to have, it takes forever to load a PDF file. My scroll bar is touchy, and it tends to be even more so in a PDF file for some reason, so I'm forever looking for where I was when the document suddenly jumped somewhere else. Maybe that's only me, I don't know, but I suspect other people have the same problem. Can you tell me why people like those files rather than just regular web pages or Word files?

Of course the people who hit return are evil! I did my whole first novel on an old Atari computer, and IT put in those paragraph marks at the end of each line. 105,000 words. When I transferred it to a Word doc, I had to give up on it. I know a bit more about find/replace now, and could do it paragraph by paragraph, but it still would probably take several hours. And then, of course, the thing needs major revisions--I wrote way too much narrative back then.
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on January 27, 2008 at 6:30am
It's a shame you didn't bring this over to Crime Zine Report, re: my post the other day about standards for professionalism for ezines.

The problem seems to be the lone wolf syndrome that's true of a lot of things online - everyone's going to do it their way, dammit, and not be told.

Truth is, when it comes to submitting manuscripts to print magazines, to publishers and to agents, you always have to check, and I've had to reformat submissions for all of the above, so ezines aren't special in that regard. Over time, standardization has fallen by the wayside. Some take e-subs, some take printed copy only, some want a story on disk, etc. etc.

The minute someone sends me something in rtf I have to reformat the entire thing anyway. Because our stories go online and in a pdf download, I actually have to format two different ways, because programming online is not just copying and pasting what works for the pdf. I don't think it's unreasonable for me to hope that what comes in will work for one version so that I don't have to do the work twice.

And the people who hit return at the end of a line (like they would have using a typewriter by necessity) are evil. I have lost whole hours of my life just deleting those spaces, and I simply won't do it anymore. People sending in 5000 word stories like that...
Comment by Dana King on January 27, 2008 at 5:24am
I agree with Angie about the number of submissions received, and doing what we can to help out. On the other hand, I have seen guidelines from mags and agents that were completely out of line with what anyone else would want. My reaction isnot to query. Editors get more of a pass, but when an agent says he doesn't want Word to automatically indent each paragraph, that it should be five manual spaces, that's too much. (That really happened, by the way.)
Comment by Jan Christensen on January 27, 2008 at 5:01am
Oh, I agree it's worth it. But I still think they could be either more standardized OR they could ask us to do it after they accept a story. And if you submit to the print magazines first, I think they still want two spaces after a sentence, and I do myself for easier proofing, so I have to go in and change that. I totally understand WHY they need to do it, and I don't object IF they're going to publish my piece. What I object to is doing it over and over differently for each one! And then getting rejections. I would much rather spend my time writing new stuff, wouldn't you?
Comment by Angie on January 27, 2008 at 4:53am
I hear you, but you have to think of it from the other side, too. Most mags (e and print) get HUNDREDS of submissions for each and every issue. That's a huge amount of reading time before you even hit the editing and layout phase. The submission guidelines are there so that the mags can keep doing what we want them to - put out magazines with great stories, reviews, interviews and articles - in a timely fashion.

As for the spaces after periods...well, it's been one space after a period for quite a while now. It was an adjustment, but I finally trained myself to do it. Much easier than doing a search and replace after the fact. Also, converting to rtf format is fairly painless in Word - just choose 'save as rtf' and you're done!

It is an extra layer of work, though. But hey, it's worth it to see your work pub'd, right?

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