A blogger recently had some nice things to say about my venerable writing workshop handout, “Manuscript Preparation.”
I first wrote the handout in the days when typewriters roamed the land, gobbling WiteOut and correcttype. Pre-World Wide Web. Pre-email. It’s been through a couple of dozen revisions since then, each tending more toward the formatting of doc files and electronic submissions.
I polled both print and online magazine editors before the last update, asking if it was even necessary to have a Manuscript Prep handout anymore, and they all said yes. F&SF sends people to the SFWA website for the guidelines. The SFWA Advice for New Writers section has a number of useful articles, as does BVC’s Brewing Fine Fiction.
But, please note that the handout says that the first thing to do is go to the website of the market and look for *their* guidelines and follow them slavishly. If they say to leave out the hash mark as a sign of a scene break, follow that recommendation slavishly. They must surely have a standard method of keeping track of scene breaks. (I think it’s risky to mark a scene break with an empty paragraph, which is easily lost, but you aren’t submitting a story to me.)
If the magazine or fiction website wants you to send in your story formatted as shadowed bold goldleaf Bodoni Intricate, with tiny little porn graphics to separate scenes, do that, assuming you still want to send a story to that market. Do not get into an argument with the editor about how you prefer WingDings to PornDings and how Times New Roman is a better font. (Since TNR is a newspaper font, you’d be displaying your ignorance of basic typesetting.) Do not tell the editor that you’ll give up your two spaces between sentences when you’re dead, no matter what they want. (Ditto, basic ignorance.)
I get notes all the time from people who want to know if they’ll be blacklisted by every editor in the known universe if they make some trivial error in formatting. (I exaggerate, but not by much.) My answer to them is No — do you really think a sane editor would take note of such a blacklisting attempt? And my question to them is, if the editor is that bat-crazy, to turn down a good story because of a minor formatting glitch, do you really want to work with such a person?
I did know one editor who was that bat-crazy, and my answer to the question was “No.”
Vonda N. McIntyre is a founding member of Book View Café.
For autographed print copies of The Moon and the Sun and my other SF novels, visit my website’s Basement Full of Books.