Sunday, January 20, 2013

To Format or Not?

There are basic formatting ‘rules’ for manuscripts that please almost all editors and publishers. When I first started writing, in the fourth grade, I paid no attention to them. I was a kid, writing for my own enjoyment.
Through the decades, as I thought about sending my work out, I learned those formatting rules. They’re not difficult to employ; 1 inch margins, double-spaced, 12-pt Times New Roman, with contact information in the top left corner of page 1.
I don’t start a project with those parameters. Rough draft requires imagination, which doesn’t like to be tethered. So my initial drafts have tiny margins, 20 pt font (whichever one I feel like using) in a different pale color for each day’s work, single spaced. To me, that lets the rough draft appear ethereal, not quite set firmly and easily changed.
As I go through 3 rewrites and a polish, the margins get wider, the font gets smaller, a different type & color. When I’ve got most of the knots out of the story, my contact information is put in place, and by the end of the polish, the project is in ‘standard manuscript format’. I can send the project out to find a new home knowing that it will be judged on its merits, not on my inability to follow these standard rules.
Over the years, I’ve wondered why so many market guidelines insist so vehemently that these rules be followed, to the point of spelling them out in their guidelines, possibly several times. Now that Tommee and I have opened our slush pile, I begin to understand.
Our guidelines are minimal; all we list is ‘standard manuscript format’ sent in a .doc or .rtf file. Although we want to find new authors, we thought they would know what we meant, if they had any real interest in becoming published authors. Perhaps we were giving them more credit than they deserved. Some of them, anyway.
The 3rd or 4th submission came as a docx file, which meant we had to dig out the laptop to open it. (We normally only use the laptop when we are traveling, because we don’t like the keyboard.) We let that slide, and gave the submission due consideration.
Since then, we’ve had submissions that don’t have any contact information in the file, that are only partially double-spaced, the paragraphs are not consistently indented…. But we want to encourage new authors, so we considered them and included the comments ‘Not in standard format’ and ‘Please include contact information within manuscript file, in case your email gets lost.’ We hope they will learn, otherwise, we are wasting our time making comments.
But some of them are not interested in learning. One responded to our comments, breaking another guideline for new writers; “Do not respond to rejections to argue they made a mistake.” S/he did state that s/he didn’t care a fig about formatting, the fact we responded showed that her/his submitting email had not gotten lost, and that so-and-so liked her/his work.
We are not so-and-so. But we may need to follow the example of so many other publishers and summarily dismiss any submissions that cannot follow our guidelines. We are pondering that idea now.

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