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Writing Hints Blog

Format - Short Stories 5

Posted by rmarsden on August 18, 2010 at 6:58 PM



Today's topic is format.

Format is how you lay your manuscript out (not the cover letter, it is seperate!) and I have good news and bad news. The good news is there are essentially only two ways to do this. The bad news, is there are exceptions!


The Good News

The first way! For most magazines they will want you to present your story in what is called 'Standard Manuscript Format' and they will link you to this site.


Depending on what program you are using to write your story you will need to do a bit of work to make things look 'right'. Some of the common mistakes are having the header on the first page, when it should only appear on the second and subsequent pages.


Other errors are forgetting to put in contact information on the left hand side and the word count on the right. Other common errors are forgetting to end the manuscript with *** END *** (The above wesbsite doesn't show that in the example). William Shunn also says words in itallics should be underlined, but doesn't mention 'bold' text. (I'll get to that later).


The second way! For e-zines they have a different format. They often ask for the story to be in the body of the email, though not always, and their format is easy.


USE Contact Information as in standard manuscript format.

NO Headers.

NO indentations.

NO use of underlining or _this_ to show bold and italics. Present the story as it would look in print.

USE a blank line between paragraphs.

USE * or # to show 'breaks' and ***END*** or ###END### at the end of your story.

Ezine format is designed so the editor can copy-paste your story into their website easily.


The Bad News

The bad news is that many editors will ask for Standard Manuscript Format or Ezine Format and throw in their own changes.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazines, for example, asks for Standard Manuscript Format but explicitly does not want headers with the author's name in it. Failure to do this will result in rejection with the mysterious, "please read our submission guidelines".


The Library of the Living Dead has many anthologies and many editors. Most ask for Standard Manuscript Format but might say, "No page numbers" or "use bold and Itallics, do not use underlining or underscore".


Sometimes these minor changes are designed to make the life of the editor easier. Othertimes these changes are used to weed stories out of the slush pile. Remember, good stories are plentiful, so editors have all manner of ways to thin their herd of manuscripts and one easy way is to toss out every story that did not follow their specific directions.


Personally, I've been forgiven manuscript formatting errors and I've been rejected because of them. The lesson I take is to carefully read the submission guidelines and do my best to follow them. If you submit a lot, as I do, it can get confusing remembering who likes what without checking over and over!


Another change that most editors perfer is to use underlining to show bold text and underscore to show _italliics_.


Yet another change is that if you are submitting online I find that editors do NOT want two spaces after punctuation and semi-colons, and some specifically mention this. William Shunn is adamant to usually do it, and when submitting a physical copy I think he's right, but when submitting electronically you can go without. When all else fails, just look at the Submission Guidlines and do exactly what it says. I've not had a story rejected for not using two spaces between punctuation, but I exclusivlely submit electronically at this time. (I keep getting accepted so I have no need to play the send mail and wait game).


British vs American

Know your editor! If you are writing a story for Black Library, do what they do and use British punctutation and spelling. While you may say, "They'll change it for me!", remember that they get many submissions and may start weeding out stories that don't follow a format they are familiar with. Currently, when Black Library hosts writing contests they don't say much about format and they do things differently than most publishers, but that doesn't mean they won't like the familiar. If your editor is British, assume he or she will like to see things 'their' way. I'll put a disclaimer here. A few writers are adamant not to attempt to write in 'foreign' tounge so to speak because they'll get more wrong than they will right. Also, some places, like Black Library, are ok with English or 'Merikan English. So that trumps my earlier advice!


So, to recap!

1. There are two primary formats you will use. Standard Manuscript Format (use the William Shunn link) and Ezine Format.

2. Many editors will tweak the format to meet their tastes or weed out stories. Read the Submission Guidelines carefully.

3. Use spelling and punctuation in the style of the market you are submitting to.


Where to submit is next!

Categories: Short Story Advice

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1 Comment

Reply Melinda Brasher
2:23 AM on July 2, 2011 
Thanks for the information. Do you recommend automatically using e-zine format for an e-zine if the submission guidelines don't say one way or the other? Thanks.