Sunday, July 8, 2007

Formatting Manuscripts: How to Create an Editor Friendly MS

Okay, I know you saw that title and thought, "Oh, brother, that's about as interesting as watching grass grow." I don't doubt that it is, but even head-in-the-clouds science fiction writers must come down to earth once in awhile and deal with the reality of the business of writing. Part of that business is creating an editor friendly manuscript.

I have to admit that as a freelance writer, the last thought on my mind was how to format a manuscript. Fortunately, I had been well trained, and, even though it was the last thing on my mind, it was on my mind. Sorry to say, as an editor, I find that it isn't even considered by many competent writers.

In some ways, as much as I love online communication, the internet has compromised professionalism. I have college students send me emails about academic matters that read like a chat room transcript or a text message. For instance: "Ms. Main, I need 411 on the BR how about this book. My VBF Erica says it's great." I think I need my Wonder Woman decoder ring to decrypt the message.

I think a similar lack of formality finds its way into communication with editors. Some people assume that since they sent the manuscript as an attachment to an email, that the editor has their contact information. Here's the problem with that assumption. I doubt I'm much different than most editors. When I get a submission, I download the attachment to a "stories to be read" file. The email stays in the inbox. When I get a chance to read the story, there is no connection between it and the email. So, I have to do a search of my inbox to find the story. That's 10 minutes of time I could have spent reading another story or writing an acceptance or rejection letter. In other words that writer has stolen 10 minutes of my time that I will never get back. And at my age, I don't have that many minutes to waste. Okay, none of us do.

So, what does and editor friendly format look like? Well, a good format is shown below. Of course, you should always check the guidelines for a particular publication for any special formatting instructions those publications might have.



Blogger Karina Fabian said...

Good article. I remember one magazine writing class where a student asked if she could submit it handwritten in pen because "it was her style." I almost choked when the teacher told her it was OK.

Like I told the class, busy editors get 10 seconds to 2 minutes to decide if they even want to read your manuscript. Handwriting, bad format or multiple errors gives them an easy Reject. They want to see the style in how you tell a story, not how you write it down.


July 9, 2007 at 5:59 AM  
Blogger Terri said...

I can't believe that instructor said okay. It is such a basic idea. Think like an editor to sell to an editor. My little magazine is just small potatoes receiving only 20 or so submissions per issue, and it is annoying and time consuming for me to plow through a poorly formatted submission. For an editor that receives 20 or more submissions per day, it is not only annoying, but virtually impossible for them to spend time on a poorly formatted submission.

by the way I get pretty annoyed at people who come up with this "that's my style" line as an excuse to ignore good practices whether it be in writing or formatting what they have written.

I was critiquing an article the other day for secular online group and I noted an overuse of the passive voice. When I pointed this out, the person just respond with all that's how I do things, that's my style. That set off a big discussion about the "arbitrariness" of these writing "rules" with the implication that anyone who aims at writing strong prose by following established guidelines for strong prose is somehow compromising their writer's voice.

July 9, 2007 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Eve said...

Thanks, I really like this post. I will store this info for future use.

August 21, 2007 at 4:08 PM  

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