Writing can be a solitary occupation, but as we gain confidence, we join writing groups and larger professional organizations. We become involved in the writing community because writers need to be able to talk about writing with people who understand. Through that network of professional acquaintances, we make connections with more experienced authors, people who are happy to mentor us. The knowledge I have gained about the craft of writing from those generous mentors has been invaluable.
Mentors have much to offer us about the mechanics of writing, such as grammar and industry practices. Also, they will often know of open opportunities our work might be suitable for, publications and anthologies with open calls. It takes courage to submit our work to any kind of contest or publication the first few times, but that is part of the process. We learn by doing.
New and beginning authors sometimes do the craziest things with their manuscripts. If you are serious about writing and submitting short stories, you must follow publisher and contest guidelines in formatting your manuscript before you submit it. No matter how pretty you make that manuscript for your own pleasure, if it doesn’t follow the submission guidelines for the place you are submitting it, you have wasted your time.
Perhaps you feel that the rules shouldn’t apply to you – it’s your manuscript and by golly, you like the way it looks. It took you forever to make it look that good. Why should you have to take the time to completely reformat your perfectly fine manuscript to fit some stupid set of arbitrary rules no one cares about?
Maybe you don’t care about those rules, but editors and publishers do, and they are the people you want to please. They don’t have time to deal with a manuscript that is justified, single spaced, has block paragraphs, has an extra space between each paragraph, and is in Papyrus font .10.
When the editor of a contest, publication, or anthology opens the call for submissions, they will get hundreds of entries, perhaps thousands. When a call for submissions goes out, their editors will have no time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts.
Publication dates are set well in advance and must be adhered to. Time is always of the essence in the publishing world.
Editors are only one person, and they want to read each and every submission. Unfortunately, out of all those entries some will be great stories that won’t even be read because the author couldn’t be bothered to format the manuscript in the way that the submission rules stated.
Publishers have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are clearly posted on their websites. If the first page shows the manuscript is not formatted to industry standards, expediency kicks in. The editor must reject it and move on to the next submission.
Word processing programs are inherently hinky because they are built out of new versions layered over the old versions, and the bugs in the old versions are often still there. This is why some really large formatting issues are nearly impossible to iron out.
And then there is the issue of reasonable effort. It’s time-consuming and difficult enough for a publisher to make a final manuscript of thirty short stories by thirty different authors look good when each submission was formatted correctly. If you have thirty short stories, each formatted differently with random fonts, different paragraph spacing, and different font sizes – you have a nightmare to edit. Even after editing it can take days to make a final compilation manuscript fit for publication.
For the most part, the requirements are basically the same from company to company with minor differences. To make sure your work conforms to the intended recipient’s requirements go to the publication’s website and read the standards they have laid out.
Publications will want your contact information on the upper left of the first page, and your approximate word count on the right. The title should be centered, and the first paragraphs should begin at the halfway point down the first page.
To get your paragraphs and line spacing right, you need to know a few simple tricks for using your word processing program. These tools come with the software and are there to make your documents look as professional as is possible. I have covered how to do that in my post of January 15, 2018, Formatting Short Stories for Submission.
These rules are not only for short stories. Every contest and publication wants the submissions in the same professional format whether it is a printout or an electronic submission.
Too many extra spaces in an electronic document cause the formatting to fail when converted to electronic publishing formats (mobi, epub, etc.) so keep extra spaces to a minimum. Most publishers require manuscripts to be submitted electronically so you will have to go in and remove these tabs. You can do it by following the instructions in my post of March 27, 2019, Formatting Your Paragraphs. If you are not using MS Word or you don’t have a ten key on your keyboard, you may have to do it by hand. It’s a tedious job but do it now, if you have been using the tab key.
You should make sure the font is Times New Roman or Courier .12 font and the body of the manuscript is aligned left.
- 1 in. margins
- 1 space after each sentence (NOT 2 as we dinosaurs were taught in typing class)
- Each page is numbered in the upper right hand corner
- Has formatted indented paragraphs
- The header contains the title and author name
- The first page contains the author’s mailing address and contact information in the upper left hand corner
Please, if you consider yourself a professional, format your submissions properly. You want to stand out but getting fancy with your final manuscript is not the way to do that—you will be rejected out of hand if you don’t make this effort.
Again, the posts (with screenshots) detailing how to make your manuscript submission ready can be found at these links: