In getting ready to submit a short story, I reviewed the submission guidelines for the publication in question. They said they wanted it in Standard Manuscript Format, and at first I thought I knew what they meant when they said that. Especially since the link pointed to the SFWA Web site. In the short story writing class I took through UCLA Extension, we were asked to submit our story for the class in Standard Manuscript Format, and were directed to an article on the SFWA Web site by Vonda McIntyre on the subject. I’ve seen it linked to from other places and it’s one of the first things that comes up when you google “Standard Manuscript Format.”

Surely there would not be two articles on the SFWA site, or if there were they’d say the same thing right?

It turns out that a year prior to Ms. McIntyre’s piece, John Gregory Betancourt had another article on the same topic. Mr. Betancourt notes that “there is a single right way to do it.” For the most part they are about the same, but there’s enough small differences to drive me a little nuts.

The main frustration is that there are things not covered by Mr. Betancourt’s standard format. So if I use something from the McIntyre guidelines, does House Hufflepuff lose points?

Ultimately the big take away is that “standard manuscript format” is whatever the publisher tells you it is. If they want it in comic sans on yellow paper, by god that’s what they’ll get.

I won’t run through the full honeydew. The high points are that I finished two short stories this weekend. One of them I banged out yesterday in one go. I don’t normally have that kind of groove, but whipped right through this one. So I have a steampunk submission for Hallow’s Eve Press (“In the Cards”) and a “song/music” submission for Wily Writers (“Pointing at the Moon”). The girlfriend got me back edits for both of them already, and now I’m just waiting for one more person to provide feedback before sending them out.

The best part of this feeling is that, even if they don’t get picked up, I feel like these are things I can shop around elsewhere. Amateur and semi-pro steampunk anthologies seem to be popping up all over the place. “Pointing at the Moon” may also be a good candidate for Residential Aliens if Wily Writers doesn’t bite.

Speaking of Residential Alians, the editor popped in to one of my earlier posts to note her interest in “Thus Have I Heard.” I don’t know if she’s checked out my other stuff, or if she just liked the gratuitously Buddhist title. Either way I’m pleased as punch that a stranger would voice an interest in my writing. Looking at their submission guidelines, “A Christmas Sutra” might be a good fit there as a multi-part novella. So I can add that to my goals. (And if anyone wants to provide feedback for ACS, don’t be shy.)

8 thoughts on “Standards

  1. admin Post author

    If a publisher I’m submitting to uses Betancourt’s guideline as their definition of “standard,” I’m gonna go with Betancourt. There just isn’t any value to me in bearing righteous indignation. Especially when, in this case, the person linking to it is someone I know and respect. It’s just a bit of legwork to determine what house rules the publisher is using.

  2. admin Post author


    See, when I google it, that’s the third option that comes up. The first is a page on the Carnegie Mellon University Web site. The second is the SFWA page I normally use. And then Shunn’s.

    I’m amused to note that there are some minor differences with Shunn’s standard as well.

  3. jdurall

    Do you have (or have access to) an agent?

    They can probably advise you correctly.

    The primary reason I’d discount Betancourt is that he’s also a publisher (Wildside Press), so he may have idiosyncratic preferences when it comes to format.

    McIntyre, on the other hand, has had a longer and wider-ranging career.

  4. admin Post author

    At this point? No. I don’t have an agent. At this point I’m only sending around short stories, which is kinda beneath the level of needing an agent. I might score an agent at the PNWA conference, but I’m currently not represented. I really only know one agent personally, and it’s been *years* since I last talked to her, and I’m not sure how dropping in out of the blue would go over. (There’s a story. I won’t post it here.)

    I do not doubt at all that he has idiosyncratic preferences. The impression I get looking at submission guidelines for magazines (and agents even) is that each person has their own particular way of receiving a manuscript that they prefer. And really: If someone links to Betancourt’s article and says that’s how they wanted formated, do you think I should ignore them?

    In Betancourt’s defense, the differences he proposes make sense. There’s a few things doesn’t include, and that’s where the really confusing part comes in. They probably aren’t earth shattering, but it’s frustrating in a realm where you get lots of advice about following the rules.

    Perhaps the best answer to my question comes from McIntyre’s piece, which I noticed when I was skimming through it just now: “If your editor asks you to email the story, do your best to send it in the format and document type the editor requests. Electronic format may have no relation at all to the recommendations I offer here.”

  5. jdurall

    I think you’re misunderstanding me.

    I’m not advising you to submit manuscripts in a format other than what a specific publisher requests… just saying that given a choice between Advice A and Advice B, I’d go with the advice from a writer with a wider experience, especially if that writer’s article was more recent.

    If anything, the differences in what’s being advised seems to mean that, despite appearances, it’s a minor, minor issue to editors, and that they’re willing to look at stuff that isn’t formatted exactly according to the One True Format.

    If an editor likes your story, they’ll ignore the minor glitches, or they’ll contact you and ask you to resubmit with the “correct” format.

  6. admin Post author

    Fair enough. (And, I have to admit a mistake in my original post. I note that it’s 11 years difference between the two, not 1.)

    I guess I’m generally not OCD, but I panic over details pretty easily. And I read a lot of rants from editors (and one agent) about the frustrations of having their submission guidelines ignored. So when I trip over an exception like this it kinda drives me nuts. =P

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