Thursday, November 08, 2007

On Manuscript Preparation

At first glance, it seems needlessly strict. It's certainly not as attractive to look at as a typeset page (though oldies like me can still appreciate the look of a typewritten page--I still have a working manual typewriter, you know). Maybe it even feels archaic. But there's a reason why editors and publishers prefer the standard international manuscript format: it's easier to read, and it's also easier for the production people, for the guys who do the layout, who cut and strip the film and prepare the pre-press materials that will allow for the book or magazine's mass production.

It's easier to read because double-spacing allows the editor to write notes down without having to resort to writing small. True, in this day of fancy word processors with comment and editing features, it seems unnecessary, but trust me, it doesn't stop there. Double-spacing is also easier on the eyes. And if an editor has to go through X number of pages a day, you don't want him or her to suddenly pick up a manuscript of single-space text, grimace, and chuck the whole thing into the rubbish bin without even giving it a try.

The standard manuscript format also allows an editor or printer to approximate word count per page. The number count isn't exact, but an approximation is enough. Roughly, a manuscript that follows the format has 250-280 words per page. An editor or printer who knows how much each page of his magazine or book will take up can then approximate how many pages will be consumed, and then adjust accordingly to allow for page-count, extra features, fillers, artwork, etc. This is why it's important to use standard 12 points for font size, and to use a nonproportional font, that is, a font where a wide letter like a capital "M" takes up as much space as a thin, lower case "i". Proportional fonts, like Times New Roman or Arial, can affect word count per page. Nonproportional fonts, like Courier, don't.

And all that information at the top of the first page, never to be put in the back, in the middle, or on a separate page? That's standard. The editor knows exactly where to look if he wants to find out how to contact the author. You don't want him sifting through all the pages just to find your contact info. You don't want him thinking, "Ah, hell. I want to publish this story, but where did this writer put his email address? Gah. Forget it." Hello, rubbish bin.

And underlining instead of italicizing? That's to make it easier to spot for the typesetter, the guy who's going to fix the look of the publication's pages. It's easier to find a dark, straight line on a page, than a word already italicized, which can get lost. And justifying? Don't do that. Leave the right margin ragged. Justifying adds extra spaces between words when you use a nonproportional font, making it harder to typeset. You don't want the typesetter to hate you. He might sneak in a few choice words in your work (or take some out) just to spite "this fellow who's making my job harder".

There are other reasons which are better explained here and here. These two links will take you to pages that describe the how's and why's of standard manuscript preparation. These pages will delve into what to do, what not to do, how to paginate, how to approximate word count, how to hyphenate, how to use em-dashes, how large the margins should be, and a whole host of other details that will prevent the editor from thinking, "I don't want to slog through this! The format's all wrong!" You want your manuscript to look professional so as to make it easier for anyone to read.

PGS is not as strict as has been described above, and allows for some leeway. It's easy enough to shift to something fairly close to standard with a few clicks of the mouse, but it is encouraging, and a small but otherwise pleasant surprise, to receive submissions that are close or that exactly follows the proper format. I received my first perfectly formatted manuscript from a contributor in the middle of this year, and let me tell you, it was a wonderful surprise. And yes, I liked the story enough to publish it--you know who you are, I thanked you and congratulated you for it, I still remember opening and then printing your file with fondness, with a silly smile on my face, and I know that I'll be getting the same from you in the future if you do submit again, which is a plus point.

Very shallow, I know, but we printers can get that way.

But like I said, PGS is not that strict. An improperly formatted manuscript won't stop me from reading your story. All stories will get a chance no matter how they're set-up (just give me time, please, because the backlog is large). A good story is a good story no matter how you format it or what font you use (and I can always change it to Courier, anyway).

But not all publications allow for this, especially those in other countries. They prefer the standard format for the reasons stated above. And with the volume of submissions they receive, they wouldn't think twice of disregarding your submission if it's in the wrong format. Saves them time, and clears up space quite quickly. It would be a pity if a really good story wasn't even given a chance because it was single-spaced, or used a font like Haettenschweiler.

So, in addition to following the publication's submission guidelines, remember proper manuscript format. I'd love to see more stories by Pinoys published abroad, and the chances can only increase by submitting your work in the right format. I've requested on PGS's submission guidelines page that you submit your stories in this format so that you can practice this "professional look" on the Digest, so that if and when you decide to send your stuff to other markets, you'll be ready, and you'll know what to do, and you'll have those other editors swooning over your beautifully prepared manuscript.

"Wow! This writer can really type up a good-looking manuscript! I think I want to read this! Lovely! Beautiful! Exquisite!"

What they say after they read your work is another matter altogether.


Blogger Sean said...

I can't even pronounce "Haettenschweiler". Now there's a font that would have trouble getting dates on a Saturday night.

In an age where manuscripts are submitted in soft copy (read: digital files) as well as hard copy, I've also noted an RTF-format requirement, more often than not. I've been told that this is because DOC files are better nesting places for computer viruses, but I'll admit that I've never checked on a background for this.

12:44 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

That's true, Sean. They say that macro-viruses latch on to doc formatted files, but not to rtf ones. Better safe than sorry.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous edmar1946 said...

Is there a word-count limit on manuscripts submitted to the crime/mystery/suspense book project? Thanks!

11:27 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi, edmar1946. Word count is between 2000 to 6000, but the higher you go the greater the chances you might be asked for a heavy rewrite if the story is accepted. Keep your story tight. TY!

12:08 PM  

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