Escaping the Pile: Part II

Hello world. I’m not going to lie, I’m dragging something fierce to pull myself out of the post-Christmas malaise. I’m full of too much lasagna, Andes mints, and seasonal beer to be a valuable member of society, and next week, we’re going to do it all over again. However, I promised you the next segment of this blog series, so here goes.

Today, new writers, we’re talking about the importance of obeying the rules and customs of Formats and Guidelines. This should go without saying, but please, read the submission guidelines of the market you’re submitting to, and make sure your story or article meets it. Pay particular attention to the formatting instructions. Twelve-point, Times New Roman or Courier font, and double-spaced is a good place to start. This may seem like common sense to many of you, but I am consistently amazed at the number of manuscripts submitted that do not follow this standard formatting. And when you’re up against dozens of other stories per week, ignoring simple instructions from the publisher doesn’t reflect well on your level of professionalism.

The reason for double-spacing may not be immediately apparent to many of us who grew up writing and editing on computers, but it’s pretty simple. Back in the days of yore, when dead-tree copy ruled the land, editors preferred double-spacing because it gave them a place to make in-line corrections and revisions that would be easy for the author to understand and change later. While most publications have moved to all digital submission systems, some still hold onto paper. And even among those who do take electronic submissions, there are many editors who simply prefer to hit ‘print’ and make their corrections with a trusty pen and paper, just as there are readers who will always take a real book over an e-reader. Myself included.

The next item to tick off your pre-flight checklist is word count. Most publishers of short fiction work within tight constraints, especially those printing hard copy. As a result, most prefer stories of a certain length. For example, the market I worked with has a hard cap of 7,500 words. This should be self-explanatory, however I returned between one and three stories unread each week because they exceed our limit. This doesn’t have to happen.

I have, on occasion, sent in work that was over the word count limit by a few hundred words in such situations where I’d rather start cutting off toes than cut any more of the story. However, if this is necessary, make sure to query the publication for permission to submit a larger work. It is only polite.

That’s it for now, kids. We’ll pick up again next week with Part III, where we’ll be discussing Market Research and Compatibility. Now, quick, look busy for the next couple days, then we can all go assault our livers during the long weekend. See y’all next year!

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