Formatting is not trivial!
I’ve been asked about formatting stories for submission. So I’m going to address that this time. It’s as much a part of writing as plot and characters. This is going to be a bit longer than most of my columns, and have lots of info. So take notes, or print this out. Learn this stuff. It’s vital. Most editors get their knickers in a twist at formatting being ‘off’ and you do not want an editor to already have a snit started before even reading your story. (One of our slushmasters at Ray Gun Revival has easily twistable knickers when it comes to formatting, and I mean besides me!) So let’s go through the basics of what most publications want. There are always variations, so scrupulously check and double-check what each publisher lists, and do it their way!
Also, I’m going to link to a jpg of sample pages so those who need visual cues won’t get lost. *
First – set your margins to one inch all the way around, top, bottom, left, and right.
Since you’re in Page Setup anyway (yeah, assuming your software has running headers, and assuming you’re using Word, I can’t say how to access it from other programs), go to Layout, and find the Headers and Footers section. Check the box that says Different First Page.
Check your font. Make sure it’s standard. If the publisher give a font by name, use it, or one in that family. If they merely state they want a standard font, Times New Roman works nicely. However – most of the Big Boys in publishing still want fixed-width fonts. So in that case, go with Courier New, or Dark Courier (my favorite – it prints out darker). I can’t stress this more strongly: always use the type of font the publisher asks for!
Check your formatting to see that your line spacing is double (or ‘Exactly 25 pt’ works too).
For electronic submissions, make sure you save your story in the file type requested. I can state that submitting with an improper file type can cause your submission to be automatically rejected. As an Overlord for Ray Gun Revival, I have personally vaporized submissions that were not in .rtf, which is what we require.†
Now, let’s address the header:
On the first page you should list your contact information. Usually on the left. This includes your name (real name — the one the check is made out to if they buy your story), address, phone number, email address. On the right, give the word count. Sample first page ** If your word processing program has headers, this should be in the header space, not in the body of the manuscript. One all subsequent pages, the header should have your story’s title and your name on the left, and the page number on the right. Sample subsequent page ** If your program doesn’t have running headers, do not try to manually insert page numbers on each page for an electronically submitted manuscript. If you are printing out and mailing a submission, then yes, do manually insert the information at the top of each page.
Make sure the header is single-spaced, not double like the story, and that the same font is used in the header and body.
On to the body:
Left justify, do not left and right justify. Indent your paragraphs.
Remember the double-spacing? That’s for the whole kit and kaboodle — do not single-space but double between paragraphs. Also, do not double-space the whole manuscript but stick extra empty lines between paragraphs.
Your title should be about half-way down the first page, with your byline underneath it. Center it, don’t left justify.
The story should begin two lines below your byline (two hard returns), and don’t forget to make sure the story itself is left justified not centered as the title is. Sample first page **
Scene breaks, or lines which are empty for any reason, should not be a blank line, but should have an asterisk or pound sign to mark them. Sample subsequent page **
In ms that you print out in fixed-width to mail off to the Big Boys, if you use italics, the standard practice is to mark them by underlining instead of actually using italics. Sample subsequent page ** Now, in electronic submissions, the publisher may want italics actually in italics, bold as bold, etc. Again – check the submission guidelines and do what they say!
Sample first two pages
There’s quite a bit to digest, isn’t there? Told ya. But if you study it, it will become second nature. And don’t forget, check each publisher’s guidelines and follow their directions exactly!
* Samples taken from my short story, “The Last Hurrah,” published in The Sword Review.
** In this image, you’ll notice the header seems lighter than the body, Word lightens whichever part of the document is not being worked on.
† the rtf file format was true for RGR Prime, not for RGR 2.0.
originally published in The Sword Review 2006-09-06