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Adrian, a spy for the King, sees a nobleman murder a servant. His desire for truth is pitted against the dangers of a high-stakes political game. When his friend Draken insists on pursuing justice, Adrian must protect those he cares about as the political games of powerful men alter the lives of everyone around him.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Submission Guidelines: John's Pet Peeves Number 5

File this one under "Bite the Hand that Feeds You" since it's probably bad form to complain about the people who send contracts and money to authors. My hope here is not to get myself blacklisted, but to point out some odd things you might see as an author, and how I ended up dealing with them. In the spirit of limiting my inner curmudgeon, I won't call out names on any examples of what bugs me.

I'm primarily concerned with short story submissions here. Your mileage may vary with novels, but most publishers and agents will give you guidelines similar to the short fiction guidelines.

Let's cover the simple stuff first. Some sites, including some qualifying markets for SFWA don't actually specify a manuscript format at all. In those cases, they're assuming you're professional enough to already know. Some sites just refer to a standard such as William Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format web page, or they refer to Standard Manuscript Format without any example or citation. Those are the easy ones once you know what to do, but they can be a pain for a beginner who doesn't know where to look. For those markets, I just keep a template document with all the right headers, paragraph format, and writer info block already in place.

But in case you were wondering, standard format isn't really all that standard. You can pick out differences, for instance, between William Schunn's example and this other one. The good news is that if you adhere to one, you're not too far off from the other.

Other things are not so easy to figure out. I've seen several problems, some of which can be chalked up to typos and leftover editing errors. Others are shortcuts people have taken, some of which can leave submitters confused.

  • Bad links. Yeah, things happen sometimes, but it's really annoying to chase through and find yourself staring at a 404 error instead of submission guidelines.
  • Stale information is really annoying. There was a regular annual contest once, and the page was left active. I sent an email about it, and they updated the page with a new contact email, but it turns out that the contest wasn't even held that year.
  • Some places won't specify their policy on simultaneous submissions (sending a story to more than one place at a time) or multiple submissions (sending more than one story to the same place). The unstated standard policy is to not do either, but some places don't make that clear.
  • Misspelled or transposed words in the guidelines. I saw a font name with the words out of order once. This wasn't a big deal to figure out, but my internal spell checker was triggered as I read their guidelines.
  • While closed for submissions due to a regular submission schedule or a temporary closure, some places take down their guidelines entirely rather than leave them up for those who may wish to submit later.
  • Partial specifications, such as one-inch margins, mono-spaced font, double-spaced lines. You have to assume they mean standard format on everything not mentioned, but if they're calling out things that are already standard format, it makes me wonder if they just left stuff off.
  • I've seen guidelines spread across multiple web pages. Not just scroll-up scroll-down, but actual different URLs to get all the info. It makes me wonder if this is yet another publisher running an IQ test to filter out the writers who can't figure it out.
  • Some publishers will purposely change the desired font, line spacing, or margins just to see if you'll notice. If you can't  read and follow instructions, they're not likely to be interested in you, even if you've already formatted your story to the usual standards. Either that, or they're just really picky about readability.
Longer fiction submissions generally require a synopsis. Details matter when requesting a synopsis, and I've seen vague requests to tell what the story is about, when it helps a lot more to have details such as requested page or paragraph counts, and whether or not choice excerpts may be helpful for flavor, or if you should give a strict outline rather than prose summary.

When it comes to file format, it's the writer who must be flexible. I also understand the limits publishers may put on submissions. If they only accept RTF, it could be because someone sent them a virus-infected mess once. Specifying weird file formats is not a pet peeve for me. Some even go as far as to have a web form where you must paste your text to submit the story. That bypasses the entire problem of standard format and submissions, since they also ask for all the other info they want, such as name, address, email, and so on. Good on them for being both clear and safe from corrupted files.

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