Let’s talk about Standard Manuscript Format!

(Wait, no! Come baaaaaack…)

OK, so it’s not the most exciting topic. But I was on Reddit’s r/Writing when I read a post where more than one person said it took them hours to format their manuscripts. And oh good golly, no! This might not take you five minutes, if you don’t know Word very well, but it’s fast. Super fast.

So let’s use Microsoft Word 2010 to put a story into Standard Manuscript Format. You can do this for novels and short stories.

Let’s get started!

What are we aiming for?

When we’re done, it’s going to look like this. If you’re confused at any step of this process, just try to duplicate this (or the first page of the Standard Manuscript Format link.)

SMF - Template.PNG

You’re going to:

  • Format the text of the story.
  • Create a title page that includes:
    • Your word count.
    • Your personal information.
    • Your title and byline.
  • Add a header to the top of every page.

Step #1: Double space your lines

  1. Select all of the text in your document (shortcut: Control+A).
  2. Go to the “Page Layout” tab.
  3. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Paragraph” section.Screenshot of the Page Layout tab, showing the Paragraph section.
  4. Find the “Line Spacing” drop-down menu. Change it to “Double.”
  5. A screenshot of Word's Paragraph: Indents and Spacing tab.Hit “OK.”

Your text is now double-spaced. That’s 95% of the work right there. And while you’ve got all that text selected…

Step #2: Change the font

  1. Select all of the text in your document (shortcut: Control+A).
  2. Go to the “Home” tab.
  3. Change the font to Times New Roman. (Or Courier New, I guess. But Courier is gross.)
  4. Change the font size to 12pt.

SMF - Font

Now your font is standardized. That’s most of the work right there.

The next step is optional!

(Optional) Step #3: Change the italics to underlines

You only need to do this if you’re using Courier New font. And, as you can guess, I hate Courier, and very few places require it.

In novels, emphasis is usually shown with italics. But  Standard Manuscript Format suggests two different ways to handle emphasis: either with Times New Roman and italic font or Courier New and underlines.

The vast majority of places are perfectly fine with Times New Roman and italics. Check the submission guidelines of the place you’re submitting to. If they explicitly ask you to use underlines, follow the instructions in my previous post.

If they don’t mention it, skip this step.

Step #5: Check your margins

If you’ve never changed your margins, they’re probably fine. But let’s check.

  1. Click on the “Page Layout” tab.
  2. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Page Setup” section.Screenshot of the Page Layout tab, showing the Page Setup section.
  3. Ensure that your Top, Bottom, Left, and Right margins are all set to 1″.
  4. Screenshot of the Page Setup section, showing all margins at 1".

    If they aren’t, set them to 1″. Then hit “OK.”

Step #6: Set up your title page

Now that your story is formatted, it’s time for the title page!

Step #6-A: Add your title and byline

  1. Put your cursor at the start of your file and hit return until you’re about 1/3 or 1/2 of the way down the page. It doesn’t have to be exact.
  2. Enter the title of this piece.
  3. On a new line, type: by YOUR NAME
  4. Select both of these lines.
  5. Center them (shortcut: Control+E).

Step #6-B: Add the word count

  1. Figure out how many words your story has. You can find this in two places:
    • Under the “Review” tab, in the far left (next to the Spelling button) is a small button with “ABC123” on it. That’s your word count button.SMF - Word Count 2
    • Word 2010 also keeps a running word count at the bottom of the file. You don’t have to open anything! Just look at the bottom of Word.SMF - Word Count
  2. At the top of the manuscript, add “#### words.”

Step #6-C: Add your name, address, phone number, and email address

One important note: Your personal information (and, by extension, your word count) are all SINGLE-SPACED. But you double-spaced this file back in step #1, right? Yeah. That’s why the last step in this section changes that.

  1. Put your cursor before your word count.
  2. Type in your name.
  3. After your name (but before the word count) hit tab until your word count is at the right edge of the page.
  4. On the next two (or so) lines, put your address in.
  5. On the next line, add your email address.
  6. On the next line, add your phone number.
  7. Select all of this new text.
  8. Go to the “Page Layout” tab.
  9. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Paragraph” section.
  10. Find the “Line Spacing” drop-down menu. Change it to “Single.”

Step #7: Add a header

  1. Double click in the empty header area of your document. Word will open your header editor.
  2. Go to the “Insert” tab.
  3. Select “Page Number.”
  4. Choose Top of Page > Plain Number 3. This will add the page number to the top of your document, aligned right.Screenshot of the Insert tab and the Page Number section, showing Plain Number 3.
  5. Put your cursor in front of that page number.
  6. Type in your information: LAST NAME / NAME OF PIECE /

Now you’ll have a pretty header. It’ll appear on the top of all of your pages, complete with an accurate page number.

At this point, your story should look like the screenshot at the top of this page. You’re pretty much done! There’s just one last thing to do…

Step #8: Add the Ending

  1. Go to the last line of your story.
  2. On a new line, type: END
  3. Center it. (shortcut: Control:E)

Tada!

And, when in  doubt…

This probably looks like a lot of steps. And if you’re not super used to Microsoft Word, it might feel like a lot of work! But this is really, really easy.

If any of this IS confusing, just mimic the example at the top of this post or look at the Standard Manuscript Format guidelines.

Once you get the hang of it, this is fast! This is so easy, in fact, that I never write in Standard Manuscript Format. I find 10pt single-spaced Arial font to be soothing to look at, so that’s how I write my stories. I only format them when I’m done with them.

There are definitely a few other things you can standardize–this definitely isn’t everything. But most of the other stuff you can do is small, and it won’t get you into hot water. A manuscript that follows all of the above steps will be perfectly acceptable for submitting at most places.

Of course, that’s not a promise. This’ll work for most places. Most! Always check a place’s submission requirements before you submit! But for everything else? You’re done, and it only took you 5 minutes.

When I published my first short story, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. What happens after you get your acceptance email? How long will it take? What if the editor is really slow to respond–should I go into hysterics and assume they decided not to publish me? Or, um. Maybe not?

I’ve published four short stories and placed in two contests, so I’m definitely not an expert. But I’ve got a pretty good idea how this process generally goes, and that’s what I’m going to share.

So here goes!

1. Step 1: The Acceptance Email

One of these days, you will get the most wonderful of gifts: An acceptance email.

By this point you’ll have seen a ton of rejections. You’ll be used to the pleasantries, the “Thanks for submitting”s, and the “This isn’t right for our publication”s. But one of these days, it’ll be different: They’ll thank you for sending the piece. They’ll tell you that they really like it. They’ll say they want to publish it.

OK, so, uh… Now what?

(OK, so the right answer is “celebrate.” But what about afterwards?)

2. Step 2: Getting the Contract

Nothing is final until you sign the contract.

Short story contracts are very simple. They tell you what rights the publisher is taking, how long they’ll hold onto those rights, and what they’ll do with them. Every contract is different, so you will definitely want to read yours.

I don’t pretend to understand contract law, but you should be able to understand most of what you read. Google (and your friendly neighborhood writing communities) can help with the rest. Some questions I look for are:

  • Do you have to wait before re-submitting the story anywhere else? Weirdly enough, you can submit your short story–even one that’s been published–to multiple places. You just have to look for places that accept reprints. Your contract will probably explain how long you have to wait before doing that.
  • What rights are they claiming? All of mine ask for the one-time, nonexclusive, world, electronic, English-language rights for some period of time. This is the important stuff. Google anything you don’t understand.
  • When and how will they pay you? If this is a paying market, the contract will explain when and how you’ll be paid. Most of them will pay you after the story is published.
  • Does it mention any way the contract can be voided? Sometimes you’ll see clauses explaining that the contract can be voided if something goes horribly wrong. For example, I’ve seen some saying that they have to publish the story within a year or I have the right to ask for the contract to be nullified. Another said they could void the contract if we couldn’t agree on edits.

But honestly, short story contracts are very simple. Novel contracts are a big deal, and you’ll often see people pouring over their contracts, identifying poor language, and renegotiating for better terms.

Short stories aren’t nearly as complicated. You should definitely understand what they’re asking. But unless you find something super nuts in there, you’ll probably just read it and sign it.

Step 3: Sign the Contract!

When you’re ready, sign that baby! Each place does it differently. I had one ask me to print it, scan it, and sign it. Some take e-signatures. Whatever. The editor probably told you how to fill out the contract when they sent it to you.

So sign that. Sent it in!

Step 4: WAIT FOREVER

And…. now what?

Probably nothing.

The thing is, the contract is signed. You’re good. It’s out of your hands. Now you just have to wait for the thing to be published, and that might take months. And unless you have edits to do, you’re done. It’s over.

Now, if you’re a crazy-pants worrier like me, you might be tempted to get anxious. What if the publisher doesn’t respond again? What if the publication is months away? Is there a chance they’ll decide not to publish me? Could they have lost my emails? Could anything go wrong? Do I need to check in periodically?

And no. No, no, no. You’ve signed the contract. Unless the publisher goes out of business or cancels the issue, you are pretty much guaranteed to be published. Cool your buns and wait.

(As a side note, though, you can probably start telling people you’ve sold a story. You’ve signed the contract. It’s a done deal! You could wait until it’s actually out and published–because at that point people can buy and/or read it–but that’s up to you.)

Optional Step 5: Edits!

Of course, sometimes you won’t just be waiting around. Sometimes you’ll have edits!

In this case, the publisher will have their editor work on your story. This is very standard stuff. You’ll work with their editor. You will be courteous and kind and open to their feedback. You will work together harmoniously and end up with a story everyone is happy with.

Optional Step 6: Biographies!

And sometimes they want you to write a short biography, too. Those are fun!

Optional Step 7: BUT THEYRE TAKING FOREVER and they didn’t respond to my contract and maybe it was lost and now theyre not going to publish it and its been months oh god

STOP IT

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about small presses, it’s that they’re slow. Slower than you would ever imagine. They are very busy companies run by a tiny number of people, so please. Have some sympathy. Have a lot of patience. They are going to be slow, slow, slow.

This means they may take forever to respond to your emails. They may not acknowledge they got your contract. You may toss your edits at them and never hear back, ever. These are all maddening, obnoxious things for a writer, but you have to let them go.

Of course, it’s OK to follow up if you have a big question, the publication date is looming, and you aren’t sure everything is ready. You can definitely send a polite question. But sometimes you’ll just have to trust that it’ll happen. It’s out of your hands.

You signed a contract. You’ll be published unless something goes horribly wrong. Just run with it.

Step 8: Publication!

Finally, your story will actually be published. And that’s when you can cheer, celebrate, read your own work a dozen times, and/or glory over your free copy of the book. Send the link around! Put it, without fear, in your future queries! “I’ve previously published short fiction at [Name of Publication.]” Heck yeah! You have!

You have a publication credit. Congratulations!

Optional Step 9: Get Paid

If this is a fee-paying publication, your last and final step will be getting your check or PayPal payment. But you might have to wait a bit. The contract says they’ll do that after your publication goes out… But, being a small press, they might be slow about that, too. Just stay on the ball and follow up as necessary.

All in all, it’s a slow but delightful process. And while nothing is set in stone until the moment the story’s published, you honestly don’t have much of a role in this. Sign the contract, do your edits, and wait. It’ll be nervewracking until the day you see yourself in print (or e-print), but believe me: It’ll be worth it.

I’ve only got a short update this week, but hey! This made me laugh. In this piece, editor Nathaniel Tower talks about the cliches that he’s utterly sick of seeing in short fiction:

things I’m tired of seeing in lit mag submissions | freeze frame fiction

It’s a little vitriolic, but the last paragraph is 120% worth it.

Woo! I sold my third short story to Triptych Tales last month. (They’re also super-duper fast, so it’s already available online! It’s been up since Sunday, actually. I’ve just been too sick to celebrate.)

I generally write YA fantasy and/or Victoriana, so, it’s slightly unusual that this is a contemporary urban fantasy set in Oregon. (I miss Oregon desperately. It’s a wonderful place.) It’s about a government contractor who gets a contract at the Esoteric Wildlife Division, which is doing some very non-traditional research.

You can check out Esoteric Wildlife on the Triptych Tales website.

I only learned this last night!

I sold my second short story “A Long-Forgotten Memory,” a little while ago. I just learned that it was published last week in Parsec Ink’s Triangulation: Parch anthology. The anthology’s available on Amazon.

It gets better! Parsec Ink runs both a contest and a magazine, and authors were allowed to submit their stories to both. I did, and I placed! “A Long-Forgotten Memory” got second place in their Parsec Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Story Contest. (That page hasn’t been updated yet, but it will soon.)

I’m super happy about all this. I only started submitting short stories in March, and selling two stories and placing in one contest is… well, quite a lot more than I expected, considering how new I am to this. Here’s hoping for more success in the future!

Photo of a small chocolate chip cookie cake filled with pudding.

I could have spent this post writing about these. I might have even taken a picture with a non-splattered dish. But now I never will.

OK, so here’s my confession: I was going to write about baking this week. I’ve been trying to make a reliable, homemade version of Trader Joe’s “Journey to the Center of the Cookie,” and I needed ideas on what to use for the filling. “But this is a writing blog!” you might think. To which I would reply with CAAAAAAAAAAAKE.

But then a post I wrote was linked in The Review Review’s newsletter, and a ton of new followers mobbed the blog. So I guess I really should post something about writing this week.

The problem is, I only recently revamped my blog. But hey! All of you folks are new. You’ve never been here before. So even though they’re all pretty recent (and one of them was written last week), here are some of the articles I’ve done on writing:

Thanks to The Review Review and all the folks who dropped by!

Moving is awful. I just moved from one side of America to the other, and it’s dreadful. I don’t even have my furniture yet. It is, needless to say, extremely hard to write (or focus, or work, or do much of anything), so the blog updates are going to be sparse until I have, for example, a chair that doesn’t destroy my back.

But I did sell a second short story! Thanks to the magic of smart phones, I signed a contract for Parsec Ink’s Triangulation: Parch Anthology before I even had the internet set up. I really cannot express how happy I am. I’ve only been writing short stories since March of this year, and I’ve already had some luck. This is exciting!

I’ll post more information when I know it! And that will probably be a while.