A Rant about Standard Manuscript Format

So, the other day I submitted a story to a magazine. The guidelines stated: use Standard Manuscript Format. Cool. As an editor I accept the need for a Standard Format, but as a writer the term has become nebulous. We have gone to the panels. We have read the “RULES.” Read the guidelines they all say. Follow them. And always, most prominent among those rules, follow Standard Manuscript Format with an accompanying example…from 30 years ago.

Underline italics. Use actual italics.

Use Courier. Use Times New Roman.

Use 10 point, 11 point, 12 point.

Double space after punctuation. Single space after punctuation.

The dreaded double space after paragraphs.

And in so many cases editors and publications declare their version is the only true standard version, then with a straight face, “But it’s the story that matters.”


If the story matters that much, then Standard Format doesn’t and should be left out of the guidelines.

But that will never happen. There is nothing more conservative than publishing. So what is the answer? If only there was an organization that could actually standardize a manuscript format, at least for the speculative genre. Hmm…

Oh, wait!

There is. The Science Fiction Writers of America. So, I checked. And they do!

It’s ten years old.

So, here is my challenge to SFWA. You are in a perfect position to gather information. Send out questionnaires. Quiz editors, publications, writers. Create a Standard Manuscript Format that is actually a modern Standard Manuscript Format. Then promote it. Encourage it. Enforce it.

Give us a single version of the Standard Manuscript Format instead of the multiple versions we all ignore now.



3 responses to A Rant about Standard Manuscript Format

  1. nice to see my own website doesn’t know me.

  2. Anonymous

    It seems to me you counterpointed your own counterpoint. I already knew what the SMF was largely for typesetters of yore, when electric typewriters were considered fancy gadgets and carbon was a paper and not pollution. Which is why we need an updated SMF.

    Also, thank you . Almost no one ever responds to my website posts. I actually found this one by chance.

  3. A worthy rant…but a counterpoint:

    SMF was designed to make it easy on the editor as well as the eventual TYPESETTER to look at a ms and mark it up quickly and accurately, as well as help them accurately gauge the number of columns, pages, lines, etc. the piece would fill in print. But in our digital age, spell check will catch the extra ‘l’ in ‘illlicit’,. we know to the character the word count, and, well, what the hell is a typesetter these days? I suspect that the idiosyncratic variations you get on SFM are mostly about making (especially online) magazine’s lives easier by them just being able to dump the text of your Word doc into their preferred delivery format without having to do any formatting–hence in the single space, use italics, etc.

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