Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Standards, Please...?

All right, I get that e-publishing isn't trying to be like print publishing, that the folks who make their home on the net don't want to do things the way the folks in New York do them, just because it's the New York way. That's cool, I can deal with that, and in many ways it's actually pretty cool.

But sometimes standards are good, you know?

I've been looking through the submission guidelines of a number of e-publishers and I've yet to find two alike. Different spacing, different margins, required fonts, headers or none -- it's as though each publisher is trying to establish their own identity based on the particular hoops they want their writers to jump through to format their manuscripts, each publisher using a different number, size and color of hoop, with a few set on fire just to make things exciting.

For example, I just came across an online magazine that wants stories single-spaced with neither spaces between paragraphs nor indents at the beginning of paragraphs. :/ Wow, that's going to be useful -- I'll set it as my default right away.

[Ironically, this is one of the Lazy Formatting Problems that makes me bail out of an online story, no exceptions, no excuses. I absolutely loathe trying to squint my way through an unbroken monoblock and I won't read anything formatted that way. Whether I'll ever be able to bring myself to format anything of my own in that style remains to be seen, editor's request notwithstanding. [sigh] I'm hoping this is a unique quirk of one particular editor. And no, that's not how the periodical is formatted -- I took a look through a sample issue and the formatting is perfectly readable, with spacing and indents and such. I want to write to the editor begging to be allowed to help him out by setting up the spacing and indents the way he has it in the magazine.]

But at least with the print publishers there was a single standard. If a story came back from one editor you could slip it into a fresh envelope and send it right off to another, knowing that if the formatting was correct for the first one it was correct for the second. It's certainly true that we don't have to actually print a manuscript out for an electronic submission, but some standardization would be nice. I haven't even gotten back to novels yet but at this point I'm not really looking forward to it.

Maybe the idea is to get writers submitting to one publisher and sticking with it? That makes some sense for a book or single-story publisher, once a writer has found a publishing "home" and has settled into sending that one publisher all of one's books, but for online periodicals it becomes somewhat problematic.

As with many annoyances, this one isn't exactly huge. Reformatting paragraphs and spacing and margins and such can be done globally in a word processing document. But it's one more chance to do something wrong, if one is submitting to a number of markets and has to sit there with the story file open in one window and the writer's guidelines for The Whatever Quarterly open in the other, going back and forth while trying to make sure everything matches. There's no chance to just set up one's formatting, set it as the default, then forget the formatting and concentrate on the stories from then on.

I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually -- everyone else must -- but there's a whining little voice in the back of my head saying I shouldn't have to. [wry smile] It'll shut up one of these days, probably after a few more submissions, but for right now it's really annoyed.



Travis Erwin said...

In this particular case it may be a technical issue. Was it electronic submission? If so different email programs react in strange ways to spacing.

Sometimes the result is scrambled text so that may be why they want you to send it without indentions and what not.

Angie said...

That's a possibility, sure. [nod] Although I've been sending text back and forth for years and the worst that's happened is with Gmail; it inserts extra space wherever you have a hard CR and trying to get rid of said space does horrible things to one's blood pressure. Aaaaand... [ponder] I don't remember which program or system it was, but I remember way back whenever, text coming through with each paragraph strung out in one humongously long line; that's annoying too, although having your WP reassert its margins made everything shift back into place.

But that sort of thing happens when the text is embedded in the body of the e-mail itself. I've never had a problem with anything I've sent as an attachment and all the e-publishers I've looked at so far want manuscripts sent as attachments. Some of the guidelines state specifically that any stories in the body of the e-mail will be discarded without being read, and I imagine the formatting glitchiness is why; that makes perfect sense to me.

I hope you're feeling better, by the way?