More manuscript formatting advice

So, I forget which site had this link to Strange Horizon’s Submission Formatting Details, but I figured I’d pass it along, because it’s the best document I’ve seen so far for fixing certain formatting issues that I kinda knew I need to address (like smart quotes), but hadn’t yet.

From what I can gather, if you don’t fix things like smart quotes, and you paste them into an e-mail, they come through as funky looking symbols.  So, these tips are also good for any e-query you might send.

Also, I finally went through my Word program and turned off automatic smart quotes and automatic conversion of a dash into an em dash, so I can avoid dealing with this in the future.  I had tried to turn off the em dash thing before and it wasn’t working.  Turns out that in my version of Word (2007), you have to turn it off in two separate places.

And, because sometimes people don’t like to or won’t click on links, I’m summarizing below the highlights of the article that I think (in my unexperienced ignorance) should apply to most submissions.  As always, follow the submission guidelines for wherever it is that you’re submitting to.

  • Convert curved quotation and apostrophe marks to straight up-and-down ones.  (I did this by locating one curved one in the document, copying and pasting it into the “find” section and then typing in a straight one in the “replace” section.  This was after I had turned off smart quotes, obviously.)
    • You need to do this for opening quotation marks, closing quotation marks, and apostrophes.  (The article also mentions single-quotes.  I must have just used apostrophes for that, because when I replaced the ‘ mark it caught those.)
  • Replace the em dash (a longer dash than a standard hyphen) with two consecutive hyphens. (Note: This only applies to em dashes and not single hyphens.  So, third-year student is a single hyphen and stays that way.  A break in a sentence to interject something uses an em dash so would require — instead.  Don’t take my word for it.  I’m unpublished.  Look it up if you don’t know it.)
  • Replace the ellipsis character with three periods.  (This is another one of those auto-correct issues.  I did the same as with the quotation marks — found the first time it occurred in my document, copied, pasted into the “find” box and typed three periods in the “replace box.)
  • Use a # sign to signify a scene break.  (I’ve seen different opinions on whether this should be centered or not.  This article doesn’t say.  I center it.  It’s easier to see.)

[As an aside here.  If you’re working in Office 2007 or later and sending electronic files to someone, I would highly recommend saving it down to 97-2003.  (That’s the difference between having a .doc and a .docx file.)  I ran into this issue a lot in my pay-the-bills job.  Many, many companies still have software that only opens .doc files.  Also, if you’re doing  a massive spreadsheet that uses fancy formulas, make sure you only use formulas that are compatible with the version of Excel that the end-user will have available.  (I once had to back out the use of SUMIFS from a very, very large spreadsheet.  It did not make me happy.)]

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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