Aeryn’s Archives: Dungeon Magazine #171

The next project from my personal professional vault is one of my favorites. I’ve been a lifelong Dungeons & Dragons player, and what you see below is the first time I got to work on the official game, and in Dungeon no less, a publication I’d been collecting for years. (Still got boxes of them around here somewhere.)

My contribution to Dungeon #171 was a short adventure for 1st-level characters titled Stick in the Mud that pitted heroes against, uh, frog people called bullywugs. It was part of The Chaos Scar, a small campaign setting on the border of civilization chock-full of monsters and bad guys. Perfect for adventurers looking to make their mark. It was a call back to classic D&D adventures like Keep on the Borderlands and a real hoot of a location to run an old-fashioned D&D game.

How did I get the gig? Well, the short version is I, uh, asked for it. Kind of. The longer version goes something like this. It was early 2009, and I was already working in the RPG industry, mostly with Goodman Games as a freelance writer and editor. Part of my duties was as editor-in-chief of Goodman’s inhouse quarterly magazine Level Up. The magazine brought me into contact with a number of folks from Wizards of the Coast, including Andy Collins, the RPG Development & Editing Manager for WotC at the time. At some point, I mentioned to Andy I was available for freelance work on D&D. I actually can’t find that email, but I remember it being a quick, BTW kind of thing. I never thought anything would come of it. Then, three months after that conversation, I got an email from Chris Youngs, the editor-in-chief of D&D Insider (who was then producing digital versions of both Dragon and Dungeon magazines). That email started with “Andy Collins passed your contact information to me, and mentioned you might be interested in some 4th Edition design work.” I was overjoyed that not only had I NOT shot myself in the professional foot by asking for a gig, but my “pitch” led to a chance to work on the game I’d loved for decades. Anyway, that email from Chris Youngs eventually turned into Stick in the Mud plus more adventures and articles to boot (I’ll cover some of those in later installments).


If you’d like to check out Stick in the Mud, this issue of Dungeon is still available in PDF at DriveThruRPG. Click the link below or the big-ass cover illustration above. 🙂

Dungeon #171

Submission Spotlight: Payday

On this installment of Submission Spotlight we’re going to talk about what happens after the blessed event of an acceptance and it’s time for you to get paid. Sounds simple, right? It usually is, but there are some things to be aware of before the money hits your bank account. As always, you should read all the guidelines before you submit a story, and how a market will pay you is part of those guidelines. (If you’re looking for a breakdown on the levels of payment–from token to pro–I cover that in another post.)

1) Have the right account. The method by which a market will pay you is, uh, pretty important, and you need to have the right type of account set up so the publisher can quickly and effortlessly transfer the money to you. That’ll usually look like this:

We pay a flat $50 USD rate for stories. We use PayPal to process all of our payments.

Whatever your feelings are about PayPal, if you want to get paid for your work, you’re gonna need an account. I’m not saying all publishers only pay through PayPal. Some will happily send you a check if you like, but a large majority either only pay or prefer to pay with PayPal. So, set up that account, friends.

2) Dollars: Not just for Americans! If you live in the United States, and you send out a lot of submissions, at some point you’re likely to send them to markets outside of your home country. I send a fair amount of subs to Canadian and Australian publishers, for example, and I’ll often see this in the submission guidelines:

Pay rates are as follows and in Canadian dollars:

Yep, Canadian dollars. But it might also be:

[Publisher] pays between A$20 and A$60 per 1000 words.

Right, that’s Australian dollars. You might also see these two currencies as CAD or AUD. Of course, if you submit to publishers in the UK, you might see GBP offered for payment. So what do all these currency differences mean to your submission? Not much, really, until it comes time to be paid. You need to understand that when a publisher says they’re going to pay you $200.00 CAD what shows up in your PayPal account is going to be $152.00 USD (based on current exchange rates). If you’re lucky enough to get paid in GBP, then you’d end up with $264.00 USD. PayPal will make the currency conversion for you (and charge you a small fee for the service), but just be aware of the those exchange rates so you’re not surprised on payday.

Yes, there are other countries that use dollars, and besides the two I listed above, you might see the New Zealand dollar (NZD), but it’s not nearly as common in my experience. But, hey, if you’ve been paid in Fijian or Hong Kong dollars for stories, let me know. 🙂

3) When do I get paid? Okay, so you’ve scored an acceptance, and you’re already doing the per-word multiplication, but when do you actually get the money? That can vary by publisher, and unlike many of the things I talk about in these articles, that information isn’t always in the submission guidelines. It’s often in the contract a publisher sends after an acceptance. That said, it is likely to be one of the following:

Payment is 8-12 cents per word on acceptance.

This sounds like you get an acceptance and you get paid, right? Not quite. In my experience, it means you get an acceptance, you get and sign the contract, and then you get paid (often immediately after the publisher receives the signed contract). I find about half the publishers I submit to do it this way. The others do something like this:

We pay 6 cents/word for original fiction up to 6,000 words on publication.

In this case, payment is made after the story is published. How long after the story is published depends on the publisher. Sometimes it’s right away, and sometimes publishers may include additional language such as “payment will be made within 90 days of publication.” Again, this information might not be in the guidelines but in the contract. It’s fairly common for a publisher to make payment this way, and it’s just something to be aware of, especially if you’re expecting a quick cash infusion to your PayPal account after an acceptance.


These are some of the issues you might run into with regards to payment in publisher guidelines. As with everything else, there shouldn’t be any surprised come payday because you read the guidelines carefully and completely, right? Of course, this one does come with the caveat that pertinent payment info isn’t always in the guidelines. So, if you’d like to be surprised when the contract states payment will be made within six months of publication, I’ll allow it. 🙂

Seen anything else of note in the guidelines when it comes to getting paid? Tell me about in the comments.

If you’d like to check out the other posts in the Submission Spotlight series, just click the links below.

Aeryn’s Archives: Vault of the Dragon Kings

This is the first in a series of posts where I’ll talk about the projects I’ve written and worked on over my professional career, from fiction to RPGs to tabletop war-gaming stuff. I’ll try to add insights into how the project came together and maybe an amusing anecdote or two. Anyway, with over 400 writing, editing, and development credits, we could be at this a while, but I’ll try to restrict my posts to the more interesting projects. 🙂

Let’s kick things off with my very first professional job in the tabletop gaming industry way back in 2005: Dungeon Crawl Classics #30: Vault of the Dragon Kings. 

For the uninitiated, what you have here is a module or adventure for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. This is not an adventure produced by the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons,  Wizards of the Coast, but a third party product created under license by Goodman Games. The lead writer on this one was Jason Little, and my role was as a stat editor and monster creator (I was credited under Stat Blocks & Creature Development and Additional Writing & Development). This essentially means I checked a lot of math and created some monsters for the adventure. That’s not the interesting part of this gig, though. How I got it is.

When Wizards of the Coast released the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons (often just called 3E) back in 2000, they created a version of the game that was more versatile than any before it. The rules let you build characters and monsters in a clearly defined way that allowed for endless customization. In addition, they opened up the game to third party publishers to produce material through something called the Open Gaming License (or OGL). I won’t go into the specifics because it’s mostly a bunch of math and legalese and stuff, but this new system sparked a creative fire in me. So I started making monsters, mostly by taking existing D&D critters and upgrading them with the new rules system. I also wrote little backstories for my creations and posted them on a popular Dungeons & Dragons message board. In some ways it was similar to fan fiction, though the OGL made it more commercially viable. (I also actually wrote fan fiction, but that’s a story for another day).

My creations earned me a small following from D&D players who frequented that message boards, and a few of those folks turned out to be publishers as well. One of them, Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games, liked what he saw and reached out to see if I’d be willing to work on a module in his very popular Dungeon Crawl Classics series. Needless to say I was thrilled for the opportunity, and thus began my career in tabletop gaming. Better yet, it also started a great professional relationship that’s lasted nearly fifteen years, and I still do the occasional job for Goodman Games to this day.

Oh, for you old school gamers, you might recognize the cover artist on this one. Yep, that’s a piece by the incomparable Erol Otus.

If you’d like to check out this module up close and personal, it’s still available through Goodman Games via the link below (or the giant cover illustration above):

DCC #30: Vault of the Dragon Kings

Submission Spotlight: The Do Not Send List

Today we’re exploring another potential submission guidelines surprise. This time it’s not about formatting or regional preferences, it’s types of stories publishers would rather not see at all. I call this the Do No Send List  As usual, you should read the guidelines completely and thoroughly so you don’t miss publisher preferences. The Do Not Send List is usually pretty obvious, but not always, so read carefully.

The Do Not Send List is fairly common in submission guidelines and comes in a few different versions. Let’s take a look at them.

1) Send at your own risk. The regular strength version of the Do Not Send List is more suggestion than command, but you should still be aware of the publisher’s preferences when sending them a story. This version usually looks something like this:

Originality demands that you’re better off avoiding vampires, zombies, and other recognizable horror tropes unless you have put a very unique spin on them. 

They’re not saying you can’t send vampire and zombie stories, but you’d better come up with some mind-blowingly original shit if you hope to get one published. You’ll see this kind of thing in guidelines pretty often, and I think it’s because, yes, the publisher is tired of getting Dog Soldiers and Twilight knockoffs, but they still recognize it is possible to make those old tropes fresh and interesting again. So, sure, if you think you’ve got a truly original take on a vampire story, send it to a publisher like this. You never know.

2) Do not send. Like, seriously. For really reals. Some publishers,  tired of seeing the same old tropes again and again and again, take a more aggressive approach to the Do Not Send List, in that it is truly a DO NOT SEND list. Those generally look like this.

We do not accept stories with the following: vampires, zombies, werewolves, serial killers, hitmen, excessive gore or sex.

As you can see, most of your standard horror tropes are included in the guideline above, though hitmen is one I don’t encounter as often (but if they put it in, it’s because they’re getting too many). In this case, absolutely do not send a story containing these tropes. It’ll just make you look like you didn’t read the guidelines, and that, my friend, is a real bad look. Most of what’s on the list is pretty straight forward. If your story contains a vampire, a zombie, a werewolf (or other lycanthrope), a serial killer, or a hitman, just don’t send it. Seriously, don’t. But what about the other stuff? The stuff that has the word excessive in front of it. That’s a tougher call because what’s excessive to one person may not be excessive to another. The best thing to do here is read the publication in question to get an idea where they draw the line is on such subjects. Of course, the question then becomes is the example story right up to the line or a few feet behind it? For me, excessive usually means gratuitous, but even that’s open to interpretation. In the end, you’ll likely have to use your best judgement.

3) A list of hard sells. Some markets expand on the send at your own risk example and give you an entire list of stories and tropes that generally don’t work for them. Like with example one, they aren’t saying don’t send them, but if you do, you better do something very different with that serial killer werewolf story. Below are some markets that have hard sell lists, and I find they’re pretty informative, especially when you’re starting out and you think every idea you have is super original (it’s not).

  • Clarkesworld: This market’s hard-sell list is right in their general guidelines and hard to miss. It’s also pretty exhaustive.
  • Strange Horizons: This list, called Stories We’ve Seen Too Often, is part of Strange Horizons submission guidelines. It’s a long list of cliches and overused tropes compiled over the years, and it’s an informative read.
  • Flash Fiction Online: FFO’s list of hard sells is shorter than the others, but they go into a lot of detail why a certain trope or theme is on their list.

You can learn a lot from these lists, and not just about the preferences of markets that include them in their guidelines. If one publisher considers a trope or plot device to be overused and cliched, well, then others might too. Keep in mind, though, that just because you write a story that includes an element that’s on these lists doesn’t mean it’s a bad story or unsellable, just that it probably is going to need an original spin to set it apart from all the other zombie apocalypse, vampire romance, werewolf soldier, and serial killer turned detective stories out there.


If you’ve read any of the other entries in this series, you probably know what I’m going to say now. Yep, read the guidelines completely, carefully, and every time you send a submission. Sometimes these little nuggets of information are buried in a publisher’s guidelines, but it’s still your job to find them, read them, and implement them.

Have you seen anything else pop up on Do Not Send Lists? Tell me about it in the comments.

NYCM Round 2: The Dread Scotsman

As I mentioned a few weeks ago in NYCM Round 1: No Guns, No Knives, I entered the NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge at the urging of some of my writer pals. You can get all the details on this particular flash fiction contest by clicking the link in the last sentence, but here’s a short explanation from the main site:

The Flash Fiction Challenge is a competition that challenges writers around the world to create short stories (1,000 words max.) based on genre, location, and object assignments in 48 hours. Each writer will participate in at least 2 writing challenges and as many as 4 depending on how well they place in each challenge.  When the competition begins, writers are placed in groups where they will be judged against other writers within their same group.  Each group receives its own unique genre, location, and object assignments (see past examples here).  After 2 challenges, the top 5 writers that score the highest advance to the next challenge.  In Challenge #3, writers are placed in new groups and given a new genre, location, and object assignment.  The top 3 writers from each of the groups in Challenge #3 advance to the fourth and final challenge of the competition where they are given the final genre, location, and object assignment and compete for thousands in cash and prizes.  

I didn’t do particularly well in the contest, and I did not make the semi-finals. What are you gonna do? Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share the prompts and the stories I wrote with them.

Round 2

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Location: A ship’s cabin
  • Object: A black and white photo

Like “No Guns, No Knives,” the story for “The Dread Scotsman” came pretty quick, maybe too quick. You can read it below.


The Dread Scotsman

“There she is, sir,” Sergeant Pennyworth said and lowered his spyglass.

Lieutenant Nigel Armstrong peered over the gunwales of The Eagle at the ship speeding toward them. The HMS Saber flew the Union Jack but was no longer part of the British Navy, nor was its captain, formerly Commander Angus MacLeod, now known as The Dread Scotsman.

“Ready the men,” Nigel said.

Pennyworth turned and signaled to the Royal Marines hidden among the crew of The Eagle. Nigel’s unit had been loaned out to the whaling vessel after The Dread Scotsman had murdered the crews of three others and the Crown had finally chosen to intercede.

The marines took their positions while The Eagle’s crew, many of them casting terrified glances at the approaching pirate vessel, went about their business. Nigel had assured The Eagle’s captain, Arthur Hayes, two dozen marines were more than a match for MacLeod’s crew, now composed primarily of criminals from Barbados and St. Lucia.

Watching The Saber barrel in, Nigel hoped his promise to Captain Hayes hadn’t been bravado, and his hands slipped to the hilt of his cutlass and the butt of his pistol. He longed for a rifle, but long guns would reveal their presence too soon.

The Saber carried cannons, but Macleod wouldn’t use them. A whaling ship like The Eagle was too fat a prize. No, this would be a boarding action, up close and brutal.

The Saber came alongside The Eagle, its gunwales swarming with men clutching knives, sabers, and pistols. MacLeod was among them, towering over the tallest of his men, his red hair and beard like a bloody wreath around his head. He clenched an archaic Scottish backsword in one massive fist and a double-barreled pistol in the other. Around his neck hung a string of silver plates, daguerreotypes portraying his many victims in their final moments. The ghoulish trophies were courtesy of one Alistair Coke, a naturalist and photographer who’d had the profound misfortune to be aboard the first whaling vessel MacLeod had taken.

The battle began with smoke and thunder as the pirates unleashed a fusillade of pistol fire. Nigel threw himself to the deck, as did the marines behind him. They had orders to wait until the pirates were on board to reveal their presence. MacLeod might turn tail if he knew he faced experienced soldiers and not a ship full of terrified whalers.

At the thud of boots on The Eagle’s deck Nigel sprang to his feet, weapons in hand. He shot the nearest pirate through the throat, parried a saber thrust from another, then split the man’s skull with his cutlass.

The rest of his marines joined the fray. All were skilled combatants, and they slashed and blasted their way through the pirates with grim efficiency. Smoke and screams filled the air, and a dozen of MacLeod’s men lay dead in moments. None of this deterred the Dread Scotsman. He wielded his backsword like a barbarian warlord, smashing aside his opponents’ blades, then running them through or cracking their skulls with the butt of his pistol. As he fought, the daguerreotypes around his neck made a terrible staccato clatter, like metal teeth gnashing together.

Nigel needed to get MacLeod’s attention. He cut down a pirate, grabbed the man’s pistol, and fired. From thirty feet away his chances of hitting the Scotsman were slim, but luck was with him, and the ball grazed MacLeod’s cheek. With a bellow of surprise and outrage, the Scotsman whirled toward Nigel.

Good, Nigel thought and moved toward the nearest hatch. It led down to the captain’s cabin. Across the deck, MacLeod surged in Nigel’s direction, smashing marines out of his way with blows from his pistol butt or whirling cuts from his sword.

Nigel fled down the stairs, his heart hammering in his chest. He was a skilled swordsman, but MacLeod’s strength and size were advantages not easily overcome, at least not where the Scotsman had room to swing his larger blade.

The captain’s cabin was small, ten feet by ten feet, an ideal battleground for a man armed with a shorter cutlass . . .

MacLeod thundered down the steps behind Nigel. His eyes blazed with wrath, and he threw a wide sweeping cut, his blade humming through the air like a swarm of angry bees. Nigel stopped the backsword with a stiff parry, but the shock of the brute’s attack nearly ripped the cutlass from his hand. He wouldn’t last long trading blows with MacLeod.

The Scotsman, sensing his victory, grinned, exposing a mouthful of crooked yellowed teeth. “Are ye ready for your portrait, Lieutenant,” he said, his brogue thick and menacing.

“Only if you’ll comb my hair, you overstuffed haggis,” Nigel replied.

MacLeod roared and launched an overhand strike that would have split his foe from nose to navel had it landed. Instead, the tip of the Scotsman’s sword plowed into the low ceiling and stuck. It was what Nigel had been waiting for. He lunged, a thrust his fencing master at the academy would have lauded, and drove a foot of steel through MacLeod’s right eye. The tip of Nigel’s blade burst from the back of the Scotsman’s skull, and MacLeod toppled over backward and crashed to the floor, his daguerreotypes clattering like a death rattle.

Sergeant Pennyworth came down the steps a heartbeat later. When he saw MacLeod’s corpse he breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank the lord, sir. I was sure that beastly Scotsman had done for you.”

Nigel offered the sergeant a shaky smile. “Not today. How’d we fare?” The gunfire and sounds of battle had faded from above.

“Six dead on our side, but we killed thirty of theirs at least. The rest have laid down their arms.”

Nigel nodded and considered the Dread Scotsman’s corpse at his feet. “Sergeant, find that Alistair Coke fellow if he’s still alive, the naturalist and photographer MacLeod had aboard. I think there’s one last image he might like to capture.”


The toughest part of the prompt for me was the black and white photo because action/adventure immediately took my mind to pirates, and I just couldn’t shake the idea in the limited time I had to write. I also made it harder on myself by essentially writing historical fiction, which requires a level of research that’s hard to pull off in this kind of timeframe. My biggest hurdle was simply that photos and most folks’ idea of pirates are usually separated by at least a century, so I had a real challenge. I fudged a little (okay, a lot) and used an early form of photography (daguerreotypes) and set the story in the 1840s where sailing vessels were still a thing. The story won’t hold up to any kind of real historical scrutiny, of course, but I had fun with it.

I think “The Dread Scotsman” is a better story than “No Guns, No Knives,” though it still has issues (historical accuracy notwithstanding). The reviewers mostly liked it, but they pointed out what is likely the story’s biggest weakness. The stakes for Nigel and his marines aren’t clearly defined. They need to feel and express more peril, and their fate, should they fail to defeat the Dread Scotsman, needs to be explored a bit more. Now, there’s likely room to do that with this story and still keep it at flash length, and I might even consider submitting it somewhere IF there were a market for action/adventure stories. I scoured Duotrope and found exactly one that would take a story like this. So “The Dread Scotsman” becomes blog fodder, and I’m okay with that.

Three Types of Tough Rejections

If you’ve been submitting short stories for any length of time, then you’ve likely developed a fairly thick skin when it comes to rejections. After you hit triple digits, those form rejections, filled with not for us’s and doesn’t fit our needs’s, kind of lose their sting. They’re pretty easy to take in stride, and it’s not too difficult to move on and send that story somewhere else. But in my experience (after well over 300 rejections), there are three types of Nos that can really take the wind out of your sales if you let them. Let’s talk about them, what they might mean, and how best to deal with them.

Tough Rejection #1 – The Long-Wait Form Rejection

What it is: Some markets just take longer than others to get back to you. Sometimes the wait can exceed six months or even a year with some literary markets (and one or two genre publishers). Generally, a long-wait form rejection is not preceded by a shortlist letter or really any other communication from the publisher. If you do get a shortlist letter, well, that’s more example number two.

Why it’s tough:  Even though I shouldn’t, even though I know better, I can’t help but get my hopes up a little when a submission starts getting long in the tooth. The theory that the longer a publisher holds a story the more likely it is to be published doesn’t hold much water in my experience, but for some reason I can’t help thinking that maybe THIS time it means something. So, invariably when that form rejection comes after 150 days, it’s more disappointing than if it cames in a couple of weeks.

What to do: I usually follow the same protocol with a long-wait form rejection that I do with any form rejection. Without any specific feedback on the story to prompt a revision, I log the rejection and send the piece out again, right away. I might be somewhat hesitant to submit to the publisher again, especially if they don’t allow sim-subs.

Tough Rejection #2 – The Shortlist Rejection

What it is: A rejection preceded by a shortlist letter. Sometimes it’s not a shortlist, but a second round or second read notification, but it’s essentially the same thing–the publisher has indicated your story is of interest and has made it past the slush pile at the very least.

Why it’s tough: Unlike the long-wait form rejection, you get your hopes up with a shortlist rejection for good reason. The publisher has straight up told you they like the story, at least enough to give it a second read or seriously consider it. If that shortlist rejection is from a prestigious market, say one you’ve been trying to crack for years, then your hopes soar even higher. That, of course, means they can reach terminal velocity before hitting the pavement when that rejection shoots them out of the sky.

What to do: With a rejection like this, you have to look at the positive (because it is mostly positive). If the story was shortlisted, that means two things. One, this publisher probably likes your work and wants to see more of it, and, two, you probably have a good story on your hands that you should immediately send out again. The one caveat here is if the shortlist rejection gives you valuable feedback on the story and the editor points out something they think needs work. In that case, if you agree, then it might be time to revise the story, but you can do so with the knowledge it’s probably close to where it needs to be.

Tough Rejection #3 – The Thorough Personal Rejection

What it is: A personal rejection where the editor relates, in detail, what they didn’t like about the story (or your writing). There is often some positive feedback as well, but in my experience these rejections can go a bit heavier on things the editor doesn’t like. It’s important to note these rejection aren’t mean-spirited, and the editor is trying to give constructive feedback. I’ve yet to get a rejection where I thought the editor was being intentionally hurtful. I’m sure they exist, but I doubt they’re very common.

Why it’s tough: It’s never fun to read what someone doesn’t like about your work. It’s especially not fun to read a lengthy rejection where the editor spells it out bluntly and exhaustively.  I don’t care who you are, that stings.

What to do: First, put the rejection aside until you’re in a more objective headspace, then go back and read it carefully. More likely than not, you’re going to discover a couple of things. The first is the editor has done you a service. They’ve clearly indicated what doesn’t work for them with the story, and that’s something you can use for future submissions. Also, they’ve probably hit on some things that DO need work in the story. It’s always helpful to get that kind of feedback. The second thing you might realize is that, well, this is one person’s opinion, and it’s possible that some of the things they’re calling out in your story are stylistic mismatches. Let me see if I can better illustrate that last point:

I don’t like Doctor Who (probably gonna lose some followers over that). I don’t think it’s a bad show, but it is decidedly not for me. I find it a little silly, over-the-top, and just weird for weirdness’ sake. Now, I know from talking to fans of the show that those same qualities are part of the reason they like it. Also, because those elements stick out for me, I may be unable to appreciate the show’s other qualities as much, like its boundless creativity, good acting, and generally upbeat tone. Now imagine I write Doctor Who-style stories, and I submit one to a magazine that is more like The Expanse or Altered Carbon (or some other gritty, realistic sci-fi). There’s a damn good chance I’m going to get a rejection, and if the editor gives me specific feedback about things they don’t like, some of it might be because our tastes and styles are completely mismatched.

Now this is not to say that every thorough personal rejection is because the editor simply has a different taste in story than what you write. We’re all capable of writing a clunker or sending a story out before its ready or a hundred other things that can result in this kind of rejection. So when you get one of these, try to be objective as possible, realize the editor is trying to be helpful and not hurtful, and see what you can learn from their feedback.


So those are three types of tough rejections I’ve encountered. What about you? Tell me about your tough rejections in the comments.

Submission Spotlight: Fun With Formatting

If you’ve sent out any short story submissions, you are likely very familiar with Shunn Standard Formatting. If you’re not, follow the link in the last sentence and GET familiar. Now, the vast majority of publishers ask for Shunn (often just called standard manuscript formatting), but sometimes it’s a starting point more than a formatting destination. So, like everything in this series of posts, it’s important that you read very carefully to pick out all this little formatting idiosyncrasies in the guidelines.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how publisher formatting guidelines vary from Shunn.

1) 99% Shunn. Sometimes a publisher wants just a slight deviation from standard formatting, like this:

Submissions should generally follow standard manuscript format, though we prefer single-spaced instead of double-spaced.

A slight change to standard formatting is pretty common. These small changes can be easy to miss because, however, so, as always, read very carefully. The other change I often see looks like this:

The Editor MUCH prefers Times New Roman.

Not every editor is down with Courier, and you’ll often see a request for a different font. Times New Roman is the most common, but I’ve seen other serif fonts requested as well. Again, this is a simple change to make, but if you’re not looking for it, you can miss it.

2) Mostly Shunn. Publishers sometimes ask for a larger deviation from standard manuscript formatting, but often with good reason.

Standard Manuscript Format, but with all author information removed from the manuscript.

For publishers who read submission blind, standard formatting presents a challenge in that it lists an author’s name and info on the front page. I see this request a lot, and it’s fairly easy to implement. If you’re like me and you have a standard manuscript template ready to go, remember to remove your name from the header too. I’ve almost missed that one a few times.

3) Doing our own thing. The last group of publishers are those that do not reference standard formatting and give camplete, albeit brief, formatting guidelines.

Double spaced Docx or RTF files set in a 14 point serif font like Times New Roman.

Often times when a publisher break from standard formatting, they’ll have very simple formatting guidelines like what you see above. That’s pretty easy to follow, and honestly, you could probably just use standard formatting here, change the font to Times New Roman, and be good to go. That said, sometimes the formatting guidelines will be more in depth.

  • All manuscripts should be double-spaced with broad margins and numbered pages.
  • Use 12 pt Times font, or a similar serif font, such as Cambria, Palatino, Baskerville. No other fonts, please. Italise words and passages that you want italicised. DO NOT underline words or passages you want italicised

Again, you could probably start with standard manuscript formatting (if that’s your template), change the font to one they have listed, and italicize words and passages you want italicized. Everything else in standard formatting conforms to what they want (broad margins, double spaced, numbered pages), and my guess the small additions (name and title in the header, for example) won’t be an issue. Rarely will a publisher have more detailed instructions outside of standard format, but I have seen one or two that are as in-depth as Shunn yet completely different.

4) It really doesn’t matter. The last type of publisher breaks from standard manuscript format because formatting isn’t all that important to them.

Don’t worry about standard manuscript format, as long as we can read it we’ll read it. 

Some publishers aren’t that concerned with formatting as long as the story is legible and you don’t use some crazy, weird font. A lot of the time when I see this in guidelines it’s because you’re pasting the story into a submission form that’s text only (or even into an email), so you couldn’t do standard manuscript format even if you tried.


Of the four examples above, the one I personally have to be watch for is the first example. That one little change to standard formatting can throw me because it’s not a big enough change (nor does it take up much real estate in the guidelines) to catch my attention if I’m not careful. Will a publisher auto-reject your story for a minor formatting mistake? Most of the time, probably not, but there are publishers who will (and they’ll tell you right in the guidelines). So, as always, it’s incumbent on you to read the guidelines completely and carefully every time for every submission.

Know of any other ways publishers deviate from standard manuscript formatting? Tell me about in the comments.