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.

NYCM Round 1: No Guns, No Knives

Recently, at the urging of some folks in my writing group, I entered the NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge. 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.  

Pretty straightforward, right? Well, I didn’t make it past the second round, and both my stories came in 13th place (out of like 30, if I remember correctly) in my various heats and did not score enough points to put me into the semi-finals. Despite my lackluster showing, I thought it would be fun to share the prompts I recieved AND the stories I threw together with them. So let’s do that.

Round 1

  • Genre: Thriller
  • Location: A commuter train
  • Object: An ethernet cable

Not the toughest assignment, and the idea for “No Guns, No Knives” came pretty quick. You can read it below.


No Guns, No Knives

Kissinger’s target walked past his seat carrying a black laptop bag. Andrei Volkov was short, solidly built, and his heavy limbs and black beard gave him an almost bear-like appearance.

Outside the commuter train, the Pacific Northwest sped past. The Sounder ran from Tacoma to Seattle, and the few people on board were absorbed in books or smart phones. None of them noticed Kissinger reaching beneath his coat to touch the cool steel butt of his Beretta. The handgun was uncomfortable to carry with the suppressor attached, but it and the subsonic ammunition made the weapon no louder than a sharp clap, easily obscured by the noise of the moving train.

As Kissinger rose from his seat to follow Volkov his phone buzzed. Frowning, he pulled the cheap burner from his pocket and sat down again. It was Frank. “Jesus, I’m about to go to work.”

“I know,” Frank said. “But there’s a problem. The client has, uh, changed his mind on the details.”

“What?” Kissinger said, alarmed. “This guy is twenty minutes from the Federal Building. If he gets there, our client is fucked.” Volkov was an accountant who’d been cooking the books for Ivan Kuznetzov, a local Russian mob boss. Word on the street was he’d been indicted for tax fraud and was eager to make a deal with the Feds. The considerable information he had on Kuzentzov would be irresistible to the FBI.

“Turns out Volkov is Kuznetzov’s cousin,” Frank said. “He wants him . . . intact for the funeral.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Kissinger hissed into the phone.

“No guns, no knives.”

“Goddamn it, Frank. I didn’t bring tools for that kind of work.”

“I know; I’m sorry, really.”

Kissinger considered his options. They were few and unappealing. “What if I didn’t get this message?”

Frank was silent for a moment, then, “You want to fuck around with Kuznetzov? I like you, Kissinger. You’re precise and professional. But if you shoot or stab Volkov, there is an excellent chance the next contract across my desk will have your name on it.”

Kissinger sighed. Frank was right. “Fine, I’ll do it.” He snapped the phone closed.

During Kissinger’s phone conversation, Volkov had moved to the next car. Kissinger got up and walked slowly toward it. By the landmarks whizzing by outside the window, he estimated he had about ten minutes before they reached Seattle.

The gun under his jacket and the knife in his right boot were useless weight at best, dangerous temptations at worst. He’d killed men with his hands before, but it was slow, loud, and likely to draw attention. His preferred method was a single gunshot to the head. Quick, painless, certain. Unfortunately, a hollow-point 9mm slug often did not leave a pretty corpse.

Volkov rose from his seat when Kissinger entered the next car. He froze, wondering if his target had spotted him for who and what he was. Instead, the Russian ambled slowly to the tiny bathroom cubicle at the other end of the car.

Kissinger looked around and realized the car was empty except for him and his target. Hit men did not ignore good fortune when it smiled on them, and he raced forward, slamming into Volkov as the Russian opened the door to the bathroom. He ended up in a three-foot-by-three-foot cubicle, pressed up against the back of the man he was supposed to kill.

Volkov’s right hand shot to his left pants pocket, scrabbling at what had to be a concealed pistol. There was no room to aim it, but if he fired the weapon, the whole train would hear the shot.

Kissinger threw a short, sharp punch into Volkov’s kidneys, keeping him from pulling his pistol, and desperately searched for something to fight with. Volkov’s bag was open, and Kissinger pushed his left hand inside while he held Volkov in place with the right. The Russian grunted and struggled, but didn’t cry out. That wouldn’t last.

Kissinger’s hand became entangled in something in Volkov’s bag. It felt like thin, plastic rope. His eyes widened, and he yanked out a coiled length of blue Ethernet cable. Kissinger pulled away from Volkov’s body as much as the small space allowed. The Russian used the tiny bit of freedom to go for his gun again and managed to get it out of his pocket. Kissinger used the space to bring both hands up and wrap the Ethernet cable around Volkov’s throat. He spun around, bent forward, his forehead brushing the bathroom door, and lifted Volkov off his feet, drawing the cable tight around the Russian’s throat.

Volkov made a terrified gagging noise, and his pistol clattered to the floor. Kissinger hung on, the cable digging furrows into his hands. Volkov’s feet drummed against the sink, and he jerked and writhed. Finally, his struggles weakened, then stopped. Kissinger held on for another thirty seconds to make sure.

A sudden latrine stench told Kissinger the hit has been a success. He sat Volkov’s body on the toilet, pocketed the ethernet cable, and checked his handiwork.

Volkov’s eyes were open, bulging and red, and his tongue protruded from his mouth. A livid red line encircled his neck. It would turn into an ugly purple bruise in a few minutes.

Kissinger slipped out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. The car beyond was still blessedly empty, and he made his way to the next one, praying no one would need the toilet.

He spent a tense few minutes waiting for the next stop. When The Sounder pulled into downtown Seattle he was through the doors and walking away from the station in less than a minute.

He called Frank when he was far enough away to avoid suspicion.

“Is it done?” Frank asked.

“It is.”

“Were you able to meet the client’s request?”

Kissinger snorted irritably. “As best I could, but they’re gonna want a high collar and a necktie for the funeral.”


As you can see, all the prompts added up (for me anyway) to an assassination or hit on a commuter train with the ethernet cable as the weapon. Since it was a thriller, I needed the story to move quickly and have a fair amount of action. I also needed some kind of wrinkle that would force my hitman to use such an unorthodox weapon without stretching belief too far. I think the story accomplishes what I needed it to. It is clearly a thriller and the object and location are strongly incorporated and integral to the plot. It’s failing, I think, is that it’s not particularly memorable. I like some of the dialog between Kissinger and his handler, Frank, and the bathroom scene was fun to write, but at the end of the day there’s probably not much that makes this story stand out. It gets the job done, but not much more, hence it’s relatively low score.

Well, that was round one of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. Check back next week and I’ll show you my round two story 🙂

Submission Spotlight: Regional Preferences

Today we’re talking once again about potentially unexpected elements of submission guidelines. As always, you should read the guidelines completely and carefully every time you submit a story. These articles simply highlight the many reasons why. This Submission Spotlight focuses on regional preferences and how they could affect you if you live outside a market’s targeted region.

1) If you live there, you can submit here. Sometimes a regional preferences is so focused, a publisher will not accept ANY submission outside of that region.

[Publisher] is looking for original science fiction and speculative fiction from New Zealand, Australian, and Pacific writers. This means that (for now) you can only submit to [publisher] if you are a citizen of New Zealand, Australia, or the Pacific, or if you are a resident of these areas.

Pretty straightforward, right? If you don’t live in that part of the world, don’t send them a story. Markets with these restrictions are generally pretty easy to spot and usually have this part of the guidelines right at the very top (but not always). In addition, market databases like Duotrope will mark a publisher like this with a limited demographic warning at the top of their entry.

2) Limited seating. Some publishers that focus on a specific region might allow submission from outside that region, but can only publish a small percentage of them. There’s often a very good reason for this, such as:

Our mandate is to give our readers the best SF we can find, regardless of the author’s nationality, and we have published authors from Canada, the U.S., Britain, New Zealand, South America, and more. In order to qualify for grants, we do have to maintain 80% Canadian content.

This market must publish mostly Canadian authors to qualify for grants, which no doubt keeps them in business and publishing (a good thing). They’re open and upfront about the restriction, and if you live outside of Canada, it’s something to take into consideration. Should you submit to a market like this if you’re outside of their region? Absolutely. If you’re story is good enough, you always have a chance.

3) Small window. Other markets with a regional preference may choose to publish authors from outside their region but might give them a shorter window to submit. Like this:

Submissions from Australian and New Zealand writers: 1 February – 30 September

Submissions from anyone anywhere: 1 August – 30 September

This market gives authors from their part of the world a big window in which to submit (eight months) and authors outside of that region a much smaller window (two months). This seems to me a pretty equitable way to do things. If you’re not from Australian and New Zealand, you simply treat this publisher like any other with a short annual submission window.


As I said in the opening, always read the guidelines completely and carefully. There’s no good reason to miss something like a regional preference (or anything else, for that matter). Most publishers are going to put something like this right at the top of the guidelines, and, as previously mentioned, market databases like Duotrope often note a market’s preferences in their entry.

Know of any other way publishers handle regional preferences? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Spotlight: Reprints

This is the first in a new series of posts that will, highlight or, uh, spotlight parts of submission guidelines that might be unexpected if you’ve just started submitting your work. Even if you’re an old hand at the submission game, these are an excellent reminder of why you must always read the guidelines completely and thoroughly. So, let’s kick things off with one of my favorite submission subjects: reprints.

Reprints are a great way to get extra mileage, dollars, and exposure out of your published works, but you don’t want to simply trust that your reprint story is appropriate for a market just because, for example, Duotrope or The Submission Grinder says the publisher accepts them. In my experience reprints come with a lot of caveats and exceptions that range from what a market actually considers a reprint to what kinds of reprints they want or prioritize. Here are some things to be aware of when considered a market for a reprint (or making sure your story isn’t an accidental reprint).

1) What is a reprint? Generally it’s a story you’ve previously published, to which the rights have returned to you, and which you can submit again to a publisher that accepts reprints. Where things get tricky is how a market defines “published.” For example:

No reprints unless specifically requested by us. Keep in mind that this includes publishing a story on your website or blog. 

It’s that last sentence that’s the issue and what can create something I call the accidental reprint. Many editors consider a story published on a personal blog, website, or even something with an exclusive membership like a Patreon, to be a reprint. That can get you into trouble with a market like the one above that doesn’t accept reprints. So, if you plan to publish your work on your blog or for your Patreon supporters, just remember it’ll reduce your ability to submit that story as an original.

2) Some markets love reprints. If you plan to send out reprints, look for and remember markets that encourage them. These are generally going to be audio markets who don’t see a story previously published in print as an issue since they’re doing a completely different medium for what is often a completely different audience. So you might see this:

Reprints are welcome and strongly encouraged. We are happy to consider stories previously released on Patreon as reprints.

This audio market even welcomes Patreon reprints. So if you’re planning on submitting reprints, start with the audio markets. Many, like the one above, not only accept them but actively encourage them.

3) Sometimes publishers take reprints only if the story has been published by certain types of markets. This one is rare, but when I’ve seen it the market is usually looking for reprints stories originally published in professional-level markets. Like this:

Only stories from established print markets, including magazines, short story collections, and anthologies, from the past two years, which would cover January 2017 onwards, will be considered.

I’d take this to mean pro markets that also publish in print (there might be a few semi-pro that this bill, though) and have been around for at least a couple of years. The time frame of publication is an extra requirement and another good example of why you should always, always, always read the guidelines thoroughly.

4) Some markets prioritize or de-prioritize reprints published in certain mediums. This is one isn’t super common, and it’s likely to be part of audio market submission guidelines. It might look like this:

Stories can appear elsewhere. Previously published or performed stories are fine, as long as you hold the rights to grant usage to [publisher]. However, stories which have not already previously appeared in audio form will have priority.

This is one that can crop up if you sell a story first to an audio market and then want to sell it as a reprint. Not that that shouldn’t discourage you from submitting your originals to great audio markets like PseudoPod, EscapePod, and others, but it’s something to be aware of.

5) Reprints pay less. If you’re going to submit reprints, this is just a fact of life. Even markets that encourage reprints will often pay less for them, and you’re bound to see something like the following in the guidelines:

We pay $.08/word USD for original fiction 6,000 words or less, $100 flat rate for reprints over 1,500 words, and $20 flat rate for flash fiction reprints (stories below 1,500 words).

You might be asking are there markets that pay the same for reprints and originals? There are, but it’s rare, and in my experience these will be anthologies rather than magazines or online zines.


These are some of the wrinkles and unexpected hitches you might find in reprint guidelines. There are certainly others, but these are the ones I’ve encountered the most. It’s important to remember, though, that submission guidelines often come with little exceptions and caveats, which is why I implore you to read them completely and carefully before EVERY submission.

Know of any other reprint guidelines to keep an eye out for? Tell me about them in the comments.

Acceptomancy?

I assume you’re all quite familiar with the term rejectomancy (or at least how I interpret it). I’ve spent years and a slightly embarrassing number of blog posts talking about what rejections mean, but what about acceptances? What if we turned our overly optimistic, high-powered literary microscopes on the yeses rather than the nos? Is acceptomancy a thing? Let’s talk about it.

Sure, if you get an acceptance for a story, then, uh, that market likes that story. Two points for Captain Obvious, right? But let’s dive deeper. What else can an acceptance tell you? Here’s three things they’ve told me.

  1. It’s often about timing. This is one of the best things about an acceptance. If you have a story that’s been rejected a bunch, and you finally get that acceptance, it validates the theory that publishing is all about right story + right market/editor + right time. I’ve had multiple pieces published after double digit rejections, some at pro markets, and I often haven’t changed a thing about the story. These acceptances have taught me to hang in there on a story even if it doesn’t land the first, second, or, um, the sixteenth try.
  2. Oh, so that’s what they want. I recently cracked a market after they’d rejected me ten times in a row. I sent them flash fiction, short stories, horror stories, fantasy stories, the works. Then, after ten nos I got a surprise yes on a story I didn’t think had a chance in hell. Of course I was thrilled to get the yes, but I also wanted to publish again with this market, so I took a very close look at the story they accepted, noting the style and tone, and sent them more of the same. I haven’t received another acceptance from them, but the next three rejections where either personal or short list rejections (I’d only received form letters before). Yeah, it’s kind of obvious, but an acceptance tells you pretty much exactly the kind of story the market wants, a discovery made even more profound after a bunch of rejections.
  3. Maybe this idea isn’t total shit. My most recent acceptance is an important one. It not only hits the first two points I mentioned, but it was one of the more validating acceptances I’ve received in a while. You see, I’ve been writing a lot of genre mashups, mostly a mix of horror, urban fantasy, and crime/noir stuff. I’d been getting really positive rejections on these stories, but they were all “not quite right for us.” They were either too horror for the fantasy markets or two fantasy for the horror markets. I started to think maybe this combo of genre, style, and tone was a dead end. Then I got an acceptance for one of those stories from a very tough market. I was shocked, eccastatic, sure, but shocked. So, sometimes an acceptance can be validating for more than “Hey, I’m good enough to get published.” It can be validating for “Hey, this crazy genre/style mashup might actually be marketable.”

Thoughts on acceptomancy? What have acceptances revealed to you? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Statement: July-September 2019

Getting caught up on these submission statements. Here’s my submission activity for the last three months.

July/August/September 2019 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 16
  • Rejections: 10
  • Acceptances: 6
  • Publications: 3
  • Submission Withdrawal: 0

This averages out to about 5 submissions per month, which is far less than I’d hoped to send. Six acceptances is certainly nice for a three-month span, and the number of rejections is about what I’d expect (though I did experience a 32-day stretch of no rejections). I’m sitting on 66 submissions as I write this, which means I need roughly 11 submissions for the next three months to hit my goal. That might be tough, but we’ll give it the ol’ college try and see what happens.

Rejections

Ten rejections for this period.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 8
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 2

Mostly your standard form rejections of late, though the two personal rejections provided good feedback. I’ll go over some of that feedback below.

Spotlight Rejection

This is a rejection for a flash fiction story that I think perfectly illustrates where some flash stories (including mine, obviously) go wrong.

We found the premise interesting and liked the characterization a lot. However, we there’s a lot more to this story that we’re not seeing. There’s so much action that is going to happen after the story ends it feels like we’re being cut off before we get to the good stuff. (The good stuff in this case being children getting turned into snacks lol,) And for Anton the driving motivation is never shown in scene- the bullying happens before the story starts – which made his emotions seem a bit remote to me. This makes the story read more like a part of a larger whole than like a complete story on its own. 

This feedback points out a common flaw in a lot of flash fiction. Essentially, we’re getting the middle of a longer tale. Therefore, the story is ultimately unsatisfying because it ends before we get to the good stuff. You can fall in love with a premise or characterization–as I did here–and not see the forest for the trees. So based on this feedback (which is spot-on), I’ll revise this story, make it longer, and write that first and third acts.

Acceptances

Six acceptances in the last four months: three flash fiction acceptances and three microfiction acceptances. Not too bad. I’m getting to the point where I have enough flash fiction publications to put together a respectable anthology. I should really do that one of these days. 🙂

Publications

I had a fair amount of publications in the last three months as stories accepted as far back as last year are finally getting published alongside more recent acceptances. The first three are free to read, and the last one is chapbook for sale by the publisher.

“The Thing That Came With the Storm” published by the Molotov Cocktail

“The Grove” published by The Molotov Cocktail

“Ditchers” published by Aphotic Realm

A Point of Honor published by Radix Media

The United States has instituted archaic dueling codes overseen by a government agency called the Bureau of Honorable Affairs. Victims of slander and libel, among other crimes, can force their tormentors to face them in state-sanctioned combat. Jacob Mayweather is challenged to a duel by a man he has never met. The accusation is for a considerable crime, and Jacob must choose whether he will fight or be blacklisted as a duel dodger.

 

 


And that was my, uh, third quarter. Tell me about yours.

Weeks of Writing: 9/9/19 to 9/22/19

A couple weeks of writing and whatnot to report.

Words to Write By

One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, recently had a birthday, so today’s quote is one of his.

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

― Stephen King

I can certainly relate to this having just finished a novel. While you’re writing it’s all details, details, details, and it’s pretty easy to lose the big picture narrative if you’re not careful. In each revision–I did four–I tried to step further back and see if all the little detailed pieces I wrote made up a cohesive whole. I think I got a better picture of the forest, so to speak, with each revision, and the book felt more finished with each one. So, here’s hoping I could see that forest despite all the trees I kept planting to block my view. 🙂

The Novel

No much to report here. The manuscript is with my agent, and I don’t expect to hear back for a bit. I know this part of the process is not quick, and I need to be patient. Luckily, I have plenty of other project to fill my time, including a novella I owe Privateer Press and a little self-publishing project I’ll share in the near future.

Short Stories

I’ve been better with submissions over the last couple of weeks, but I still need to pick up the pace.

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

Five subs in two weeks is solid, and I’ll have more going out this week. That five puts me at 62 for the year, which is still off my pace for 100. Gonna have to bring it in the last three months if I want to hit that goal. Here’s a weird thing–I haven’t received a rejection in over a month. I feel like that dam is about to burst any minute.

The Blog

I blogged a bit more over the last couple weeks. Here are the highlights.

9/18/19: Submissions: The Genre Wasteland

In this post I talk about the dearth of markets for genres outside of my usual literary stomping grounds.

9/20/19: Submission Strategy: Ranking Response Times

Here I discuss a submission strategy based around how quickly (or slowly) a publisher might respond.

Goals

The big goal is to get at least halfway on the first draft of the Privateer Press novella, about 10,000 words. After that, it’s all about the submissions, and I’d like to get another five for the month.


That was my week(s). How was/were yours?