It pains me to say this, but writers don't read. There are times when I don't either, but especially in the winter months, January and February, when submissions open for the new Crime Spell Books anthology, I'm reminded that writers don't read guidelines. Maybe they do, and just don't follow them. Either way, I'm confronted with stories that will require extra effort before I can settle down and enjoy them. Hence the topic of this post: manuscript preparation.
The author is expected to put his/her name at the top of the page, either left or right hand side, with home address, email, and telephone. And yes, the word length. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But many writers just send us the same story they've prepared for the Al Blanchard Award contest, which requires there be no personal information on the ms. We get the story right after it's submitted to the Al Award committee. We should be flattered, but we're not. We want the personal information. If it's not there, we have to pull the email address from the email inbox, and then hope we never need the snail mail address or telephone number. You will never get a phone call when we tell you we love love love the story but could we talk about page 9?
On to paragraphing. Did you notice how I chose to paragraph this page? With single-line spacing, the additional line between paragraphs is quite noticeable. But even with double-spaced lines, an additional line would clearly indicate a new paragraph. Don't do this. Please, don't do this. It's wrong. It is not standard text set-up and it requires the editor, me, who by now is not your friend, to redo the set-up. Learn to use the paragraph function on your computer, and set the first line to 0.5. It will then correctly indent each paragraph automatically, like the following paragraphs. And the spacing will also be correct because you have also changed the spacing from single to double.
If there is a break in the text, center a hashtag or three asterisks in the center of that line, and begin a new paragraph on the next line. It's easy. (But not on this website, which won't allow me to have two different kinds of paragraphing.)
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The same is true for margins. Set the margins at one inch, top, bottom, and both sides. It looks clean and tidy, and leaves room for notes, comments, or a simple checkmark indicating that the reader likes something here enough to mark it. And you do want the editor to make complimentary notes so leave adequate margins. All these functions—paragraph indent, line spacing, and margins—are located on the same page if you go to Format/Paragraph.
Include page numbers. I like them at the top on the right, though you can put the page number at the bottom. Standard formatting places them at the top right-hand corner in the header, beginning on the second page, along with your last name and a brief title, but they can also be on the left. Don't put them in the center or at the foot.
Last, and definitely still important despite its placement, never ever switch fonts for any reason. Use a standard font, preferably Times New Roman, 12 pt, and stick with it through the whole story. I'm going to have to change it anyway, but the reason for choosing Times is the ease of reading hundreds of pages. Your choice of font may not be to my liking, and I don't want to have to change it before I start reading. So, please, stick to Times 12 pt, or another standard such as Garamond, and this editor will thank you.
And when you're done, say so; otherwise, if you have any kind of unsettled ending, the editor might wonder if a page is missing. Harry may get away with murder, but be condemned to guilty misery forever among his family members. If that's the ending, let us know.
Craftsmanship in All Things
January 11, 2024
I've been thinking a lot about craftsmanship lately, about the little things done well that we may not notice but that enhance our lives. We can walk through out day so fixated on the important stuff of our lives that we miss the best part of what's around us. My father once took me and my brothers up into the attic to show us something—a chimney.
In the house we grew up in, a wing had been added with fireplaces that faced south instead of west. If the chimney had gone straight up, the section above the roof line would have been out of alignment with the others in the front of the house. But the mason was a master craftsman and had turned the chimney, course by course, until it faced west, lining up perfectly with the others in the front of the house. Dad wanted us to see this carefully done but unseen workmanship, and appreciate it.
On my walk this morning I came across another example of this, a different kind of care. I've often posted about the sense of humor and community that my neighbors, mostly unknown to me, exhibit, and this morning I found another one—a little house tacked onto a tree, or at least the suggestion of one.
If I start thinking that art and craftsmanship are to be found only in hardcover books with esoteric titles, or artwork hanging in a museum, these experiences remind me that I'm losing touch with the wealth of creativity and good-heartedness that exists everywhere, and is responsible for the quality of my life, whether I'm aware of it or not.
When I go out on my daily walk, usually in the morning, that's what I look for, that's what I hope to find—something that is the expression of an interior life that loves quality, humor, storytelling, or the like. It gives me a little thrill (Okay, I'm easily thrilled), and I walk on wondering who has the delightful imagination, who's willing to take the time to make a tree trunk into a little house, who cares enough to entertain strangers walking by?
This kind of craftsmanship shows up in writing also, though, we writers hope, less obviously. It shows in the way a story is opened, characters are described, little details chosen to define a moment. It shows in the passage that is okay, that no reader has complained about or noticed, but in our writer hearts we know it just isn't right. So we hold that paragraph, or that scene, and we wait for the answer to bubble up from the unconscious so that we can fix it, whatever it is. And when we see that is awry among the words, we appalled that we didn't notice it earlier but relieved that we did before we sent the ms off as "good enough." For some of us, there's no such thing as "good enough."
Care in our work in unseen places is the true test of what we do and who we are.