Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Submission Slogging

Warning: Educational post bordering on a rant. No kitty pictures in this one.

I've been on a committee to read submissions—lots of submissions—for an anthology that my writer group is putting together. First the submitters had to send in hard copies. The three of us on the selection committee would read the hard copies, select the works we wanted to include, and then notify authors to send in electronic copies of the works we had chosen. That would be simple enough, right?

Some—not all—of the anthology slush.

While some submissions were a joy to read, and some would be a joy if a few glitches were fixed, others—well, the English teacher that I once was would be turning over in my grave if I were dead. (Since I'm still alive, the English teacher I once was is seriously missing my red pen.)

The selection committee had established some submission guidelines to ensure that submissions were uniform and easy to read. These were basic manuscript format and weren't difficult, but some entrants had problems with a few of our requirements. For instance, we asked that all entries be in Times New Roman 12—a font and size that's easy to read and which is available on just about any computer. Having all entries the same font and size would make it easier for the selection committee to determine how much space an entry will take up in relation to other entries.

Many entries were indeed in Times New Roman 12. Some entrants, alas, were a bit more creative in their choice. A few used Helvetica or other sans serif fonts. (Fortunately no one used Comic Sans or Papyrus.) Well, it's easy enough to change the font/size, but the fiction entry submitted in all capital letters will have to be retyped.

 We asked that the hard copies of essays and stories be double-spaced and poetry be single spaced. Double-spacing isn't difficult, but a few prose entries were nonetheless single-spaced. And a few poems were double-spaced. Spacing is fairly easy to fix, though.

A little trickier to fix is the use of two spaces after end punctuation. Those of us old enough to remember typing class know that on a typewriter (remember those things?) you did indeed put two spaces after a period. But you DON'T DO THIS when you're using a computer. Putting more than one space anywhere in a manuscript leads to real problems when the text is justified. Those extra spaces look like big holes in justified text.

Apparently several submitters were still trying to use a computer as if it were a typewriter.

When you're word-processing, no mark of punctuation has more than one space after it. Some (dashes, hyphens) don't have any spaces before or after them. Em dashes (—), en dashes (–) and hyphens (-) are not interchangeable. Using two hyphens (--) to make a dash is typing, not word-processing. 

We'd also asked that prose be indented to the fourth character space. Many submitters hit the tab key instead. Others apparently hit the space bar four times. A paragraph indent is not a tab. Don't hit the spacebar four times to get to the 4th character spaces. (Several did this!) Set indents in the ruler. This link will tell you about indents.

Using the "show invisibles" feature in Word, I could easily see all the times the space bar had been hit Here's an picture with no indent set:

And here's one with the indent set to the fifth character space:

Speaking of indents, don't put an extra space between paragraphs if you're indenting. That's overkill. Pick one or the other in your manuscript. Since we really didn't want all those extra spaces in the book, we just wanted paragraphs to be indented. (Yes, those spaces between paragraphs look nice in a business letter—but not in a manuscript.)

We wanted all poems flush left to make printing set-up easier. But several folks hit the space bar several times to get the lines where they wanted them on an 8.5 by 11 page. The book page, however, will be a smaller size than 8.5 by 11, so a poem won't occupy quite the same space. If we ever do the anthology as an e-book, poems that are "creatively" spaced will be a real headache.

When submitters were notified to send in electronic copies, things got , er, creative. We'd asked that submissions be saved as a doc. Not docx. Not rtf. Not a zip file. The elderly version of Word on my Mac doesn't recognize a docx. and thus can't open it. However, Pages—the Mac word-processing software—will open a docx. and then convert it to Pages. Then I  do a "save as" from Pages to a Word doc. Does Pages change anything in the original? Maybe, but I don't have any way to be sure. Some ended up pasting their submission in the body of a document, so that had to be pasted into Word, etc.

In the guidelines, we asked for a bio of 50 to 75 words. We probably should have made it clear that we wanted the bio written in complete sentences. But most people got it right.

Anyhow, I'm been slogging through the electronic copies for a couple of weeks now. The slogging has made me realize that I never want to serve on a selection committee again.

And I miss that red pen I used when I graded student compositions.



Blogger CountryDew said...

Things like that are hard. Judging any kind of work takes much longer than people who have never done it realize. I have judged a few things in my time and it is always a bear. Congratulations on doing it, though. Good luck with your task.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Sally Roseveare said...

It really has been a mess, hasn't it? Please remind me how much work it is if I ever consider being on a selection committee again.

8:00 PM  

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