One thing I’ve picked up from acquiring editors and slush readers is that some view Standard Manuscript Format as a kind of IQ test. If a potential author can’t even follow simple, straightforward instructions, it’s easy and justified to simply toss out that submission and move on to the next.
I wholly support this notion. As one who attempts to meticulously follow directions like these (yes, even though I sometimes still screw things up) I’m all for filtering by degree of attention paid. It’s like Van Halen’s directive to remove all brown m&ms from the backstage area. He or she who cannot be bothered to follow small directions most likely has problems with bigger, more important things.
However, SMF by way of DOC or RTF is a poor candidate for this kind of vetting. As recent personal experience shows, these formats are not amenable to high-fidelity transmission, particularly when different kinds of software are involved. What the sender sees, in terms of fonts, spacing, alignment, margins, whether characters are in ALL CAPS OR NOT, and so on, can be different than what the receiver sees. To some extent, the formats themselves are to blame. For instance, did you know that there are ten different versions of RTF in circulation? Which ones do your word processor support? DOC format has other problems, for other reasons. In common practice, the uncertainty from the format swamps the obedience signal, and it’s often impossible to tell whether or not the sender did follow instructions.
What could be a possible solution to this problem? I have some ideas. Keep watching this space for more. Meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.