When Standard Manuscript Format isn’t Standard

  1. Writer writes story.
  2. Writer submits story to market.
    1. Market requires submissions in Standard Manuscript Format.
    2. Market requires submissions as DOC or RTF.
This narrative plays itself out every day. But it’s a problem for users like me that don’t rely on Microsoft tools. I get notes back from editors kindly mentioning that the story didn’t meet the SMF requirements.
I use NeoOffice on Mac. Arranging a document into SMF is not technically challenging: set a 12 pt Courier font, paragraph styles for 0.5 inch indent and double spacing, and headers on all-but-first-page. It looks great here, but I have no way of knowing what it looks like on the editor’s screen. Ongoing experiments with friends running Word + Windows are showing initially discouraging results.
Before I go off on a ranting tangent, I should clearly state my nigh-axiomatic proposition on this: IF a market requires you to scrawl your manuscript in crayon on stretched vellum AND you care about getting accepted by that market THEN you should do whatever the guidelines for that market state. QED.
The problem is, I fear that this proposition may be undecidable for those not running Microsoft software. So let me ask my approximately 7 readers: are any of you using non Microsoft software to write, and if so, how do you deal with this?
I have a few gentle queries out to editors/slush readers. I’ll report back on responses.
P.S. From what I’ve heard, Microsoft Word for Mac isn’t much better.


  1. Reader #8 reporting for duty!

    I *think* Scrivener for Mac might actually produce DOC that works well in Word. So then your workflow would be NeoOffice -> dump to some format Scrivener can import -> manually fix up some stuff -> export to DOC.

    Another option would be import to Google Docs, Zoho Writer, or heck, Microsoft Office-in-the-Cloud and see if you can get an RTF or DOC that works.

    Beyond that, the situation for writers who don’t use Word and who need to produce SFFMS is grim. I guess you can submit to markets who still take paper submissions?

  2. I was running an ancient pre-Intel copy of MS Office; it was PPC, so when I upgraded to Lion, it stopped working.

    I only use MS Word for Peachpit / Pearson books. I don’t use it for anything else. But the track changes are crucial, and all the publishers internal tools/workflow are dependent on MS Word. Track changes, despite what many will tell you, doesn’t work all the well in Pages, or Office Libre or . . . or . . . . or.

    But for straight submissions, when they won’t take HTML, I send them RTF from Bean (http://www.bean-osx.com/Bean.html). It’s vanilla .rtf.

    It is the most vanilla .rtf I’ve ever seen. It’s even cleaner than the .RTF from TextEdit–which, btw, saves as .doc pretty well; I’ve had good luck using it and saving as .doc or .docx for non-footnote mss. (Foot notes do odd things, and it’s not predictable).

    Bean works with MS Word versions after 1997, Mac or Windows, Mariner Write, Word Perfect 8 and later, Nisus Writer Express and Pro, Mellel, InDesign, Framemaker, and Quark Express.

    Two catches: First, use one of the Microsoft fonts, second, don’t use high or extended ASCII characters.

  3. 1. I use markdown for first drafts, then Scrivener when I get close to a final.

    2. I generate DOC files from Scrivener.

    3. I use subversion for version control, and I use Scrivener because it’s SVN-compatible (though not as happy-compatible as Markdown, which is why I use that for initial drafts).

    I haven’t owned Office since, well, PPC, and I gave up Rosetta when I upgraded to Snow Leopard. If I need an Office-compatible document, iWork does just fine for me.

  4. Have you tried OpenOffice? I don’t use it myself, but I’ve gotten track changes back from a user before and there was no problem with that at least.

Micah Joel

Purveyor of things geeky