Although it may sound petty, one of the biggest obstacles a writer has to getting published is following the rules. A great story may go entirely unnoticed because the author refuses to play the game the way a publisher insists it must be played.

Back when I used to submit my writing constantly, I prepared all my stories in standard manuscript format. This made it easy to adjust my submissions as needed. Very rarely would guidelines require something outside of this format. After all, it is the standard: appropriate contact information, normal font and spacing, very readable format. Most publishers happily accept the standard (of course, whether or not they’ll accept the story is a different tale).

Eventually, I became lazy and just typed my stories in whatever fashion I wanted. I wasn’t submitting as much at the time, so I then had to reformat my stories after I was finished. Still, it didn’t take much additional time or effort on my part.

Occasionally, a publisher would ask for something really strange and demanding. Some odd format that would probably take a half-hour or more to create. Whenever I stumbled upon something like this, I didn’t submit. I’m sure that was their goal. Weed out those who weren’t really interested in getting published.

No matter what the publisher wanted, I would never waste my time submitting an improperly formatted submission. If I didn’t plan to follow the rules, then I would walk away from the game. There were always plenty of other opportunities.

At Bartleby Snopes, we keep formatting simple. We want you to double-space your stories. That’s it. However else you choose to format things is fine. While we certainly don’t prefer Comic Sans or pink font color, we won’t reject these submissions immediately. But you’d probably be better off using a more standard format.

What’s that? Your manuscript isn’t double-spaced but you want to submit anyway? Great. Select all your text and hit Ctrl+2. Wow. Now it’s double-spaced. Less than a minute of extra work for you.

Even though we aren’t very demanding in terms of formatting, we still get an unusually high volume of submissions that ignore our guidelines. Some months, 5-10% of our submissions aren’t double-spaced. All of these submissions are flagged as “Does Not Follow Guidelines” and then rejected immediately, usually without being read (occasionally a story will grab our attention and we’ll strain our eyes before giving up and rejecting it). However, since we are somewhat nice, we almost always include a note asking the submitter to follow our guidelines and resubmit.

Yes, we believe in second chances. Most of the time.

Perhaps we seem like jerks for wanting you to follow our rules, but we don’t think so. We have to go through hundreds of stories per month. We need to have some rules, right?

Some people might say, “But you publish stories single-spaced. Can’t I just save you the time?”

That’s so sweet of you. But it doesn’t save us time. It hurts our eyes. Trying to read all of these single-spaced submissions causes our heads to spin. We get nauseous and then your stories make us want to throw up. No one wins when this happens.

Furthermore, our “single-spaced” stories don’t put as much strain on the eyes as a Word document. The combination of line-height and column-width on our website helps with readability.

No, please don’t try to submit your stories in our “publication format.” We want to read your stories in an editable format, and then transfer them into our preferred presentation.

Still not convinced? Fine. Go ahead and send your single-spaced manuscripts to major publishers and agents. See how many book deals you land.

Nathaniel Tower

Nathaniel Tower is the founding and managing editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. Find out more about Nathaniel at nathanieltower.com.

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