February 22nd, 2011

your own built in Fail

I received a rejection today. Not because of the story's merits or lack thereof, but because it wasn't (in the eyes of the viewer) in standard manuscript format.

Oh wow, that was stupid of me for not sending it that way. Really, I mean. Except... I did.

What happened here is that they ask for documents in Microsoft Word. So I exported the story to Word, opened it up in Word and viewed the format. Everything looked fine except for the final line, which surprisingly had no indentation. So I selected the line of text and changed the style to match the remainder of the text. Perfect. I printed it to PDF format (where it looked perfect too) and then sent the Word file to the magazine through their e-submissions.

A few days later I opened the Word file to send a copy to a friend who wanted to read it. And found that suddenly all of the text was single-line spaced, unindented. Word strikes again.

So yeah, this is likely exactly what the reader at the magazine saw. Was this my fault? No. I did everything I could as a person to send that story in SMF. I have PDF output from Word demonstrating that it showed up correctly on my screen.

The fault is with the magazine. They requested a story formatted a particular style in a binary format for which the viewer is notorious for adjusting the formatting on the fly. This isn't the first time this has happened to me. I used to be required to maintain documentation in Microsoft Word format, and we found and documented for Microsoft more than 50 ways in which a perfectly normal document would consistently lose its formatting. Microsoft never fixed a single one of these bugs. That was Word 6, FYI -- yes, 18 years ago. It hasn't gotten any better since then. I received an unreadable word document at work last Monday from a co-worker. I walked to her desk and it looked perfect on her screen. At least 3 of these bugs I reported for Word 6 have been reported in recent bug reports for Microsoft Office 2010.

The only other submission format available was RTF, and this is impossible to control how it appears. I can open RTFs in dozens of programs... and it doesn't look the same in any of them. Not a single program will render an RTF file in the same way.

If the magazine is going to judge the writer based on the format in which they deliver the manuscript, then the magazine needs to allow submission in a format where the writer can guarantee that the document will appear to the reader as it did to the writer. PDF is the obvious choice, but there are a number of other solutions.

I, myself, will no longer submit to magazines which give me only Word and RTF as submission choices. Because I want to be reviewed based on the words, not based on the quality of software from Microsoft -- which is impossible for me to control.

Originally posted at http://jorhett.dreamwidth.org/7995.html. You can comment there using OpenID, or here if you prefer.
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