Fiction Submission Guidelines:
Submission Formatting Details

Last updated: 31 December, 2004

Step-by-Step Formatting Procedure

These steps are intended for use with recent versions of Microsoft Word, which is by far the most commonly used word processor. For other word processors, and older versions of Word, you may have to slightly adapt the steps.

These steps may look complicated, but they don't take long to complete once you get the hang of them. None of them are arbitrary; the goal of all of them is to make it easier for us to read your submission.

Note: If you find yourself doing some tedious task (like replacing quotation marks) by hand, or if it's taking more than fifteen or twenty minutes to follow any one of these steps, please drop us a note (with a subject line beginning with "QUERY:") to ask for help. We don't want you to spend a long time formatting your story for us; we can probably help if you have questions or run into problems.

Convert a copy of your story to plain (ASCII) text

Keep the original version of your story, and work with a copy of it, so that you'll preserve the original formatting in the original file.

You'll have to convert your story to plain text before sending it to us. If you send us a story that contains non-plain-text characters (such as curved or slanted quotation marks), those characters show up as random garbage characters on our computers.

Here's how to convert to plain text:

  1. On your desktop (or in Windows Explorer or in the Finder), make a copy of the file containing your story.
  2. Open the copy of your document in Microsoft Word or other word processor.
  3. Delete all of the information at the top of the story (above the title), such as name and address, that you would normally use for a hardcopy submission.
  4. Select the entire document (Edit > Select All) and change the font to Courier or Times or another font in which curved or slanted quotation marks are visible as such. (In some fonts, such as Arial, curved quotation marks look the same as straight up-and-down ones.)
  5. If your word processor has an option called "Smart Quotes" or "Smart Quotation Marks," turn off that option (see your word processor's help system for instructions).
  6. Convert curved quotation marks to straight up-and-down ones. Here's how:
    1. Choose Edit > Replace.
    2. In the Find what text box, type a curly opening quotation mark. In Windows, press and release Num Lock, hold down the Alt key, and type 0147, then release the Alt key, then press and release Num Lock again. Other curved quotation-mark characters are 0145, 0146, and 0148. On the Macintosh, use Option+[, Shift+Option+[, Option+], and Shift+Option+].
    3. In the Replace with text box, type a straight up-and-down quotation mark. (If you can't do this, then Cancel out of this dialog box and turn off the Smart Quotes option in your word processor, then repeat this procedure.)
    4. Click Replace All.
  7. When Word finishes replacing the curved opening quotation marks, repeat that procedure with a curved closing quotation mark.
  8. Now repeat with a curved apostrophe, replacing it with a straight up-and-down apostrophe.
  9. If you use single-quotes anywhere in the story, repeat again with a curved opening single-quote mark.
  10. Replace all occurrences of the em dash character (the long dash) with "--" (two consecutive hyphens) (without quotation marks). Don't replace single hyphens with double hyphens; just replaces dashes with double hyphens. (Note: A dash is not the same thing as a hyphen; if you're not sure what the difference is, look up "dash" and "hyphen" in your dictionary. If you're in the habit of using a single hyphen as a dash, you should stop doing that; it's incorrect.)
  11. Replace all occurrences of the ellipsis character (which looks like three periods) with "..." (three periods) (no quotation marks). (Note: by default, Microsoft Word on Windows computers changes "..." to the ellipsis character, which comes out looking like a Greek capital sigma on our computers. So make sure that your dot-dot-dots are three characters, not just one. You can turn off that option in Word if you want to avoid this step in the future.)
  12. Change italics and underlined text to plain text surrounded by underscores. Here's how:
    1. Choose Edit > Replace.
    2. If there's any text inside the Find what text box, delete that text.
    3. Click the expander arrow in the Find and Replace dialog box if necessary to view the extra options.
    4. In the Format option, choose Font.
    5. In the Find Font dialog box, under Font style, choose Italic or Underline (depending on whether you used italics or underlining when you wrote the story).
    6. Click OK.
    7. In the Replace with text box, enter "_^&_" (underscore, caret, ampersand, underscore) (without quotation marks).
    8. Click Replace All.
    All previously italicized or underlined text should now have underscores around it.
  13. Repeat the above process to change boldface terms so they're surrounded by asterisks. (Use "*^&*" in the Replace with text box.) Note that in most cases, we prefer to use italics rather than boldface in stories, but there may be situations in which bold is appropriate.
  14. If you use something other than "#" to indicate a scene break, choose Edit > Replace and change all occurrences of "* * *" (or whatever you use for scene breaks) to "#" (without quotation marks).
  15. Choose File > Save As. In the Save As dialog box, choose "Text Only" or "Plain Text" from the Format option or the Save As Type option. (Don't choose "Text Only with Line Breaks".) Enter a name for the file, ending with ".txt" (without quotation marks). Click Save or Yes or OK or other similar confirmation button.
  16. If a dialog box appears that lets you set options, make sure that the "Insert line breaks" option is turned off.
  17. A warning may appear, telling you that the document may contain formatting which will be lost when you save in Text Only format. That's fine.
  18. Click Yes or OK or Save to proceed with saving the document as text.
  19. Close your document.
  20. Open the new text file you just saved, using Word. (There are two ways to do this in Windows: you can either start Word and then choose File > Open; or you can right-click the text file and choose Open With > Choose Program, then choose Microsoft Word.) The file will probably look different than it looked when you saved it. Don't open the file using Notepad or other plain-text editor; if you do that, the rest of these instructions won't work.
  21. Add blank lines between paragraphs, so that we'll be able to tell where paragraphs begin and end. To do this in Word:
    1. Choose Edit > Replace.
    2. Find "^p" (first type a caret character, then type the letter P) (no quotation marks), and replace it with "^p^p".
    Other word processors may provide other methods of replacing a single line break with two line breaks. If you run into trouble here, drop us a note (with a subject line beginning with "QUERY:").
  22. Choose Edit > Select All to select the entire text of the story.
  23. Choose Edit > Copy to copy the entire text of the story.

Create and format an email message

  1. Open your email program (such as Outlook, Eudora, AOL, or Netscape Mail).
  2. If your email software sends messages in HTML format rather than plain text, turn off the HTML option.
  3. If your email software automatically wraps lines (inserts a line break at the end of every line of text), then set the wrapping width to 75 characters/columns or fewer to make it more readable for us. (If your software doesn't wrap lines, ignore this step.)
  4. Create a new, blank email message.
  5. On the "To" line, type "" (without quotation marks).
  6. On the subject line, type "FICTION SUB: " (with a colon and a space at the end, but without quotation marks) and then the title of your story. Don't use quotation marks around the title (unless they're really part of the title), and don't put the title in all-caps. Also, don't put anything else on the Subject line. Just "FICTION SUB: " and the title of your story. See the formatting example for an example.
  7. It doesn't matter what font your email software uses; there is no font associated with a plain text message. If you send using plain text, we'll see the story in our preferred fonts in our own email software.
  8. At the very top of the body of your message, provide the following information (see the formatting example for an example):

    Your name
    Name to use on the story (byline), if different
    Your preferred email address
    The story's title
    The story's word count, rounded up to the next highest 100 words

  9. Type a cover letter. (Optional.) See the formatting example for an example. The cover letter should be brief if you include one at all; a cover letter is usually necessary only if you have relevant credits to briefly mention. See the SFWA FAQ for more information about what to include in a cover letter. In your cover letter (and your submission), use plain black text. Do not use boldface or italic text, and do not use colored text.
  10. After the cover letter, press Enter or Return a few times to create a few blank lines.

Paste the plain-text story into the email message

  1. Choose Edit > Paste to paste the text of your story into the body of the email.
  2. Look through the story to make sure that it's formatted correctly and that the entire story appears in the email.
  3. At the end of the story, type END on a line by itself.

Email the story to us

  1. Send the message to
  2. Watch for an autoresponse message in return. If you don't receive an autoreply within three days of submission, send a query. Autoresponses generally go out within a few hours; three days is the absolute maximum time an autoresponse should take, so please don't wait more than three days to query if you don't receive an autoresponse.

The entire process generally takes under ten minutes after you get used to it.

(Thanks to Woody Carsky-Wilson for providing an early version of the above steps.)

Return to main fiction guidelines page.