Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Input From Editors ...

A prior post delved into submission formats for magazines, print and electronic. Steve Bucheit and I wondered why we didn't ever see Adobe's portable document format, or PDF, ever listed as an option.

Last week I read the February issue of Wired which reviewed a blog called Brass Goggles which linked to a new magazine called The Willows which accepts submissions formatted as PDF files. Happy coincidences.

I contacted the editor to ask why. His response was that he liked the PDF format as a writer and decided to list it as an option for his magazine.

That got me wondering the other side, why not PDF? So I started querying editors (a non-random selection) with an informal survey (very non-scientific) asking about their experiences and preferences. I received four responses. Here is a summary*:

  1. Placing text in the body of the e-mail screws up the formatting, from half the time to almost all the time. One editor who only allows this method thought writers could be better aware of formatting tools within e-mail software to fix this problem.

  2. 3 of 4 have not had problems with viruses in attached files as anti-virus software is pretty good at scanning attachments (the 4th has had problems and switched to the text-in-email method exclusively).

  3. Editors like having submissions in formats they can edit.

  4. Editors list submission formats which they can integrate into their publishing process/procedures.

Some concerns were raised about PDF files:

  1. PDF files are larger than plain text/.RTF. This can be a concern if editor has limitations on e-mail storage space.

  2. PDF files can't be edited directly.

  3. PDF format doesn't gain anything for writer/editor

My intent was to gather information, and understand the world of editors better since I don't live there. It was not to challenge individual editors to justify what they ask for or necessarily convince them to include the PDF format for submissions. However, I will say that there is some frustration for both professions.

- Writers who conduct themselves in a professional manner, can still be forced to spend a lot of time re-formatting a single story when the story is rejected and then submitted to other publications.

- Editors who try to be flexible with their guidelines, still receive a large number of poorly formatted submissions from, let us say, amateur writers.

So is PDF a middle ground? Not sure. Some of the concerns above require a little more research. I will say that, having sent out what I considered to be polite, professional inquiries, I received back considerate, well thought out, responses. As professionals, writers and editors can be partners in the process of change.

*I sent messages saying it was an informal survey. One editor volunteered to allow publication of his comments. Which made me realize I didn't ask anyone permission to quote them. To stay on the safe side, everything is summarized, no links to publications. I'll notify those who were very considerate with their time and responses that the post is up. If they want to add anything, they are, of course, welcome to do so.


Blogger Steve Buchheit said...

Cool. I have to say that I just love PDFs. I understand, if the editor is going to make changes to a document while they're reading to see if they'll accept the story that they wouldn't want to use PDF and the memo function (although from the graphic design side of my day job we do this all the time). I guess I would hope that such changes would be collaborative, not imposed (to any editors reading this, I'm open to changes, I'm not one of those writers who believe their excrement don't stink, but please ask me before we go to final).

I don't mind sending electronic files, even if I would be accepted from a market than only takes hard copy submissions. Not having to re-key the text is an amazing time saver (although I can see many errors being caught by re-keying text). I guess I look at it from my design side, that if I have to keep reformatting my submission for each market, and those markets don't pay very much, the return of just the work of reformating doesn't match my price per hour for design work (which reformatting feels very close to). It would certainly help if there was consistancy for electronic submissions, I think PDF could be that form.

March 22, 2007 at 7:43 AM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

"I guess I look at it from my design side, that if I have to keep reformatting my submission for each market, and those markets don't pay very much, the return of just the work of reformating doesn't match my price per hour for design work (which reformatting feels very close to)."

Yes. You phrased that well, better than I could in the post. You must be a writer. ;-)

March 22, 2007 at 11:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow! My magazine is (indirectly) linked from Wired!

That explains why I suddenly got over 1,000 hits at the beginning of the week.

March 22, 2007 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...


I was at least a couple of those hits, though I think I found you through

I found Literacity a couple days ago and bookmarked it. Very enjoyable; looking forward to more good stuff.


This post has made me even more anxious about my lack of computer skills in general.

March 22, 2007 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Johanson said...

If a writer doesn't want to reformat their story every time they send it out, they could just send to those publishers that allow the format that the writer likes best.

If enough writers only send to the publishers that accept that certain type of formatting, then the publishers that don’t accept that type of formatting will either start accepting that format or go out of business.

Of course if writers are as diverse in what they like as publishers are diverse in what they like to receive, we probably won’t see much change.

March 22, 2007 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Ms. Johanson:

Thank you again for your input and the additional figures you provided. You've been very generous with your time.

Certainly there is a diversity of favorite writing tools on both sides of the fence. And there are a lot of markets right now for writers of SF/F/H.

I like the market-based approach. Given what I know now, I don't think I would submit a story to a publication if the only method was in the body of an e-mail. I might be able to format it well, but, as Steve said, it might not be worth the effort. And I wouldn't want to present the story in anything but a professional manner.

March 22, 2007 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

LBB: Well, there is always paper. ;-) And that's the only thing the big three U.S. print magazines will accept.

Poseidon: Glad to have helped bring that to light.

March 22, 2007 at 5:40 PM  
Blogger My Sister's Garden said...

Hmmm... I'm surprised that any editor says they don't like pdfs because they can't be edited. Not true... Adobe Acrobat does the job just fine. I use it almost every working day.

March 22, 2007 at 8:20 PM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...


Most anthologies and almost all agents I've seen lately are all e-sub only.

March 22, 2007 at 10:51 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

LBB: Agents as well? That is surprising. I thought they pretty much operated on the "paper shows commitment" philosophy. I guess not.

Chris: To a certain extent I can sympathize with the editors I communicated with. Once you have a process, expecially an automated one, that works, there's not much incentive to change it.

The status quo is pretty much writers doing what the magazine editors are asking. To throw PDF's into the mix helps the writer some and requires a greater degree of change from the editor.

I think most editors show flexibility by offering a few formats. My impression is most would even accept other formats (and maybe even PDF's) on an exception basis if the writer asked nicely. Oh, and had a really good story. ;-)

March 23, 2007 at 1:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do these two myths persist?

1. PDF files are bigger

.PDF a MSWord document and see for yourself that this is just not true. PDF has a built in compression routine. I have to go into the settings and force Acrobat to scan at an ungodly rate before a .PDF gets larger than the original doc file.

2. PDFs can't be edited.

OF COURSE they can! It isn't as cool or intuitive as Word, but you can edit .PDFs through the Tools > Advanced Tools > Touch up function.

March 26, 2007 at 6:27 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Hi Dwight,
(linking as the above doesn't seem to work).

I tested #1 a few days back and would concur, though the difference seemed rather small. Just tried a quick format on my novel manuscript (which I ought to be editing, but this is more important) and got these results:

.doc = 503k
.pdf = 581k
.rtf = 500k
.txt = 333k

I'm guessing word passed something fancy to pdf to inflate it. Still, not a whole lot in an age of free 1gig mailboxes.

On the second point, editing would require the full Adobe software package, not just reader, correct?

March 26, 2007 at 9:16 PM  

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