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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

Ask the Book Doctor: About E-mail Submissions, Standard Manuscript Format, Using the Names of Periodicals, and What Does Device-y mean?

Q: Are literary magazines now accepting short stories by e-mail (Word documents)?

A: In general, more periodicals than ever prefer electronic (e-mailed) queries and submissions, but before making any assumptions, always check the submission guidelines for the magazine you want to approach.

Q: How do you format Microsoft Word 2003 or 2007 to achieve twenty-five lines per page?

A: The guideline for standard manuscript format is twenty-three to twenty-five lines per page, and once you set Word for twelve-point Courier type, double-spaced, it automatically comes out to fit between twenty-three and twenty-five lines per page. To ensure it is double-spaced and not one-and-a-half spaced, go to the bar at the top of the page that shows the heavy B symbol for Bold and the italics letter I for italics, and look across until you see a series of lines with one arrow that points up and one arrow that points down. That is the line-spacing window. Open the line-spacing window by clicking on it, and check 2.0 for double spacing.

As an alternate, in some programs you can pull down Format, go to Paragraph, and put in 25-pt. spacing in the line-spacing window and you’ll get twenty-five lines per page.

If the manuscript is already typed, you can change the whole manuscript by first selecting all (either go to Edit and move down to Select All or hold down the Ctrl key and press the A key). When the whole document is highlighted, then go to the line-spacing option and change it to 2.0. Other fonts and other point sizes may not create the standard twenty-three to twenty-five lines a page, which is why Standard Manuscript Format calls for twelve-point Courier type, double-spaced, with margins of at least an inch on all sides. The margins usually fit that format automatically as well, unless you change them yourself.

Q: I’m working on a romance about a pair of movie stars and want to tell parts of the story through media blurbs, news stories, tabloid excerpts, etc. Is the use of names of actual publications permissible? Do I have to make up my own media world?

A: I’m not an attorney, but put yourself in the place of the owners of those periodicals. If you owned a publication and someone simply mentioned the title of your publication, it’s good publicity. If, however, someone falsely attributed information as having come from your periodical, it’s a sticky situation.

If someone attributed information to my own newsletter, The Writers Network News, and I had not put that information in my newsletter, I’d have a serious problem with the person who did it.

If I were you, I’d play it safe and create my own media world.

Q: I received a rejection from an acquisitions editor, and I am confused, because I don’t understand when she said, “It all felt a bit device-y to me and got in the way of my identifying with the characters.” I don’t know what she means by “device-y.” What the heck is that?

A: In literary terms, a device is something designed to create a particular effect, something planted within the story with the intention of evoking a particular response from readers. Contemporary writing focuses on showing a good story as it unfolds. It draws readers in with conflict, tension, strong characters, and a good story, instead of relying on embedded literary devices.

Some small devices that come to mind are uses of terms such as “suddenly,” “at that moment,” or “without warning,” in an attempt to build tension instead of creating tension by showing tension-filled events as they happen. Exclamation marks used incorrectly and strictly for emphasis can also be considered a device. Here’s an example of an exclamation mark used as a device: The trunk was open! On a larger scale, devices might be plot turns that have been used in well-known books or characters that are stereotypical and therefore not realistic or believable.

–Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at



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