To double-space or not to double-space in the age of e-subs

Forgive me oh ye mighty editorial gods because I have sinned. I know the rules of proper manuscript formatting, as set in stone by your prophet William Shunn in the glorious days of snail-mail submissions. And I try to follow the rules. I really do. I've been an editor. I know proper manuscript formatting improves readability and editing.

But despite this knowledge, I sinned in recent years with double-spacing the lines in my manuscripts. It started innocently enough — I'd heard that with electronic submissions being read on computers and e-readers and iPads, double-spacing was no longer necessary. That editors actually preferred single-space. And my friends were single-spacing. So, regrettably, I lapsed into sin. I submitted to editors using single-space.

But my sinning days are over. Because despite double-spacing being born in the days of print submissions, most editors still prefer it over single-spacing. Below are comments from some of the SF/F genre's top short fiction editors confirming this belief. And even those who prefer single-spacing or don't care either way still want authors to actually read and follow their publications' manuscript guidelines!

So don't believe double-spacing is no longer part of proper manuscript formatting in the age of e-subs — it absolutely is. Don't be a submission sinner like me.

SF/F editors on double-spacing

The comments below also share insight into how the editors read submissions. This is all extremely inside-baseball, but maybe people will enjoy the discussion even if it doesn't veer into more controversial formatting issues like two spaces after a period.

John Joseph Adams, editor of Lightspeed Magazine and many anthologies

"I prefer single-spaced submissions, because I do read submissions exclusively on either my Kindle or my iPhone--and for me, single-spaced just works better for that. Our guidelines currently say that it's fine to just submit using standard manuscript format, with the exception that we actually prefer single-spaced submissions, but it's not a strictly enforced thing--we don't want to make folks jump through a lot of different particular hoops to submit to us, so we just note it as a preference. "

Maurice Broaddus, editor of anthologies such as Dark Faith and Streets of Shadows.

"I prefer double spaced submissions. It's easier on my eyes frankly. Then again, I tend to print stuff out and read hard copies for stuff that makes it past the easy reject stage. I consider it standard format, so it's usually written into the guidelines, but I'm not especially hard-nosed about (other than noting that the writer can't follow directions). It's all a couple button pushes away from me formatting it to the way I want to read it."

Jennifer Brozek, editor of anthologies such as Bless Your Mechanical Heart and Human for a Day.

"As an editor, I tend to prefer double-spaced manuscripts but I can read single. That particular formatting doesn't matter nearly as much to me as other formatting bits. It's so easy to switch between single and double-spaced, that it's a non-issue. Now, if we're talking tabbed indents versus paragraph formatting indents, I'm going to go with paragraph formatting indents 100%. Do you know how annoying it is to remove tabbed indents from a manuscript? Try doing that multiple times for an anthology."

Sean Wallace, editor of Clarkesworld and founder of Prime Books.

Sean says he prefers double spaced. He adds that "In most cases, with Clarkesworld or The Dark I read submissions from my desktop or laptop, because it's often quicker. For The Dark I use gmail's preview feature, which allows me to quickly peek at the contents, and then move it the considering pile or automatic rejection with a form letter. The default reply feature in our gmail account is a rejection, which speeds things up even faster."

Edmund Schubert, editor of InterGalactic Medicine Show.

"Regarding single vs double spaced, I greatly prefer double spaced, to the point of occasionally finding myself getting irritated when one shows up single spaced. I do all my reading either on my computer or as a printout, and double spaced makes for the easiest reading, especially if I like a story and want to start making notes."

Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov's Science Fiction

Sheila says to definitely follow Bill Shunn's advice. "I read most stories on my computer in word or it's equivalent. If I think there's a chance I might take the story, I edit as I go along. Manuscripts MUST be double spaced. I'm not going to take the time to convert the stories to double spacing at this point. It's true that I read some stories on the Kindle, but those are the ones that automatically reformat to single space, so there's no contradiction there. Also, any story I buy needs to be double spaced for copyediting. Much better to arrive already formatted properly than for us to have to redo the formatting. Later, we will use macros to convert to single spacing for formatting into Quark, but writers don't need to worry about that stage.  Tabbed indents are fine at Asimov's. Macros get rig of them automatically when the story is flowed into type."

Ann VanderMeer, editor of anthologies such as The Weird and former editor of Weird Tales.

"It really doesn't matter to me as I can change it if I wish.  And when I do make those kinds of changes before printing out a manuscript, I usually change the spacing to 1 1/2 lines (ha!  between single and double 'cause that's how I roll). It is only an issue when I get a PDF instead and can't edit it.  More important than the spacing is the font.  I need a clear readable font with serifs.  A san serif font will keep me from reading a book, too. (although that is rare, some smaller publishers haven't learned this rule yet)."