Tools of the trade – MS Word

There are certain tools of every trade. For the plumber, it’s his…um…plumby tools. Doctors have all kinds of toys as well. For the US writing industry our tools follow thusly:

  • You can put more than two coherent sentences together
  • You have a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style or some such writing book that weighs more than the beagle
  • You have an excellent command of the English language
  • And a whole lotta other writerly stuff
  • You have MS Word

Let me repeat that. You have MS Word.

I realize there are many people who hate Word as much as the beagle hates sobriety, but it is the industry standard. If I ask for pages, I always state up front that it needs to be a Word attachment. If you send me a file extension that my poor, exhausted computer can’t read, it just ups and dies on me. Well, ok, it doesn’t really die, but it does groan a lot.

If you write back to me and say that you don’t have Word, or worse, you simply send your attachment as a WordPad file, then I believe you’re ill prepared and undereductated about the industry. You’ve also left me without options. Is it my place to offer a solution, or is it your job to take that as a sign that, “gee, I better get Word, or get this thing converted to a .doc(x) extension.”

The reason is that most of us edit directly to the document. We insert comments and have the Track Changes feature turned on. I’m not a program expert, but I do know that programs exist that pick up the edits and Track Changes. Let’s just say that I don’t give a rip if you use a jar of mayonnaise and celery root to convert your files – just be sure they convert.

If I asked for a Word attachment, that means I don’t want a snail mail. I surely know what snail mail is, and if I want it that way, I’ll recommend it. But what a cranky, hungover editor wants is an author who will say, “Yah, I can do that,” rather than an author who expects me to accommodate them. Ain’t gonna happen.

I had an author tell me that he had Word but didn’t know how to use it – but his neighbor did. It took all my willpower not to shout, “Bully for your neighbor!” I know deep down that my mother would take issue with rudeness, so I bit my tongue ’til it bled. The author went on to say that his neighbor would be right there to help with inserting rewrites and edits should the author be lucky enough to score a contract.

I passed.

I know, sounds crudy of me, right? But from my standpoint, this is an unworkable situation. As any author can attest, the editing phase can be a rush-rush thing. There have been times when I was ready to go to print but came across a section that still bugged me. At that point I’ll fire off a “hurry up and change out this one passage” email. If my author has to wait for his neighbor to come back from buying dog food or worse, come back from vacation, then where does that put me?

If you want to be considered a professional, then you must behave like one. Be the good Girl/Boy Scout and be prepared. Make sure you have all your writerly tools in your tackle box because no one wants to be caught with their quills out of ink, yanno?

10 Responses to Tools of the trade – MS Word

  1. Emilie Karun says:

    I completely agree with this email but have a question. I am extremely proficient in MS Word but, by choice, use Google Docs and Open Office, both of which can be opened in MS Word. I assume something submitted that way would be acceptable? Am I correct? Thanks!

  2. As long as it is a .doc extension, you can use peanut butter and jelly as your word processor.

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    OpenOffice and the Mac OS X native version NeoOffice are both good alternatives if you can’t afford Word, too.

    (Oddly, though, neither runs as well as the ‘real’ version on my very ancient computer…but if I find when I replace it that Office won’t install I’ll likely switch to OO at that point).

    Another thing worth bringing up, however. If an editor asks for .rtf (a lot of short story editors prefer it), be careful. What Word creates when you save as .rtf is NOT the same thing as what other applications call .rtf…I’ve tripped over it in the past (and in fact routinely use the MacOS TextEdit text editor as a file converter instead of using Word’s save as function).

  4. NinjaFingers says:

    …sorry for the spam. Forgot to subscribe and WP won’t let you subscribe without commenting…

  5. Melissa says:

    Amen, sister! I’m not an agent, but I’m amazed when writers don’t learn to use their tools well. I guess it’s a sore spot with me, though. I work as an instructional designer (with a background in technical writing), and I’m constantly amazed by how many people in my field can’t use Word well.

    (And I, by the way, hate all things MS. But the need to use industry-standard software trumps my personal feelings!)

  6. DOT says:

    OpenOffice is an alternative and it is free. It can also save documents in Word format. As Lynn says, provided it ends with .doc you can use peanut and jelly – yuck.

  7. says:

    This is absurd. You don’t have to waste the money on word when there are plenty of free solutions (that run more stable and, IMO, do a better job than MS Word) that handle .doc and .docx files.

  8. Stephanie McGee says:

    Apple’s iWork also will convert to Word, PDF, RTF, etc.

  9. Dentist, I believe I made that exact argument. As long as someone’s program can see all the Track Changes and comments that we insert into the margins, AND can convert into a doc/docx, then who cares what you use?

    My point is to have them. I run into any number of writers who are completely ignorant to the tools of their trade – and it’ll cost them.

  10. OpenOffice rocks… the functionality is on a par with M$ Word (what it can’t do, I frankly don’t need), it’s free, and it’s “light” … not only do the program files take up less disk space and less memory (allowing OO to launch faster), but the document files themselves are smaller. My novel was 1Mb in Word, and only 265 in OO. It’s like eating in a fancy restaurant: you’re paying for the overhead…

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