Revisiting RTF export

After writing about the trouble with RTF export from iOS apps earlier this week, I took some time to do some in depth testing today. The results were not as good as I’d hoped.

I found a few major holes in my plan to use Zoho Writer for RTF export. Starting with a story I just sent out, I went through the entire export process of generating a RTF file to submit. There’s quite a few places this all went to hell. So here’s the list in no particular order.

Zoho Writer

After a closer inspection, I found that the app doesn’t support:

  • Changing the line spacing
  • Setting the margins
  • The Courier font

The biggest fail is that it converts all line heights into single-spaced line spacing. This shows up when exported file is viewed in either TextEdit or Word, so it’s definitely being caused by Zoho Writer. This is a no-go and violates the most basic rule of manuscript formatting: double spacing. So without being able to double space the text, the app is pretty much useless.

While not having the Courier font built-in, it shows the text its default font. But when the exported RTF is opened in Word/TextEdit the text is in Courier. So it seems Zoho Writer passes through some settings it might not understand.

The cause of the line spacing problem might be with Ulysses. On export, it specifies the line spacing in points not line numbers. So to have double spacing, the style sheet will use 200% of the font size. A 12 point font will have 24 point line spacing. I noticed this when opening the Ulysses DOCX output in Mac Pages. If it were exported as a line number (1.5, 2.0, etc.) Zoho Writer might pass it through and produce a double spaced RTF file.

The margins produced seem to be a bit larger (1.25″) than the usual one inch specification. This would be okay if it didn’t have the other problems. Right now, I have to retract my Zoho Writer recommendation.


The line spacing in points is the biggest hang-up here. It becomes another thing needing attention when cleaning up the export. I’ve reported this as a bug, and the response leads me to believe that it might get fixed in the near future.

Word for iPad

The only option for export in iOS Word is ODT, the Open Office format. A few publications accept this, but those ones also are okay with DOCX. It looks like even Microsoft is giving up on RTF.

RTF in general

I made the mistake of looking at the raw RTF generated by Zoho Writer. It’s a mess. RTF isn’t known for it’s readability, but this seems especially bad. So another strike against it.

Trying to get RTF out of the Mac has about the same level of success. Exporting DOCX from Pages then converting to RTF with TextEdit produces a tire fire of a RTF file. Even the text alignment is screwed up. Somehow it also managed to lose the font settings along with the line spacing.

To make a mild understatement, this has caused me to reconsider using RTF as my go-to format for export.

So what to do?

I doubt I’m the first one to run into these problems. So I went back to the submission guidelines for about a dozen publications on my short list of submission sites. And in my RTF tunnel vision, I completely missed that most of them also accept DOCX. I found three that were RTF/DOC only. Mac Pages exports DOC so I’ll be okay with those. The rest can be covered with either plain text or DOCX.

This means I’ll be using DOCX as my basic submission format from here on out. Ulysses can get me 90% of the way there now. I’ll still open the files up in either Pages or Word for set the line spacing but I won’t have to worry about how to get RTF out of my iPad. For the few markets that are holding on to the old standards, I can roll the DOC on my Mac or a library computer (yay WordPad!).

But I really doubt I’ll be away from home long enough for this to ever matter. I just like knowing that I can write/edit/submit from anywhere. Besides, having a plan means one less thing to worry about when life gets hectic.