Proper Manuscript Format : August 2009

A reader writes to ask:

I am submitting a short story collection, but the publisher requests just the first 50 pages.

How do I handle this in terms of what I would write for word count? Do I include the number of words in first 50 pages? The entire manuscript?

You mentioned including a list of where stories had been published. What should this list look like? A simple 1, 2, 3? Should I title the page?

In your cover letter—and this goes for novels as well as collections—you should mention the word count for the full manuscript. That's the information your editor needs in order to understand the size of the book you're proposing. There is no need to give a word count for the 50-page excerpt.

I'm not aware of a hard-and-fast rule for how to list the publication history for your stories, so use your best judgment. I would simply include a page headed "Publication History" at the end of the sample pages. (You can indicate in your cover letter that such a list will follow the excerpt.) It would be fine to single-space within entries on this page, and numbering them is not required. To get even fancier, you could use hanging indents for each item in the list.

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A reader writes to ask:

My question is in regards to formatting a prologue. My story is a fantasy/sci-fi tale that has two separate events that occur to two separate groups that lay the foundation for the actual "chapter 1" of my tale.

In my manuscript, I want them to be the prologue/precursor to my story, but I am unsure as to what the correct formatting rule would be (if there is one) in connecting the two. Do I just add an extra space and start the new scene or do I need to add a new heading of some sort?

There is no rule about headers for new scenes in fiction. The standard thing to do in your scenario would be to just skip a line and start the new scene—we call this a "scene break" or a "line break"—but really you can do whatever you want. You could label the two scenes "1." and "2." within the prologue if you wanted, or you could treat each like a separate prologue and call them "Prologue A" and "Prologue B." You don't even need to call the prologue a prologue if you don't want to. You could simply label it "Earlier" or "1987" or "February" or "Bob Jones." Or you could give it no label at all.

If you go to the bookstore or your own bookshelf and start flipping through novels at random, I'm sure you'll see all those methods, and more. The point is, it's your book and you can call your chapters and scenes what you like, if you like. Whatever you think works best for your story.

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A reader writes to ask:

I've been writing in Microsoft Works, which I believe is similar but not identical to Word. When I type an ellipse by typing three periods in succession, the program automatically compresses them together, rendering the ellipse almost illegible. Instead, I've been choosing an ellipse from the "insert special character" option, but it still looks squashed to me. Is there any way to turn off the compression, or is the special character acceptable?

The special character is probably acceptable, but I hate the way it looks at least as much as you do. Let's see if we can't help you disable that annoying feature.

Assuming that Microsoft Works works similarly to Word, there's a feature called "AutoCorrect" that's enabled by default. Besides converting three periods to a single squished ellipsis character, AutoCorrect is automatically configured to make a lot of other corrections to your typing, all of which you can choose to turn off individually.

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Ending your manuscript

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A reader writes to ask:

Please-does anyone out there know how to end a manuscript for a short story or novel?

Do you skip a line and write -END- (margin left)
or THE END (Centered)

I've seen both methods you mention, and in addition I know writers who always end their manuscripts with "###" or "-30-" centered. The simple fact, though, is that you don't have to do anything explicit to indicate the end of a manuscript. The fact that there are no more words or pages after a certain point should indicate the ending all on its own.

If you are truly afraid that someone reading your manuscript will reach the end and think there are pages missing, then either of the methods you cite would be fine. There's no standard method, so let your personal preference guide you.

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FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.

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