Proper Manuscript Format : Book Design

A reader writes to ask:

I just wanted to know if you still include a header on the first page of your chapters, and if you still use Courier 12 in your manuscripts - as shown in your venerable novel manuscript format example template?

Is there a way to set headers to recognize the first page of chapters, and delete headers from these pages, if we wanted to?

To answer your first question, if I didn't still format my book manuscripts that way, I wouldn't still format my sample novel manuscript that way. What you see on that page is what I still do, and what I will continue to do until I see a compelling reason not to.

And speaking of compelling reasons not to, why on earth would you want to eliminate page headers from the first pages of new chapters? For aesthetic reasons? A book manuscript is a functional document. It has a job it needs to do, and part of that job is to have a header at the top of every page. The manuscript is supposed to be a blueprint for the finished product, not to look like the finished product. Just because published books usually don't have headers on the first pages of chapters doesn't mean the same should be true for your manuscript, no matter how weird it looks to you.

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Testifying with boldface

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A reader writes to ask:

Is the occasional Bold word in a manuscript okay? Because every time I change point-of-view, I leave an empty line (which from now on will be filled with a #), and make the first word of the next paragraph bold, just to make it clear to the reader that the point of view has shifted. Or will that depend on who I send my manuscript to?

Your questions evoke a whole thicket of intertwined issues which I will attempt to unbraid for you. The first of these has to do with how best to indicate a point-of-view shift in your fiction. There's no right or wrong way to do this. Some writers feel no compunction about switching POVs without any typographical indication, which is fine if you have enough control over your omnicient narration. Using a scene break or even a chapter break to indicate the shift is the more common technique, and should be sufficient in and of itself. The first couple of sentences after the break ought to make the POV change perfectly clear without any need to employ trickery like boldface words.

This raises our second issue, which is the proper use of boldface text. Boldface is not seen much in fiction, at least not within the text itself. It is seen most commonly in non-fiction, where it is used to emphasize keywords and terms that relate to the subject at hand. From time to time you might see it employed in fiction for typographical effect—for instance, to indicate text that appears on a computer screen, perhaps in an instant-message exchange, or to highlight some other kind of quoted passage. It's rare enough, though, that in the olden days there wasn't a good way to indicate boldface from your typewriter keyboard. Instead, you had to draw a squiggly line directly on the page underneath the text you wanted emphasized.

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A reader writes to ask:

I read your article on proper manuscript submission and found it to be very informative. I submitted my manuscript to a publisher and received an email that they would like to print but it is lacking formatting. I did not know of the correct formatting until I read your article. Question: Do I resubmit with your recommended format (courier, double spacing, etc.) for printing or do I do something else for the printing version? New at this.

The format described here on my site is intended only for manuscripts being submitted for consideration by an editor or agent. It is not a format for "camera-ready copy," which refers to the layout you see in a published book. A publisher asking you to provide a manuscript ready for printing is most likely a vanity or subsidy publisher, one that you pay out of your own pocket. In traditional commercial publishing, the publisher pays you for the right to publish your book, and then does the bulk of the work to prepare it for printing.

Commercial publishing can be hard to break into, with its complex systems of agents and editors and their rigorous ways of doing business. Getting your book published commercially can also take a very long time. What you get from a commercial publisher, though, is a certain level of professional treatment of your manuscript. If an editor likes your manuscript and wants to buy it for publication, he or she will guide you in rewriting it to make it the best and most compelling work it can possibly be. A professional copyeditor will help iron out spelling, grammar, and continuity errors. A professional typesetter will take your plain manuscript and render it in the sort of clean, beautiful format you're used to seeing in other published books. A professional marketer will, hopefully, help advertise your book in all the right places. A professional sales representative will convince bookstores to stock it, and a professional book distributor will deliver it to those stores.

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A reader writes to ask:

I came upon your blog when asking a question about short story indentation at ask.com. I don't know if you'll ever read this, but if you do and can spare some time, I'd appreciate a response.

I was just about ready to submit an anthology of short stories to the printer. I am self-publishing some of my stories.

Anyway, for some reason, this afternoon I looked at four short story anthologies in my personal library. In three of them, all of the stories begin without any indentation. In the fourth, there is an indentation, but the first letter of each story is formatted in an oversized capital letter.

I have begun each of my stories with a standard paragraph indentation, just as I note you indicate short stories should be formatted. But now seeing the formatting of the anthologies in my possession, I wonder if I should re-do the formatting of the first paragraph of each story.

You seem to be confusing book design with manuscript formatting. Let me try to explain the difference.

Manuscript formatting is what you do to prepare your book or story for submission to an editor. The editor's job is to decide whether or not to accept the manuscript for publication, and then to offer suggestions on improving the manuscript. He or she will likely make a lot of notes directly on the manuscript itself. That's why, when submitting a manuscript to an editor, you should do the things I suggest in my manuscript formatting guidelines, such as using a big, readable font, double-spacing, indenting paragraphs half an inch, and so on.

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Looking for Bill's original properly formatted article on proper manuscript format? Click here.
Proper Manuscript Format Illustrated - Click here.
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.

About Book Design

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Proper Manuscript Format in the Book Design category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Ancillary Material is the previous category.

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