A reader writes to ask:

I'm finalizing a manuscript and your templates are so helpful. One thing I can't seem to find addressed is the use of quotes - a poem or just a quotation from a person, at the beginning of a chapter. Since I would like to have one in my first chapter and it would then be the first thing an agent sees, I am worried about how to do it right. Can you help?

All you need to do is indent the quote one half inch from both the left and the right margin and put a line space after it. You can single-space the quote if you like. Otherwise, everything else is the same. You still start the quote on the same line of the page where you otherwise would have begun the chapter.

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.

You don't know what an editor might do with your manuscript. Even if he receives it electronically, he may print it out before he reads it, in which case those page headers will be important when two manuscripts accidentally get knocked off his desk together.

Now, to answer your actual second question, yes, there is a way to remove the headers from specific pages, but in Microsoft Word it's hideously complicated. (You have to put invisible section breaks at the beginning and end of the page, and then remove the header from the section containing that page.) In WordPerfect it's much easier: you simply put a Suppress Header code at the top of the page, which is one of the many reasons I still use it.

But for the love of God, don't do it. That is all.

A reader writes to ask:

My memoir is divided into sections rather than having chapter titles. Some sections have as little as one chapter while the longest has seven. In a book I can see each section, which has a title and date range, having its own page to introduce the following chapter(s), but in a manuscript what is the proper formatting for this? Do I put the section title on the first line followed on the second line by the date range then half way down the page start the first chapter in that section and when a new chapter starts have a page break and start the new chapter half way down the next page? Or do I give each section it's own page and if so do I start the title half way down the page?

I suspect you might suggest I title each chapter but I'd rather not do that especially the way the book flows. So, I'm open to any and all suggestions. I just want to get it right and get going on sending it out to agents.

Also, I have seen conflicting information about where to start a chapter on the page. Some say half way down others say 12 spaces down. Perhaps I'm a stickler for perfection but as this is my first manuscript I want to give myself every opportunity for success.

Your question, if I follow it correctly, is about how to indicate large divisions in your book manuscript, divisions higher up than the chapter level. You're calling these large divisions "sections," but if you flip through a few novels from your bookshelf you might also find examples where they're called "books" or "parts." The Fellowship of the Ring, for instance, is divided into two large sections called "Book I" and "Book II," and each of those sections contains ten or twelve chapters.

In print, the section heading and/or title will often appear alone on its own page, the better to indicate a major division in the book. You shouldn't do it that way in your manuscript, though. Your initial idea is the right one, and is similar to the way I do it.

On the first page of a new section, I put the section heading about a third of the way down the page. I then put the section's first chapter heading about halfway down, with the chapter text starting a couple of lines after that. For subsequent chapters in the section, I again put the chapter heading about halfway down the page. (You can see an example of this in my sample novel manuscript excerpt.)

You also seem to be worried about how and whether to name your sections and chapters. There is no rule to dictate how to do this. Tolkien, in The Fellowship, did not give titles to the two large sections, but he did title each chapter within them. You could do it that way, or you could do exactly the opposite. You could use a date or a place or a character's name or anything else as a title. You don't even need to number your sections if you don't want to. Mix and match. The possibilities are endless:

Section 1
January - March

Part Two

Teen Trauma
1980 - 1983

Fall 1942

Book III


Day Five: Hunger


And the same goes for your chapter headings. Title or no title, it's up to you. Whatever you think is best for the book is fine.

So take a deep breath. The important thing is not the precise mechanics of what you do but being consistent about doing it.

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.

A reader writes to ask:

I have a children's fiction novel. Once the second chapter starts, do I type the chapter at the top of the next page or 1/3 of the way down, like mid-way the page?

Start the second chapter (and every subsequent chapter) on a new page on the same line where you started the first chapter. I start about halfway down the page, but how much blank space you leave above the chapter heading isn't as important as being consistent about it throughout the manuscript.

For an example of novel formatting, see my sample partial novel manuscript.

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.

Once you and the editor have together hammered that manuscript into acceptable shape, the next stage is book design. This is the process by which your manuscript gets converted into the format in which it will be printed and bound. A lot of arcane knowledge and skill goes into proper book design, but at the very least a few basic things will happen. Your manuscript will be changed to a font more appropriate to a finished book. The text will be single-spaced instead of double-spaced. Your book will be given page numbers that appear in different positions on the left and right-hand pages. Paragraph indentations will likely be made smaller. The book designer will also decide what kind of fancy formatting to use at the beginning of each chapter (or, in the case of a collection, at the beginning of each story), and will apply that formatting consistently throughout the book.

All this is in the interest of making your book attractive and easily read by a reader as opposed to an editor. Though there are still rules and guidelines to follow, there is more latitude in book design than in manuscript formatting. When you pull a book down off your shelf to see how it is laid out, you are looking at book design, not at manuscript formatting.

That's what happens in traditional publishing, anyway. When you self-publish, you are essentially cutting out the middleman—the editor. You are not submitting a manuscript for anyone's consideration. You are paying someone to publish your book, and that means going directly to the book-design stage.

The big question to ask here is whether someone at the publishing company will do the book design for you, or if you have to do it yourself. If the company will do it for you, you may be able to offer some suggestions or preferences but you won't have to worry about questions like whether or not to indent or use initials or drop caps at the beginnings of chapters.

But if the company requires you to submit print-ready copy yourself, then you do have to make those choices, and, in fact, you may have a lot of work ahead of you. Word-processing programs like Microsoft Word can be used to create complex book layouts, but that can be tricky unless you're an expert user. Desktop-publishing programs like QuarkXPress or Adobe FrameMaker are more powerful but are also more complicated to learn to use.

In any event, find out from your publishing company how involved you will need to be in the book-design process before you start worrying about how your chapter headings are going to look.

In followup to the post Proper novella format, a reader writes to ask:

What do you do if you are using a novella as part of a short story collection?

If you're including a novella in a collection, then format it essentially like you would a short story.

This, however, begs the question of proper format for a story collection. Different authors do collections in a couple of different ways. The quick-and-dirty way would be to just print out all your stories in normal short story format, then slap a title page (complete with total estimated word count) and a contents page on top of the stack and call it a day. I'm sure plenty of collections have been sold this way (which includes the bonus of allowing the editor to shuffle stories around to her heart's content).

But you might better treat your collection similarly to a novel manuscript. Give it a title page, and thereafter start each story on its own page with the title centered halfway down the page. Adjust the page numbering so that it continues sequentially through the whole manuscript, and does not start over again at 1 for each story. This, especially for a newer writer, will make your collection look more like an intentional book and less like a slapdash pile of stories.

Either way, treat any novella you include in the collection the same as any other story, with chapter headings centered after a skipped line rather than starting on a new page.

Also, don't forget to include, up front or at the end, a list of where each story was previously published. If a story was not previously published, indicate that too. An exception might be if the bulk of the stories in the collection are previously unpublished, in which case you will probably want to refer to your submission in your cover letter as a collection of original (not unpublished) stories.

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.

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