The short story manuscript template for Microsoft Word that I recently added was apparently quite a success, at least to judge by the number of requests I've received to add a version for novel manuscripts. Accordingly, I've created that novel template, and you can now find both templates at this page:

http://www.shunn.net/format/templates.html

Even more exciting, at least to me, are the macro-enabled versions I've created of both those templates, which allow you to update your word count, insert a line space, and begin a new chapter with simple keystrokes. You can find the new macro-enabled templates here:

http://www.shunn.net/format/advanced.html

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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.

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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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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)
or...

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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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.

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A reader writes to ask:

At the recent meeting of our local writers group we got involved in a discussion about formatting. Several of us were having problems with the header/footer and page numbering aspect of our word processing program. My problem was setting the page for "different first page" and how to begin the numbering with page 2.

Our president showed us how she set it, but the way she did it, the page numbering started on the second page but numbered it page 1. Her point was that the very first page of a manuscript was simply a "cover page" and as such should not be considered part of the numbering process. She did not have anything on her "cover page" except for name and address, word count, title and by-line.

I, on the other hand, use your format—the first page includes name, address, word count, title etc., with the story starting a third of the way down the page. Our president said that was something that would get a manuscript kicked back from an agent/editor very quickly.

This is the first time I have heard of such a thing, and I'm wondering if there have been any changes in required format that I don't know about?

You raise a couple of different issues here. The first is the question of whether or not to give your manuscript a separate title page. I suspect the confusion between you and your group president stems from the fact that novels and short stories employ slightly different formats. You may be trying to format a novel like you would a short story.

A book-length manuscript, whether for a non-fiction work or a novel, should have a separate title page. The title page will have your name and address in the upper-left corner, the title and your byline centered in the middle of the page, and an approximate word count centered at the bottom of the page. The text then starts on the second page of the manuscript, and that page should be numbered 1. You can study a portion of a sample novel manuscript here.

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Proper novella format

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A reader writes to ask:

What does the format look like for a novella? What's the first page look like? And, what do you do with chapters?

The novella is a curious case. Not quite short enough to be called a short story, not quite long enough to be called a novel, the novella exists in a definitional twilight zone. SFWA defines a novella as a work of fiction of between 17,500 and 40,000 words, but to most of the world it's just an awkward in-between sort of thing. It can be a very satisfying fictional length—just ask Henry James—but it can be a hard thing to sell. The market for novellas, sadly, is not a big one these days.

In my estimation, the format you use for a novella would depend on where you're submitting it, and for what purpose. If you're sending it to a magazine or anthology, format it the same as you would a short story. If you're sending it to a book publisher for consideration as a standalone volume, you should format it like you would a novel, with a separate title page.

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Word count vs. page count

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A reader writes to ask:

I've been speaking with an agent who has expressed keen interest in my sci-fi/humor novel, and what she's telling me is that while she really digs it, the manuscript is simply coming in too long for most publishers to take a look at. Unbeknowst to me (rookie mistake), I need to reformat the mansucript using Courier 12 point, which is blowing my page count sky-high (I wrote in Times Roman).

The agent is also telling me that I need to get it down below 480 pages Courier for publishers to be willing to look at it. My mansucript is 120,000 words and change, but is coming in at 730 pages Courier 12 point. Any thoughts about anything I might be doing wrong, if anything?

Is she on point? Is the page count more significant than the word count?

I hate being so close and yet feeling like I might be so far.

I'd appreciate any feedback you can offer me.

A lot of points to address here in this message! As far as your mechanical problem goes, without looking at your manuscript I can't be sure what you're doing wrong in your word-processing program that's making your page count so high. Check your margins carefully to be sure they are 1 inch all the way around. Check to be sure you're double-spacing your text and not triple-spacing it, because that alone would explain why your page count is about 50% higher than it should be.

480 pages in Courier 12 is going to yield a manuscript of between 120,000 and 140,000 words, depending on your margins, so your novel should be fine as-is, without any cuts, if you can just get your formatting problems ironed out.

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A reader writes to ask:

I've been writing a novel over the past year, and with the help on your site as well as a few other sites, I've been converting it into manuscript format. However, after having copied over the first two chapters, I've compared the word count from MS Word with the publisher method of word counting, I'm getting a difference of a thousand words (10.2k to 9.2k), which'll become a 10,000-word difference at Chapter 20. Is there usually that kind of overestimation, or is there a problem with my formatting? I've got a max of 60 characters per line and 25 lines per page, and I put chapter titles 2 inches into the page. Is there anything I should change to make the estimated word count more accurate, or is changing the line or page length going to set off any red flags with the publishers? I would appreciate your input.

That kind of overestimation is fine and expected. A publisher's word count is not at all identical to the one Word will give you, and is more useful to the publisher in determining how many pages that eventual published book (or story or article) will run.

Just offer your best estimate of a word count. No publisher is going to penalize you for that. In fact, since book publishers don't pay by the word, it's probably the last thing they're going to pay a lot of attention to. In addition, in the event that your novel is accepted for publication, you'll likely be submitting a Word document to your editor at some point. If an exact word count is ever needed, he or she can get that information directly from your document.

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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.

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