Proper Manuscript Format : Page Headers

A reader writes to ask:

How should we format a manuscript of multiple poems that each span more than a single page? Do we number our pages starting from 1 whenever we begin a new poem, or should we number our manuscript 1,2, 3... 10, etc. regardless of the poem? Also, what information should we include on each subsequent page, and is it necessary to number the first page of the manuscript at all? Am I right in assuming that a tonne of section breaks are in order?

Some sites say to include your name and address (I've even seen e-mail) on every page of the manuscript, but that seems a bit redundant and makes the headers of my word document look cluttered and untidy. Other sites say to just include your name and a few key words from your poem's title on each page, along with "continue stanza" or "begin new stanza." This seems, aesthetically to me at least, the best format. Is there a professional standard I should be aware of?

Excellent questions, all. I've recently updated my sample poetry manuscript, so before anything else I'd suggest that you take a look at that, and that you review my post "Formatting and submitting poems." To hit the highlights, in a multi-poem submission you should start your numbering over at 1 for each poem. No number is required for the first page of a poem, while a minimal header with no contact info goes in the upper-left corner of each subsequent page. Single-space your poem, and separate stanzas with a blank line.

But there's an important point you ask about that my earlier post doesn't address. What exactly goes in those headers on subsequent pages of a long poem? It's very simple, and it agrees with what you've read at some other sites. Put your full name on its own line in the upper-left corner. On the next line put one or two words from the title of the poem, the page number, and either "begin new stanza" or "continue stanza" depending on where the page break fell. (That way you don't have to clutter your poem with a lot of unsightly # symbols.) Then skip a line and continue your poem. Your header should look something like this:

William Shunn                                       
Passing, page 2, begin new stanza

Poem text continues here.

In other words, your instincts were good. The professional standard is indeed the more aesthetically pleasing option.

A reader writes to ask:

I have three questions about longer poetry manuscripts.

In most cases, editors request poetry submissions that contain 3-5 poems, yet nearly every example I can see depicts a submission of a single poem. How, or should the subsequent poems be formatted differently? Does the address belong at the top of each poem or only the first?

When is a cover sheet appropriate? Is that only for manuscripts of poetry books and contests, or is a cover sheet also used for the typical submissions of 3-5 poems?

I see some conflicting advice online about how to format the second and subsequent pages of a poem that is longer than one page in length, but I don't see many clear visual examples like the ones you provide. Do you have any advice on those formatting issues?

These are excellent questions about poetry submissions, one of the least-discussed topics in the manuscript format conversation. Before answering them, I want to review the basics of poetry formatting.

To begin, place your name and contact information in the upper-left corner of your poem manuscript, same as you would with a prose manuscript. In the upper-right corner, optionally, you may list the number of lines in your poem. Skip a few lines, then center the title of your poem. Skip a few more lines and begin the text of your poem.

The text itself should be single-spaced (not double-spaced like a prose manuscript). Skip a line between stanzas. Rather than the standard 1-inch margins of a prose manuscript, you can set the margins for the text of your poem anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 inches, depending on how long your average line is. Your goal is for the poem to look more or less centered between the margins. If a single line of the poem is too long to fit on one line of the manuscript, it should carry over to the next line with a "hanging indent," as shown in this four-line sample:

Between me, safe in my seat on this bus,
And the decadent majesty of the salmon-red cliffs of
     eastern Utah,
A ghost landscape stands sentinel,
As if etched into the glass by a cadre of capering
     goblins.

Those are the basics of poetry formatting. To move on to your questions, if your poem is too long to fit on one page, then all subsequent pages need a header, including page number, in the upper-left corner. Try to break pages between stanzas of your poem, though this may not always be possible.

When submitting a package of three to five poems, each individual poem should follow the standard format, with your contact info in the upper-left corner. The page numbering should start over for each multi-page poem in your package. For example, if the third poem in your package has two pages, then its second page should still be numbered 2.

When you ask about a "cover sheet," I assume that you mean the equivalent of a title page for a novel, a separate page with your contact info and the work's title. No, a cover sheet is not necessary, but if the market's guidelines request a cover letter that lists your previous publications, then you should certainly include that.

I've updated my sample poem manuscript page, by the way, to provide a sample of a submission package containing three poems. Take a look.

(Special thanks to Chuck Sambuchino for his book Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, which was invaluable in preparing this post.)

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:

Please could you explain how, using MS word, I can use a header like the one on your manuscript of The Normal Guy? Each time I try it will only let me have EITHER the name of the book OR automatic page numbering, not both.

I suspect the problem you're having is because you're trying to create the header and set the page numbering separately. when they need to be done together. Follow along with the steps below and we'll get it straightened out for you.

(By the way, these instructions will work for Microsoft Word 2010. Word 2007 works in a somewhat similar fashion, but earlier versions of Word will be quite different.)

To create your header, the first thing to do is to place your cursor somewhere on the second page of your document. (This is important because we don't want the header showing up on the first page of the manuscript.)

Click Insert from the top menu to switch to the Insert ribbon. Click the Header item, then click Edit Header way down at the bottom of the pull-down menu that appears. This will open the Header & Footer Tools ribbon.

In this ribbon, click the checkbox labelled Different First Page. This prevents your header from displaying on the first page of the manuscript. In the box labeled Header from Top, you can also set the header to display 1.0" from the top edge of the page, if you like.

Now you're ready to create the content of your header. Hit the Tab key twice to set your header flush to the left margin. Type "Surname / Keyword / " (though you should of course type your own surname and a keyword from the title of your work). With the cursor still at the very end of that line, click the Page Number item in the ribbon. Click Current Position in the pull-down menu, then click Plain Number from the submenu that opens. This inserts the current page number into your header for every page on which it displays.

Finally, click the big red X in the ribbon to close the Header & Footer Tools ribbon, and you're done!

At least, you're done if this is a short story manuscript. For a novel manuscript that has a separate title page, there's still one more step. Click Insert again to switch to the Insert ribbon (if you're not already there). Click the Page Number item, then click Format Page Numbers from the pull-down menu. A dialog box will pop up. Click the Start at radio button to set the number for the title page. Enter 0 in the box and click OK.

This sets the number of the title page to 0 so that the first page of your text will display a page number of 1.

I wrote the original version of my manuscript formatting guide in 1993, modeling it after a much older two-page guide I received from Damon Knight in 1985. Back in those days, even for those who'd made the switch to composing prose on computers, the goal of formatting was to produce a document for submission that looked as much as possible like it had sprung to life rolling through the platen of a typewriter, offspring of holy intercourse between paper, typebar, and ink ribbon.

The world of writing and publishing has changed plenty in these past seventeen, or twenty-five, or God knows how many years. A manuscript used to be the mere blueprint for a printed book or story, instructions in a coded language to the typesetter who would laboriously rework the entire thing into clean, finished type. Now the gap between manuscript and book has shrunk to the size of a computer file. Electronic submissions mean that the only physical keystroke in the life history of a given letter in a published work may well be the one executed by the author himself.

The accepted and acceptable standards of manuscript formatting have evolved to reflect this. Proportional fonts are used more and more in manuscripts, while typographical tricks that were necessary on typewriters now no longer make sense. More and more writers are submitting manuscripts that would have looked unacceptable a decade ago, and more and more editors don't mind this one bit. With the almost complete dominance of the word processor, topics like word-count approximation and end-of-line hyphenation are no longer relevant to most of us. It was long past time to update my format guide to reflect this new reality.

You old-school writers and editors, don't worry. I won't abandon my Courier font and double sentence spacing (more on that topic in a future post) without a fight. If I have my way, the manuscripts I produce fifty years from now will look the same as the ones I produce today. But I did want to acknowledge that mores are changing, and that not everyone agrees anymore about what proper manuscript format even means.

The basics still remain, even if some of the details continue to evolve. To those hundreds of sites that have linked to my format guide over the years, I hope you still find it useful and relevant, if not more so than before. To those who've disagreed with it in the past, sometimes vehemently, I hope you find more common ground here now. And to those stumbling across it for the first time? God help you poor kids for wanting to be writers.

Please let me know what you think of the revised and updated version of "Proper Manuscript Format," and best of luck with your writing.

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.

A manuscript for a short story or article should not have a separate title page. It should be formatted similarly to what you find here.

I would always recommend using a separate title page when submitting a novel, but I have talked to successful writers who routinely submit their novels in short story format. I doubt a manuscript would be rejected for that reason, but you should play it safe and go with standard novel format.

Now, to the second issue you raise. How do you prevent a page number from appearing on the title page of your manuscript? And, in the case of a novel manuscript, how do you adjust the numbering so that the second page of the manuscript gets numbered 1?

Before we get started, if you need instruction in creating page headers in the first place, see my earlier entry "Automatic page numbers in Word." Up to speed? Let's continue.

If you're using MS Word 2007 or a more recent version—the version with the tool ribbons at the top instead of pull-down menus—then go to the Page Layout ribbon. In the group of tools labeled Page Setup, click the little diagonal arrow icon in the lower-right corner to pop up the Page Setup dialog box. Click the Layout tab, then check the box labeled Different first page. Click OK to close the dialog. This will cause your page header to not appear on the first page of the manuscript.

For a short story manuscript, you're done. The header will not appear on the first page, and the second page will be numbered 2. If it's a novel manuscript, though, you need to go through one more step to make the second page numbered 1.

Set your cursor on the title page of the manuscript. Select the Insert ribbon. In the group of tools labeled Header & Footer, click Page Number. Choose Format page numbers from the menu that appears. A Page Number Format dialog box will pop up. In the Page numbering section, click the radio button labeled Start at. Set the number in the adjacent box to 0. Click OK to close the dialog. This will set the title page's number to zero, causing the second page of your manuscript to show up as 1.

You should find similar options in other word processors.

A reader writes to ask:

I had a quick question for you regarding header formatting for novel manuscripts.

I'm trying to customize the autotext feature for headers to follow the example you gave:

Author / Book Title / Page #

I had some luck with the author and book title, but can't seem to customize auto-formatting of the page #. Do you know how to do this in MS Word?

If you're using MS Word 2007 or a more recent version—the version with the tool ribbons at the top instead of pull-down menus—then go to the Insert ribbon. In the group of tools labeled Header & Footer, there is a Page Number option. Click Page Number → Current Position → Plain Number and Word will insert a code that prints the current page number.

In older versions of Word, the process will be similar. Just find the Header & Footer item in the pull-down menus and go from there.

 
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 Page Headers

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

Odds and Ends is the previous category.

Page Numbering is the next category.

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