Proper Manuscript Format : Reader Questions

Paragraph formatting box from Microsoft Word 2010
A reader writes to ask:

I want to submit a novel manuscript to a small press in the US and their guidelines say "indented, not tabbed."

What's the difference? Usually I just hit the tab key once. Should I be doing something else?

I have Word Starter 2010, and I can't see any distinction between "indent" and "tab."

How do I make sure I'm indenting and not tabbing? If I'm tabbing, how do I change it to indent?

This is an excellent question, and I'm sure the cause of much confusion among word-processing novices. There is in fact a distinction between tabbing and indenting—or rather, it might be more accurate to say that tabbing is only one way to indent a paragraph. I will try to explain a method for indenting paragraphs that makes your document more portable* and easier for your publisher to use.

Back in the Stone Age, when we still used typewriters, there were two ways to indent a paragraph. You could hit the space bar five times at the start of your first line, or you could set up a tab stop half an inch in from your left margin and just hit the tab key once. "Tab" is short for "tabular," because tab stops were useful for helping a typist arrange figures in tables.

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A reader writes to ask:

I know it's still acceptable to space twice after periods. However, if there's a close quote after a period is there actually only one space remaining after the quotation mark before first letter of the next sentence? Also, are there two spaces before the beginning of the quote, after the period closing the previous sentence?

In both the situations you describe, use two spaces. Keep in mind that your two spaces go after the sentence's final punctuation, whether that's a period, a quotation mark, a question mark, or an exclamation point.

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A reader writes to ask:

I am currently trying to put together a manuscript of all of my late mother's poetry that she wrote from about 1970 to 2013, when she passed away. I made her a promise that when she died, I would put this manuscript together and submit it to publishers.

When formatting the pages of each poem, I noticed your formatting instructions say to include the author's name and contact info at the top left of each page but since my mother is passed and I am the contact person, how would I format my information?

The instructions you reference are for submitting a packet of three to five poems to a magazine or journal. If you're submitting a full collection of poems to a book publisher, you format everything a little differently.

First, your manuscript will have a title page. Your name and contact information go in the upper-left corner of this page, since you are essentially acting as your mother's agent. Center the title of the collection about halfway down the page, with the author's byline underneath (which in this case is your mother's name). This is similar to the way a novel manuscript's title page is formatted. One difference is that you don't need to include a word count. (If you wish, you might replace it with a poem count, but that's not necessary.)

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A reader writes to ask:

I have just one question concerning the "1in from margin" factor: what page size is normally used?

6x9 ?

I see the '1in from margin' statement everywhere but nowhere I've found do they say the page size.

In the United States, Canada, and a few others places, print and submit your manuscript on white standard letter size paper, which is 8½ by 11 inches. In most of the rest of the world, including the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, use A4 paper, which is 210 by 297 mm, or about 8.27 by 11.69 inches. (A4 is part of the ISO 216 standard, which makes a lot more sense than our system.)

But really, when have you ever seen a ream of 6 x 9" printer paper at Staples? It's a fairly standard size for book publishing, yes, but that wouldn't make it at all practical for manuscript submission.

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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.

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A reader writes to ask:

I enjoyed reading your article about formatting short story submissions, but wondered whether the Name/Title/Page# thing is necessary for electronic submissions. I have a story ready for submission to EQMM.

There are essentially two kinds of electronic submissions: text pasted into the body of an email, and email attachments. Obviously, with text pasted into an email, there's no place for page headers. But if you're sending a file as an attachment (as would be the case with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine), then page headers are still absolutely necessary. It doesn't matter that the document may never be printed out on actual paper. The editors still expect to see that header at the top of every page.

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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:

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Formatting and submitting poems

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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.

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Indicating boldface type

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A reader writes to ask:

I have perused your formatting advice and have a question. You advise underline to indicate italics, what about bold? Make it "actual" or use asterisks, etc? I need to indicate vectors in bold for a fact article but for sci-fi geared magazine. Thanks.

The use of boldface type is rare enough (at least in the fiction world) that, back in the olden days, one had to indicate it by hand by drawing a squiggly line underneath the words to be bolded. For whatever reason, our society has adopted italics as the preferred method of emphasis, which is why underlining is a function readily available on most typewriters but undersquiggling is not.

Boldface is, however, more common in non-fiction. In cases where it may indeed be required, either by a publication's style guide or by conventions you've adopted for a specific article, I would just go ahead and use the actual bold function of your word processor. You are unlikely these days to submit a manuscript on paper, and using asterisks around the words to be bolded is likely just to result in mistakes in the final copy.

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A reader follows up on an earlier question to ask:

I have a contents page after the main title page, so I want to start the page numbering on the third page, which is where chapter 1 starts. Have tried everything but can't seem to do it — any ideas?

This is a question that could be answered a few different ways. My first (and least preferred) answer is to refer you to my post "Page Headers for New Chapters," which contains tips about suppressing headers on certain pages. (Basically, if you're using Microsoft Word, you set a section break at the end of the table of contents and then create your header on the first page of your first chapter—though there's a bit more to it than that.) This is a fairly complicated option and is only recommended if you're a very determined power-user of Word.

My next (and slightly more preferred) answer is that you simply allow the table of contents to have a header and be numbered as page 1. The title page of your book manuscript is the only page that shouldn't have a header. If you include a table of contents, then it's fine if your first chapter starts on page 2. Page numbering is not done for aesthetic purposes; as I repeat over and over, it's a functional marker that allows a dropped manuscript to be reassembled in the proper order.

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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 Reader Questions

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

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