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November 27, 2013

New novel template for Microsoft Word, plus advanced macros

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:


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:


If you find these templates useful, or even if you don't, please drop me a line to let me know how they're working for you.

Administrivia | Novels | Software

November 5, 2013

Manuscript template for Microsoft Word

At long last, after more requests than it should have required, I've corrected a long-standing oversight and created a short story manuscript template for Microsoft Word. You can find it at this page:


After you customize the template with your own name and contact information, you'll be able to create properly formatted manuscripts with ease. And the template even includes a wordcount field that updates on request, rounded to the nearest hundred.

The template should work for all versions back to Word 2007. If anyone is interested in a template suitable for older versions of Word, please let me know. I'm sure I can kick one out sometime in the next decade.

Administrivia | Short Stories | Software

February 20, 2013

The superfluity of a table of contents

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.

But my final (and most insistent) answer is to ask you why you feel you need a table of contents in the first place. Is this a novel or a non-fiction manuscript? Certain types of non-fiction manuscript, particularly those where you need to create a detailed outline as part of your book proposal, may benefit from a table of contents, but for a novel or a memoir there probably isn't much point to including one. I would strongly advise omitting the table of contents altogether.

Ancillary Material | Page Numbering | Reader Questions | Software

January 30, 2013

Page headers for new chapters

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.

Book Design | Chapters | Page Headers | Page Numbering | Reader Questions | Software

August 17, 2012

Creating a page header in Word

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.

Page Headers | Page Numbering | Reader Questions | Software

March 23, 2012

Can my word processor insert two spaces automatically?

A reader writes to ask:

Quick question - as a new/aspiring writer, starting a manuscript, I'm curious to know if *you know* of a way to make it double spaced after each sentence. I'm used to writing documents that have only one space between sentences, but I perfectly understand the need for two for a submission manuscript.

Any tricks you've found with Office Word that make it automatically two spaces for a single hit of the space bar?

I'm not aware of any feature in Word, or in any other word processor, that would do what you want. Most word processors can easily be set to perform the opposite conversion—two spaces collapsed automatically to one—but determining where the end of a sentence falls is a very tricky programming problem that would fall prey to frequent errors.

More to the point, though, why on earth would you want a feature like that? Yes, two spaces after a sentence are still acceptable in most manuscript submissions, as I've endlessly argued, but that convention is quickly going the way of the dodo. If you're not already in the habit of putting two manual spaces at the end of each sentence, there's no reason for you to go out of your way to do it. Stop worrying about spaces and just focus on your writing.

Sentence Spacing | Software

September 21, 2011

Converting all italics in your document to underlines

A reader writes to ask:

I am using 2010 microsoft office for my novel manuscript. I need to change the titles of movies from italics to underlines. Any quick way?

It's a bit tricky, but there is a way to convert all the italics in your document to underlines. This technique will work in Microsoft Word 2010 and in a couple of the older versions of Word that I tested. (Other word processors may have similar features.) I should emphasize that this is an all-or-nothing proposition.

First, find an instance of italics in your document. Select an italicized word by double-clicking on it or by highlighting it with your mouse. Now right-click on the selected word. Click the Styles option in the pop-up menu. You should get an option in the resulting menu that says Select Text with Similar Formatting. Click that. (In older versions of Word, this option will be in the main pop-up menu, not in a submenu.)

Word may take a little time to process this command depending on the length of your document, but when it's finished all the italicized text in your document will be highlighted. Now simply click on the I icon in the formatting bar to toggle italics off, and click the U icon to toggle underlining on. That's all there is to it.

And of course, if you're trying to convert underlines to italics you can modify this same technique.

Italics | Reader Questions | Software

October 26, 2010

Regarding line height, close is good enough

A reader writes to demand:

Setting everything according to the various suggestions for Word to lay out my pages for writing a book, I find it impossible to get 25 lines on an 8½ by 11 when double spaced. Explain.

"Explain"? That's a rather imperious imperative sentence, but I'll do my psychic best to satisfy your command without your Word document in front of me for reference.

I'll summarize what I assume your problem is, though I've covered this issue in much greater detail elsewhere. But let me preface my summary by emphasizing that the number of lines per page probably doesn't even matter. As I try repeatedly to make clear, formatting your manuscript is about following general guidelines, not about breaking out your protractor and slide rule. It's an art, not a science. It's cooking, not baking. As long as your formatting falls in the general neighborhood of correctness, you'll be fine. Don't get so caught up in refining the finest details of your formatting that it bogs you down and distracts you from what's most important: writing the best novel you can.

That said, the issue that's reducing the number of lines you can fit on a page is probably related to line height (the amount of vertical space that each line takes up on the page). By default, Microsoft Word sets a line height that's a little greater than the standard for 12-point type. This results in fewer lines per page. If you're getting 23 or 24 lines per page, I wouldn't worry too much about. If you're getting even fewer than that, you might be doing something else wrong, like more-than-double-spacing your lines or using a text style that puts extra space between paragraphs.

If you're determined to make things precise, though, please see my fuller explanation of line height in the blog post I referenced above, "How line height relates to word count."

Odds and Ends | Reader Questions | Software | Typography

September 11, 2010

Confusing file format with manuscript format

A reader writes to ask:

When sending stories via email attachment, some markets insist on RTF, so I'll go to my Open Office files, where all my stories are .DOC, formatted in Standard Manuscript Format (SMF), and save the .DOC as RTF. Opened as RTF, the first paragraph is lined double spaced and then everything else is single spaced between lines. Then every once in awhile, a market will send it back saying they want it SMF. They've called for RTF, but then they say SMF. Okay, so what should I do, go back to .DOC and send it? or is there something I can do to get the RTF to be double spaced between lines??

You are confusing file format with manuscript format. When a market asks for an RTF file, they are only talking about the file format (in this case, Rich Text Format), which has to do with how your document is actually stored on your computer disk and what word processors can read it. You still have to make sure that the contents of your RTF file are formatted according to standard manuscript format, and that means making sure it's all double-spaced.

Fortunately, that's easy to fix. After you export the document, open the new RTF file in Open Office. Hit CTRL-A to highlight the full document. Then go into the formatting menu and change the line spacing from single to double. That should get the full document double-spaced for you. Save it again and send.

Reader Questions | Software | Submissions

September 2, 2010

Proper manuscript format for the 21st century

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.

Administrivia | Dialogue | Fonts | Italics | Odds and Ends | Page Headers | Paragraphs | Publishing | Punctuation | Short Stories | Software | Submissions | Title Pages | Typography | Word Counts

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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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