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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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:

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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.

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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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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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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