Home     About     Short Story     Novel     Poem     Templates     Blog

Main

Title Pages

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

May 9, 2009

When to use a separate title page

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.

Novels | Page Headers | Page Numbering | Reader Questions | Short Stories | Software | Title Pages

March 16, 2009

Proper novella format

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.

In short story format for your novella, you would indicate new chapters simply by skipping a line, then centering the chapter header on its own line. In novel format, you could either do it that way or by starting each new chapter on its own page, with the chapter heading centered halfway down the page.

It's too bad the novella isn't more popular these days, though it's easy to see why publishing standalone novellas is probably not very cost-effective. To me, it's a great length for fiction because the author can explore a character or idea in depth but is still forced to focus his writing and make each word count. The reader gets the satisfaction of a complete, involving reading experience with some heft to it that she can still finish in one sitting. I think that's a great thing all around.

(I should point out here that my own standalone novella Cast a Cold Eye, co-written with and at the instigation of the estimable Derryl Murphy, will appear from PS Publishing later this year.)

Novels | Odds and Ends | Reader Questions | Short Stories | Title Pages

 
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 Title Pages

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

Submissions is the previous category.

Typesetters Marks is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.