March 2009 | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn
March 2009

Copyrighting your work

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A reader writes to ask:

At the end of your podcasts, you include the important fact that your podcasts have a Creative Commons license on them, and I'd like to ask how I can be sure my own work has that protection. I've uploaded some of the preliminary drafts of chapters of my unfinished book onto a website in PDF form, and I did put a copyright statement at the bottom essentially stating "it's my work, don't steal it," but I don't know if I need to receive any official documentation of a Creative Commons license, or if there's a more secure way to make my work available for anyone who wants to read it.

I want to preface this (slightly off-topic) discussion by stating that I am not an expert in copyright. Bearing that in mind, the first thing you should understand it that your work is copyrighted automatically by virtue of the fact that you wrote it. You don't need to include an actual copyright statement on your work to make that true (though you can, of course). If you anticipate ever litigating over unauthorized uses of your work, you might consider registering your copyright. (Learn more about American copyright registration from the U.S. Copyright Office at

The only reason you would need a Creative Commons license is if you want to be able to make your work available for others to repost, reuse and/or remix for free. With Creative Commons, you can customize the license under which you release your work, choosing which rights you want to reserve and which you want to give away. Cory Doctorow and other high-profile writers routinely release their books online under such licenses, and for some of them it seems to be working out very well indeed. (For more info on Creative Commons and how to license your work, please see

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Story collection format

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In followup to the post Proper novella format, a reader writes to ask:

What do you do if you are using a novella as part of a short story collection?

If you're including a novella in a collection, then format it essentially like you would a short story.

This, however, begs the question of proper format for a story collection. Different authors do collections in a couple of different ways. The quick-and-dirty way would be to just print out all your stories in normal short story format, then slap a title page (complete with total estimated word count) and a contents page on top of the stack and call it a day. I'm sure plenty of collections have been sold this way (which includes the bonus of allowing the editor to shuffle stories around to her heart's content).

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Indicating literal thoughts

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A reader writes to ask:

How should I differentiate the character's thoughts from the rest of the narrative? Some people have suggested I put them in quotation marks, but I find that when I read novels in which the character's thoughts are in quotation marks, I initially think they're speaking rather than thinking. I have seen novels in which the thoughts were italicized, but I know it's not advisable to use italics in a manuscript you're submitting to an editor. Should I instead underline all the thoughts? It makes for long underlines, but maybe it's the best way. What do you think?

There are three basic ways of indicating literal thoughts in narrative: setting them off in quotes, setting them off in italics, and not setting them off at all:

"I have to get out of this place," John thought, "if it's the last thing I do."

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Proper novella format

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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.

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Word count vs. page count

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A reader writes to ask:

I've been speaking with an agent who has expressed keen interest in my sci-fi/humor novel, and what she's telling me is that while she really digs it, the manuscript is simply coming in too long for most publishers to take a look at. Unbeknowst to me (rookie mistake), I need to reformat the mansucript using Courier 12 point, which is blowing my page count sky-high (I wrote in Times Roman).

The agent is also telling me that I need to get it down below 480 pages Courier for publishers to be willing to look at it. My mansucript is 120,000 words and change, but is coming in at 730 pages Courier 12 point. Any thoughts about anything I might be doing wrong, if anything?

Is she on point? Is the page count more significant than the word count?

I hate being so close and yet feeling like I might be so far.

I'd appreciate any feedback you can offer me.

A lot of points to address here in this message! As far as your mechanical problem goes, without looking at your manuscript I can't be sure what you're doing wrong in your word-processing program that's making your page count so high. Check your margins carefully to be sure they are 1 inch all the way around. Check to be sure you're double-spacing your text and not triple-spacing it, because that alone would explain why your page count is about 50% higher than it should be.

480 pages in Courier 12 is going to yield a manuscript of between 120,000 and 140,000 words, depending on your margins, so your novel should be fine as-is, without any cuts, if you can just get your formatting problems ironed out.

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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 info at format dot ms. 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 March 2009

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