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:

William Shunn                                       
Passing, page 2, begin new stanza

Poem text continues here.

In other words, your instincts were good. The professional standard is indeed the more aesthetically pleasing option.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

The text itself should be single-spaced (not double-spaced like a prose manuscript). Skip a line between stanzas. Rather than the standard 1-inch margins of a prose manuscript, you can set the margins for the text of your poem anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 inches, depending on how long your average line is. Your goal is for the poem to look more or less centered between the margins. If a single line of the poem is too long to fit on one line of the manuscript, it should carry over to the next line with a "hanging indent," as shown in this four-line sample:

Between me, safe in my seat on this bus,
And the decadent majesty of the salmon-red cliffs of
     eastern Utah,
A ghost landscape stands sentinel,
As if etched into the glass by a cadre of capering

Those are the basics of poetry formatting. To move on to your questions, if your poem is too long to fit on one page, then all subsequent pages need a header, including page number, in the upper-left corner. Try to break pages between stanzas of your poem, though this may not always be possible.

When submitting a package of three to five poems, each individual poem should follow the standard format, with your contact info in the upper-left corner. The page numbering should start over for each multi-page poem in your package. For example, if the third poem in your package has two pages, then its second page should still be numbered 2.

When you ask about a "cover sheet," I assume that you mean the equivalent of a title page for a novel, a separate page with your contact info and the work's title. No, a cover sheet is not necessary, but if the market's guidelines request a cover letter that lists your previous publications, then you should certainly include that.

I've updated my sample poem manuscript page, by the way, to provide a sample of a submission package containing three poems. Take a look.

(Special thanks to Chuck Sambuchino for his book Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, which was invaluable in preparing this post.)

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

(For a larger discussion of boldface type, see my post "Testifying with Boldface.")

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask:

[My question] regards major and minor scene breaks. I understand that one sets off a blank-line break with #, but what about a more significant scene break, the sort one usually sees in print marked with a blank line, a divider (often three asterisks, centered), and another blank line? Is it as simple (and aesthetically unappealing) as placing # signs in the blank lines? Or does one leave the blank lines blank in this case?

The answer may be blindingly obvious to everyone but me, and if so, my apologies for troubling you. But I find both options to be less than pleasing to the eye, so if I'm going to inflict one on an editor, I'd much rather inflict the right one.

An excellent question. I think we've all seen major scene breaks like the ones you describe in published books—something less than a chapter break but more than an ordinary scene break. Sometimes they might be rendered in a book as several blank lines followed by an unindented paragraph with the first several words in bold. But how should one render this super-scene break succinctly in a draft manuscript?

I've never seen this done, but my suggestion would be to use three hash symbols centered together on a line (# # #) as opposed to just one (#). The hash symbol is the typesetters mark for indicating space, so I think any editor or typesetter worth her salt would recognize that you intend this to be a higher-level scene break than ordinary. (Of course, you could also explain your intention in your cover letter to the editor.)

Here's a quick example to show you what I mean:

of her jeans.  "Fine, there.  If anyone wants it, they'll have to talk to me about it."


As Hasta knelt beside Ivan again, she heard a shout from the direction of the wooden building.  Moses started barking.  Juan and Bobby were just rounding the gas pumps, running toward the minivan as fast as they could.

"Fire!" Juan yelled.  "Fire!"

# # #

Lamm emerged from the comm window into a fiery maelstrom.

The input window from the McDonald's freezer had led him to a shed behind a rest stop in Wisconsin.  There he'd hunted around until sensing another recently used window in a men's room supply closet.  And now he was here, in the midst of flames.

To me, the three marks together get the point across elegantly without cluttering up the page.

(And for discussions of related issues, you might refer to the sections on scene breaks and chapters here in the archives.)

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask:

I'm preparing a manuscript for a children's book. Should I use the same format [as for adult fiction]? Or is there a different format for this type of book?

Yes, when submitting a picture book, chapter book, or other work of children's literature, you should use the same format you would when submitting any other book manuscript. If the book is to be illustrated, your publisher will most likely recruit the illustrator for you.

For much more detail about the kinds of children's books out there and how to sell them, consult a book like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books. It will have far more useful information on this segment of the publishing business than I can provide.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask:

Quick question: which font do you use when writing a manuscript - Courier New or Courier Final Draft?

Good question, though those two fonts are hardly the only Courier variants available to choose from. One could also try Courier10 BT, Courier Std, Courier Stylus, Dark Courier, and no doubt many others.

But you asked which font I use. It's Courier New, but that's really only because it's the default Courier font that comes with Windows. Courier New prints a bit light and thin for many people's tastes, so if you have Courier Final Draft (which comes included with Final Draft screenwriting software) you're probably better off to use that instead. It's a somewhat heavier and darker font than Courier New, and it looks better printed.

The bottom line, though, is that any member of the Courier font family is probably fine to use.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask:

I am a bit confused about scene changes. I know that they have to be denoted by a single line with a "#", but if I use them at every scene change my plot will "unglue" a bit. There is something a bit Proustian to the flow of my novel that I don't want to interrupt, and the only breaks that I want are those between chapters. For example, suppose the protagonist is writing about his home. Then he starts to reminisce about another era, when he lived in a much poorer home in another country. From everything I have read online, it seems I'd better note this scene break between his actual home and his subsequent reminiscence of the old residence; but I feel something of quality will be compromised if I do it. Should I do as I wish with little fear of making some agent raise his eyes towards heaven, or should I be punctilious and proper and leave a blank line with the # at every line change, irrespective of how I feel about it?

You are under no obligation to indicate a flashback or other shift in time or space with a scene break. A scene break is simply one of many stylistic tools you can use to make such an indication. If you feel that an uninterrupted flow is best for the effect you want to achieve, then that is perfectly fine. If you do your job properly, then the reader should have no trouble following the change whether or not you call attention to it with a skipped line.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
Back in January, Slate's Farhad Manjoo set the blogosphere a-boil with a vitriolic philippic against the evils of ever placing two spaces at the end of a sentence. A veritable Greek chorus rushed to add its voices to his, including no less a figure than John Scalzi. On the flip side, Megan McArdle of The Atlantic spearheaded the opposition, and a flurry of spirited defenses of the two-space tradition set out to demolish the arguments at the center of Manjoo's emotional diatribe.

I stayed out of the fray at the time. I've already had what I hoped would be my definitive say about sentence spacing, and in fact I spent a lot of time last year thinking through some significant ameliorations of my former strict insistence on two spaces. It was never my intention, back in 1995 when I first posted "Proper Manuscript Format" on the web, to become a de facto formatting guru, but it happened anyway. This means I still get frequent emails from aspiring writers who want to know why this authority or that is telling them they should never ever, on pain of banishment to editorial hell, put two spaces after a sentence.

It's probably past time for me to expand further on my position that, while one space is fast becoming the reigning standard, it's still perfectly fine to use two if that's what you prefer.

We are all by now familiar with the argument that the two-space rule is a relic of the typewriter era, outmoded in these days of computer typography and proportional fonts. justifyingtypewriter.jpg I am willing to admit this, to a point (even as I am unwilling to unlearn a practice that, through more than three decades of dedicated typing, has become as much a part of me as my two thumbs). But where this argument falls short is in its failure to recognize that the commercial publishing industry, at least in the U.S., had already begun phasing out the two-space rule sixty years ago—at the very height of the typewriter era. It wasn't the advent of the personal computer that made the practice begin to change. It was much earlier advancements in high-volume mechanical typesetting.

Before the 1950s, it's likely your reading material would have contained more space between sentences than we're used to seeing now. But these days single-spacing is what we've come to expect. It's what most of us have grown up with. It's the only standard we've ever known for finished copy.

But there's the rub. Finished copy. The stuff you'd see in a book, in a magazine, in a newspaper, or even on a website like this one. Material that's been through some kind of editing and production process, and has been rendered in a way suitable for presentation to the general reader.

What people who speak in loud voices about sentence spacing are usually referring to, though, are submission manuscripts, and a submission manuscript is not finished copy. Even as the two-space rule was vanishing in print, it hung around in the world of the typewritten manuscript for a very practical reason. It makes the writer's intention about where each sentence ends perfectly clear.

To borrow a metaphor from the online world, a novel manuscript is more like the source code for a book than it is like an actual book. It is a product intended for a very specialized audience—book editors, most of whom are accustomed to its particular quirks. In fact, editors rely on those quirks to help them get their jobs done. A manuscript is not a product intended for a general reader. It is not required to conform to the needs or expectations of a general reader.

Now, as I've conceded many times in these posts, things are changing. The old standards and practices are giving way to newer ones. In many important ways, the gap between the creation of a piece of writing and its presentation to the reader is narrowing. But it's absurd to insist that two spaces is always wrong in a manuscript most readers are never going to see. It becomes even more absurd when you consider the utter lack of an outcry in favor of single line-spacing in manuscripts (a change that would far more obviously bring that format in line with standards for printed material). A manuscript is not finished copy and does not need to look like it.

To use another metaphor from the web world, I think most of the furor over sentence spacing stems from confusing our data layer with our presentation layer. As I'm composing this post right now, I'm putting two spaces between sentences. But as you read it, you're almost certainly seeing only one space. That's because your web browser does the production work of styling the text to conform with generally accepted standards for finished copy. If you're using a browser that allows you to look at a site's source HTML, you can right-click on this page and bring up what is essentially the manuscript version of this post. When you do, you'll see two spaces between sentences. But the fact that I typed those extra spaces in no way interferes with your ability to view the finished copy the "right" way.

I'm not saying you can't use one space in your manuscripts if you want. I'm only saying the writers who want to use two spaces are not wrong. It's a non-issue, and the fact that no professional editor or agent has ever gotten on my case about it only strengthens my point.

I would go further, though, and suggest that when someone tells you how using two spaces between sentences makes you a bad and stupid person, that someone is just an ass.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask:

My manuscript contains text messages from one character to another. How would you suggest I format them?

When you present an exchange of text messages in fiction, you're essentially presenting a different form of dialog. As such, if I were doing it, I'd treat the messages the same as any other dialog—except that I'd underline the text instead of enclosing it in quotation marks.

Underlining (or rather italics, which is what underlining in a manuscript indicates) is the generally accepted way to indicate in a story that you're quoting from written or printed material—say, a note or a sign. Or, in today's world, a text message or email.

In fact, I can show you an example from the novel I'm writing now, Waking Vishnu. This passage involves instant-messaging on a computer, but the principle is the same:

The chime sounded again:

am i dreaming

Hasta tried to type, but her shaking fingers turned the words to mush.  She backspaced furiously and tried again:

I dont know.

Then, because that seemed somehow insufficient, she typed:

Sometmies when I deram, I cn fly.

The typos made her wince--as did simply typing with her hurt fingers--but a moment later a response came:

i always can fly

I wish I cd fly, Hasta typed.  Id fly right out of here.

stay in school, chimed her mysterious chat partner.  education gives u wings

She snorted.  Big help, thx a lot.

It might be that, in print, your editor or book designer will decide the text messages should be set in bold instead of italics, or in some contrasting font. That's fine, but it's a decision that'll be made down the road. For your purposes now, though, just underline.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask:

Is the occasional Bold word in a manuscript okay? Because every time I change point-of-view, I leave an empty line (which from now on will be filled with a #), and make the first word of the next paragraph bold, just to make it clear to the reader that the point of view has shifted. Or will that depend on who I send my manuscript to?

Your questions evoke a whole thicket of intertwined issues which I will attempt to unbraid for you. The first of these has to do with how best to indicate a point-of-view shift in your fiction. There's no right or wrong way to do this. Some writers feel no compunction about switching POVs without any typographical indication, which is fine if you have enough control over your omnicient narration. Using a scene break or even a chapter break to indicate the shift is the more common technique, and should be sufficient in and of itself. The first couple of sentences after the break ought to make the POV change perfectly clear without any need to employ trickery like boldface words.

This raises our second issue, which is the proper use of boldface text. Boldface is not seen much in fiction, at least not within the text itself. It is seen most commonly in non-fiction, where it is used to emphasize keywords and terms that relate to the subject at hand. From time to time you might see it employed in fiction for typographical effect—for instance, to indicate text that appears on a computer screen, perhaps in an instant-message exchange, or to highlight some other kind of quoted passage. It's rare enough, though, that in the olden days there wasn't a good way to indicate boldface from your typewriter keyboard. Instead, you had to draw a squiggly line directly on the page underneath the text you wanted emphasized.

Then why, you ask, do you see the first few words of a chapter or scene rendered in boldface in so many books? That's a stylistic choice that the book designer has made, not the author. This is the third issue for you to understand, that many of the typographical elements you see in a published book were applied by members of the publishing team during production. These are essentially decorations that are intended to make the text more visually appealing. They're not things you need to worry about as you're working on your own manuscript.

Just do your best to make POV changes clear in the text, and keep your formatting as simple as possible. With luck, you'll be able to let your publisher worry about the rest.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask:

The font I have been using for 10 years is Arial. I like it alot. Any comments. Should I check with Sheila Williams, the editor at Azimovs.

No. No. No. A thousand times no. Use Courier or Times New Roman. Do not use Arial, and do not bug Sheila about it. Do check the spelling of your intended market before you submit your manuscript. That is all.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask:

I'm getting close to done writing a manuscript, set to your specs for 250 words per page, and it's threatening to break 600 manuscript pages (about 150k, assuming no half-pages). That's going to be a heavy stack of paper when I get it printed out. There seems to be some empty room on the pages as it stands, and I'm thinking of squeezing it into 500 words per page by increasing the line length and quantity, just so I can save some trees. Would you recommend for or against this plan? Do you have any other suggestions for my big stack dilemma?

I can sympathize with your desire to reduce your big stack, if not for environmental reasons then at least to keep postage costs in check. But when you look into your heart of hearts I'm sure you know what I'm going to tell you. Six hundred pages for a 150,000-word manuscript sounds just about right.

I've examined the sample page you sent along with your question, and honestly it looks perfectly fine to me. You're using a 12-point Courier font. You're averaging about 60 characters per line, which tells me that your left and right margins are set properly. You have 25 lines of text on the page, plus a header, which means the top and bottom margins are good. In short, you're doing everything right. You're just having a hard time digesting the fact that your manuscript is so big.

Your options for making it smaller are limited. You need to give up the idea of getting 500 words on a page. No way can you accomplish that. You'd have to switch to single-spacing, and no one wants to read a single-spaced manuscript. You could cheat the margins a little, or make the font a little smaller, or adjust the line spacing enough to squeeze another line or two onto each page, but none of those tricks is going to buy you much, at least without making it obvious that you're trying to mess with the formatting. This will not incline most agents and editors to look favorably upon your submission.

There is one thing you can do to reduce your big stack problem, and one thing only: change your font from Courier to Times New Roman. I don't recommend it myself, as you'll know if you've studied much of my site, but since Times New Roman is a narrower font the switch will reduce the size of your manuscript by about a quarter, to maybe 450 pages. If you can live with that, go for it.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format
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."

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format

April 2014

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