Knowing how to format a manuscript for a short story or novel submission isn’t always clear. And before it comes to sending out your shiny new stories to publishers, it needs to be formatted in the right way.
A failure to follow story formatting guidelines could see it rejected automatically. In this guide, you’ll learn how to avoid this outcome.
We’ll take a look at the Shunn manuscript format and why this approach is so favored by publishers and editors. In addition, we’ll examine the differences between formatting short stories and novels. And you’ll find lots more formatting tips and advice too.
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- The Importance Of Short Story Formatting
- The Shunn Manuscript Format
- The Shunn Manuscript Format For Short Stories
- Why Is Shunn Formatting So Popular?
- Top Tips For Short Story Formatting
- More Tips and Guides On Getting Published
The importance of following short story formatting guidelines cannot be understated—ignore them and your story will very likely be rejected.
Most publishers state in their submission guidelines how they wish a story to be formatted. Don’t ignore this. If you do, it’ll demonstrate to the editors that you either don’t care enough to take the time to do it or that you haven’t read the guidelines. Both will annoy them just as much. This is the golden rule when it comes to formatting your work—follow the guidelines.
A lot of publishers, particularly those based in the US, will ask for your manuscript to be formatted in the Shunn style. Indeed, William Shunn’s formatting guidelines have proven so popular they’ve become the default. By that I mean, if a publisher does not state in their guidelines how they’d like your piece formatted, revert to Shunn.
Let’s take a look at the Shunn manuscript format in more detail.
William Shunn is the chap behind these formatting guidelines, and his short essays on both formatting manuscripts for short stories and novels are freely available over on his website http://www.shunn.net.
Shunn (also known simply as Bill) is a prolific and talented writer of science fiction and fantasy having been published in Asimov’s and F&SF, among others. A number of his stories have been nominated for awards such as the Nebula and Hugo Awards.
His foray into the world of manuscript formatting came in 1995 when he published his guide “Proper Manuscript Format”.
Such was the impact of that guide that the wider publishing industry decided to adopt it. And now, nearly 30 years on, it’s still in use.
As a short story writer, Bill Shunn has put together a detailed guide on how to format manuscripts for short fiction, which you can find here.
The guide couldn’t be more user-friendly. It offers two types of manuscript formats—the modern take and the classic approach. You can download either in PDF form so you can print them off and refer to them as you work.
The online guide is interactive. It opens with an example manuscript, with different parts highlighted in blue, as you can see in the image below.
Simply hover over those highlighted parts to see the instruction. For example, if we hover over “Proper Manuscript Format”, the instruction is “Your title, centred in capital case.”
On that first line, we’re instructed to indent each paragraph by half an inch.
The written content itself is very important. It explains in detail the reasons for each step in the formatting process. For instance, it explains why certain fonts are used and by who.
It also explains why you need to round your content up to the nearest hundred, so if it’s 1,256, you’d round it up to 1,300. The reason behind this is to tell the editor how much space the story is going to take up in their magazine or journal.
The guide continues to talk you through every aspect of the manuscript formatting process. Below, you can find more detail on some of the key points:
Which Font Should I Use?
Keep it simple. Shunn recommends using either Times New Roman or Courier. Courier is his strong preference because it’s monospaced, meaning every character is evenly spaced apart, which makes it easier to detect spelling mistakes. Size 12 font is also recommended.
Which Line Spacing Setting Should I Use?
Often a subject for debate. Shunn recommends double spacing—it’s easier to make notes around the text, and for me, I find it easier to read the text and detect any mistakes.
What To Put On The First Page
The first page is where you feature your name, contact information and word count, usually positioned at the top left of the page
Some publishers will ask you to format your manuscript in their own ‘house’ style. It’s worth taking the time to follow their guidelines completely. And it’s not that much extra work. I usually save another copy of my formatted piece and just make the adjustments. Shunn is, however, the industry-standard it seems, so it won’t be often that you have to deviate.
The Shunn manuscript format for novels is different to short stories. In his guide, he doesn’t go over everything again (such as what we’ve touched on above), but rather explains the differences between the two approaches.
Let’s take a look at the front page, for example.
As you can see, it’s quite different to the short story approach. Here, Shunn instructs us to create a cover page that includes your details and then simply the title, author name and the number of words at the very bottom.
The rest of the guide just talks you through the process, highlighting any differences between the first guide.
Shunn is a prolific short story writer who has worked with some of the leading publishers around.
That experience is vital; it’s helped him put together his formatting guide which at first received approval from peers, and then approval from the publishing industry as a whole.
The guide instructs writers to keep things simple and professional. It tells them to include only the essential information that publishers want and crucially, it explains why so that authors have a solid understanding.
Given its wide approval and the fact that it’s been used for so long tells us that it’s a quality resource and one that isn’t going away any time soon.
Here are some tips for formatting a short story:
- Use a clear and easy-to-read font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, and a standard font size, such as 12 point.
- Double-space your text to make it easier to read and edit.
- Use proper paragraphing to break up the text and make it more visually appealing. Indent the first line of each new paragraph (the size is up to you but around 1cm is standard).
- Use dialogue tags to indicate who is speaking and to break up dialogue. Use quotation marks around dialogue and separate it from the rest of the text with a comma or colon.
- Use descriptive language and imagery to create a vivid and engaging story. Try to show and not tell the story to the reader.
- Use short paragraphs for action or quick changes of scene, and long paragraphs for introspection or descriptive passages.
- Keep in mind the overall structure of the story, such as the beginning, middle, and end. Start the story with an attention-grabbing opening, build the conflict in the middle, and provide a satisfying resolution at the end.
- Revise and edit your story multiple times to improve grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
This is a general guide, and it’s important to note that different publishers or contests may have different formatting requirements, so as we’ve seen above, check them before submitting your work and make sure it’s compliant.
Thanks for reading this guide on how to format a manuscript. Below, I’ve included some other writing tools and guides you may find useful.
- List of 200+ fantasy magazines and journals
- List of 80+ fantasy novel publishers
- How do you write a cover letter? A complete guide
- Writing tips
- Hated writing rules
- How to write romance scenes
- Mental health in fantasy books
- 8 ways to kickstart your writing career
- What is characterization?
- How to write strong female characters
- How to edit
- What is StoryOrigin?
- How to plot a story
- What is passive voice?
- 4 ways to begin writing a novel
- How to plan a story
- How to plan a novel
If you have any more questions about the Shunn manuscript format or about formatting generally, please feel free to get in touch.
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