One of the great things about attending writers conferences—or any conference in your given industry—is the ability to meet with experts who know more than you and learn from them. At this year’s Florida Christian Writers Conference, I enrolled in a four-day fiction workshop taught by Ramona Richards of Abingdon Press.
One of the first things we worked on were our first pages. One attendee had a first page that started halfway down the paper, so her “first page” contained only about one hundred words or so. If you’ve followed this site for a while, you know I’ve advised starting one-third of the way down the page. That’s because the Writer’s Digest publication Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript contains that age-old advice.
But that age-old advice dates from a time when editors received submissions on paper. The extra space on the first page of each chapter gave the editor more room for notes. Now that, in Ramona’s words “everyone is working digitally,” there is no need for that. She advises discontinuing the practice. The Chicago Manual of Style is silent on this issue. I have therefore revised my manuscript formatting guide in accordance with Ramona’s advice, because I believe it is sound.
First-paragraphs—indent or not?
One question I often hear is whether to remove the indent from the first paragraph of each chapter. This is purely a style preference. Many print editions are designed this way. But in manuscript format, it honestly doesn’t matter. Chicago is silent on the issue. The examples in Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript show these paragraphs with the same indent as the rest of the text.
So you may indent the first paragraph or a chapter, or not, whichever you prefer. The presence or absence of that indent is unlikely to make or break an editor’s decision for or against your manuscript.
One of the things Ramona told us was that there is no true “industry standard” manuscript format. There are, however, some guidelines that many editors find useful, and that’s what I’ve included in my manuscript formatting guide, “What your typing teacher didn’t tell you about manuscript formatting.”
Note, however, that any agent or editor you are submitting to may have specific manuscript submission requirements. Follow these to the letter, even if they are different from mine, or Writer’s Digest’s, or Chicago’s. You must provide what your prospect asks for.