FORMATTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT: a brief guide to Shunn

The above image is a screenshot of the Shunn format document.

Some editors and publishers will auto-reject a submission for seemingly petty things. But the reality is, if a manuscript is not formatted the way they request, it will require a lot of work on the editor’s part to fix it, especially with regards to using the “first-line indent” option instead of hitting “tab” for paragraph indents. And these fixes are time-consuming and often not worth it for the editor/publisher, no matter how excellent the story is.

So it’s best to know how to properly format a document so the work can have its best shot at being read and accepted. There are different ways to format whether submitting a short story, novel, poetry, blog post, etc. Here, I’ll focus mostly on formatting for a short story submission, but there is more information on the other types of work on the Shunn website link below.

I had the privilege of attending a formatting workshop early on in my writing career, and I’d like to share a very important guide that all writers should read and follow.

Go to this website.

READ IT. Don’t just skim over the look of the manuscript and think you’ve got it. The words in the manuscript are the instructions on how to properly format your file. This is called Shunn format. Most publishers and editors will request that you submit your file in Shunn format, or some variation of it. If a publisher does not specify how they want the document formatted, this is the format that should be used. If a publisher says they want a different indent, or different spacing, or they want the manuscript hand-written in blood on a stone tablet, then that’s how it should be submitted. ALWAYS follow the publisher’s submission guidelines first, and default to Shunn format when no guidelines are given.

I’ve shared this website to so many people, but rarely do they read through all five pages of the manuscript for full instructions on how to format. And in many cases, people aren’t sure how to change the settings. So in case you don’t have time to read it (Seriously, make time) or you’re not sure where to find these settings, here is a bit of a guide on where to start when formatting your doc file using MS Word. (These options are also on Google Docs but not in the same location. You might have to click around and find the options.)


Most of the default settings are NOT already set for proper manuscript format, so before you start typing, let’s change some things.


First click on Page Layout. (In Google Docs, you can find Page Set-up under the “File” tab.)

Use a standard page size of 8.5 x 11″ with one-inch margins all around. That’s top, bottom, left, and right. There’s no need to set mirror margins or gutter margins. Leave those blank or at zero.


Don’t get fancy. Nobody’s impressed with a funky Papyrus font. Keep it simple. Times New Roman is my go-to, but if you like the typewriter look, Courier is perfectly acceptable too. Play it safe and pick one of these two fonts.


Okay… this one is important. The indents are one reason some publishers/editors auto-reject stories. Set first-line indents properly and NEVER NEVER NEVER use the tab button to indent a paragraph ever again (unless the guidelines request it…which would be weird.)

(If using Google Docs instead of MS Word, go to the “Format” tab, click “Align & Indent,” then click “Indentation Options.”)


The story itself will be double-spaced, but this portion of the document with your author info is like a partial cover page, and it should be single-spaced with no first-line indents. I usually add this after the story is complete.

Shunn suggests giving the author’s full address. Most publishers taking unsolicited manuscripts/short stories today don’t require this information unless a contract is signed. Feel free to just put your name and email address here.


This portion does not need a first-line indent. It can be set to zero for everything above the story itself. If you use a first-line indent on the title, it will look off-centered. Not a big deal, but it looks off. The title should be about a third to half-way down the page, centered, with a space between the title and author name. If the author uses a pen name, it goes here.


The body of the story is where the paragraph settings from above are very important. Leave a couple lines after the title and byline and start typing. (Double-spaced. First-line indents set to 0.5″. No extra line spaces between paragraphs.)


Shunn format suggests the page number be at the top of the page on the right, (but not on the first page. This part isn’t usually critical, either, so don’t stress about it.) So once there’s a second page to the document, click to insert a page number. Then add your last name and the title. If it’s a long title, abbreviate to a couple key words.

(In Google Docs, go to “Insert” for page number options.)

After the page number has been inserted, it will appear in a header box as shown below.


No double spaces after periods.

No double line spaces after paragraphs.

Line breaks should be marked with a centered pound sign/hashtag (#).

Seriously, READ the Shunn format document. ALL 5 pages. There’s a lot of helpful information and I didn’t cover it all here.

Here’s that link again:

I hope this mess of a post is helpful to some!

Write on, party people!

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