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Writing Books/Formatting Text


I always place the opening sentence of a chapter or section, flush with the left margin. However, all of the members of my critique group (and when I say all, I mean ALL), comment on my stories that I should be indenting. Several members are published authors. Now it has me wondering. Should the opening paragraph be flush with the left margin, or should I begin with an indent like the other paragraphs? I've noticed that some authors will even flush left the first paragraph when they have a POV change. Is this something I should worry about as I'm writing, or is it handled by an editor later on?
I would like to get a final definitive answer on this.

Ah, a definitive answer. If only! In truth when I edit manuscripts for publishers, the publisher or the author (I donít know which, but I suspect itís the publisher) has already formatted the first paragraph in each new scene or chapter to make it flush left. Such formatting is handled with style tags, and if creating styles is not something youíre familiar with, donít worry about it. Standard manuscript format, which is typically acceptable for submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers, does not call for flush-left first paragraphs. Instead all paragraphs are equally indented.

In my opinion, and this is by no means a definitive answer, you can use either style. If you plan to self-publish and want your book to have flush-left first paragraphs, itís certainly something you want in your manuscript. If you plan to send it to an agent or publisher, though, I can promise you that such a minor format issue will not be reason that a manuscript gets either accepted or rejected. Once a publisher accepts a manuscript, it will decide on the layout of the book and then change the format as it prefers.

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Bobbie Christmas


Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.


Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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