Thursday, March 13, 2014

Question: The way to torment us all--formatting



I always work under the assumption that an agent has a different e-mail server from my own and that formatted e-mails will always turn out wonky.  Hence, I always send plain text e-mails with block paragraphs, no indentation, and a line between each paragraph.  First question: is this the best method?

No. Here's what that looks like:

There's two kinds of people in the world, and Johnny's not either one of them"
Failed salesman Johnny Wolfe encounters a dying dog in the street while walking to work one morning,
the first dog he's seen in years--years since the suburbs were declared off limits, and people forced
back to the city. Johnny suspects there’s a sense of the wild returning to the city. 
When the dog kills one of Johnny’s rival salesmen, his suspicions are confirmed.  
WOLF traces two days in the life of Johnny Wolfe, a man mired in loss – the
loss of his childhood pet, the failure of his marriage, and the end of a once prosperous career
selling surveillance and security equipment. 
He yearns to get his life back on track, and when he finds a $1.2million sales order on his
colleague’s now dead body, he figures this deal could be the answer.  
Except what is the product that is being sold?  Why doesn’t it show up in any of the company sales catalogs?
And what does this product have to do with the sudden return of dogs to the city?
Or are they really dogs, and why is it that the people in Johnny’s life all smell so much like they’re out to get him? 
WOLF is a boy and his dog story...as seen through a prism of Salvador Dali.
 


Two lines between paragraphs and you break up paragraphs into blocks of 3-4 sentences.  Like this:

 "There's two kinds of people in the world, and Johnny's not either one of them"

Failed salesman Johnny Wolfe encounters a dying dog in the street while walking to work one morning,
the first dog he's seen in years--years since the suburbs were declared off limits, and people forced
back to the city. Johnny suspects there’s a sense of the wild returning to the city.

When the dog kills one of Johnny’s rival salesmen, his suspicions are confirmed.

WOLF traces two days in the life of Johnny Wolfe, a man mired in loss – the
loss of his childhood pet, the failure of his marriage, and the end of a once prosperous career
selling surveillance and security equipment.

He yearns to get his life back on track, and when he finds a $1.2million sales order on his
colleague’s now dead body, he figures this deal could be the answer.

Except what is the product that is being sold?  Why doesn’t it show up in any of the company sales catalogs?  


And what does this product have to do with the sudden return of dogs to the city?
Or are they really dogs, and why is it that the people in Johnny’s life all smell so much like they’re out to get him?

WOLF is a boy and his dog story...as seen through a prism of Salvador Dali.








When the agent says "send thirty pages" I assume they mean "take thirty pages properly formatted per my submission guidelines and then convert them to block paragraphs so you can insert them into the e-mail."  I recently had an agent (admittedly kind of a lower-tier talent) send me a nastygram because the pages I submitted within the body of an e-mail were not formatted to industry standard.  


It means take 30 pages and paste them into the body of the email. You must keep the double spacing. Reading big blocks of text is nigh to impossible.

Am I shooting myself in the foot using block formatting?  
yes.

Are agents genuinely rolling their eyes and saying "Why didn't this guy send me a rich text e-mail?" or was the agent who told me that just being a jerk?  

Well, no, we're not rolling our eyes, we're just not reading as much of your query as you wish. When it's hard to read, it's hard to read.


This is the kind of thing that can driver authors insane, I know. Truthfully, if a query sounds interesting and the writing doesn't well and truly suck, I often copy and paste into a word .doc and hit "normal" for the page to format correctly. Then I read it.

I'm always looking for good projects. Weird formatting isn't going to get in my way.

16 comments:

french sojourn said...

Excellent question and answer.

I also love the concept of Wolf.
(The Salvador Dali aspect was a bit of a turn off.)But the story sounds fun.

Love the first sentence.

Cheers Hank

Ellie said...

*Smacks forehead* I read that Gmail adds additional spaces at the beginning/end of all paragraphs and that using plain text would fix that. I've been living a lie!

Thank you for the insight!!

Craig said...

Even when you post your query for the trolls to do nasty things to it you need to double space.

I think a query should have a few trial runs before you glue your hopes and dreams to it.

I know that I think differently than most but I realize that many Literary Agents are just that literary. Even though Dear Janet is open minded and looking for good ideas doesn't mean that they all are. Tossing it to the literary trolls first will let you see other peoples gut reactions to it. Trust me that if you format it wrong they will tell you.

donnaeverhart.com said...

If I'm sending something that equated to a year or more worth of work, I send myself and my husband a test email - so I can see what it'll look like. My husband has Gmail and I have a Windows Outlook account. I'm covered by at least two potential formatting bombs.

Lauren B. said...

Oh generous Shark, can you clarify what you mean by 'double-spacing' for the sample pages?

Do we mean double-spacing *between* paragraphs, as with the body of the query, or maintaining the double-spacing *within* paragraphs, as it is in the word processor?

I almost never see double-spacing within paragraphs in emails, it feels weird. Granted, I don't read 5-30 pages of fiction within emails typically either.

Craig said...

Two bar spaces to replace the indent that usually denotes a paragraph break.

The same as you did in you comment post. Keep your regular paragraphs the same. You even leave you tab indent if you want but it won't translate

Gin said...

I'd appreciate clarification too. I'm not even sure I CAN retain manuscript-format-style double-spacing in an email. I've always done the pasted pages in the same format as the query, for lack of any way to maintain the manuscript indents and double-spacing. Attached documents, of course, I send in standard manuscript-format, but cut-and-pasted pages are sent in email format, single-spaced within the paragraph, and an extra line separating the paragraphs.

Michael Seese said...

I agree with french sojourn. In fact, your next contest should be, write a 100-word story which begins, "There's two kinds of people in the world, and Johnny's not either one of them."

ghostwriter said...

I'm pretty sure the shark's advice (command?) is just that you put two spaces between paragraphs rather than one. That way if the email shows up with unwanted line breaks, as in the examples, it should still be clear where the paragraphs begin and end. You don't need to add the unnecessary line breaks--your email client helpfully provides them for you :).

BonnieShaljean said...

Michael, you never Seese to amaze me with your clever ideas. Story contest, yesssss...

Damn. Now I want to read the book Janet "queried" - does such a critter exist IRL?

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Lance said...

Very useful information. Thank you again for your time and guidance.

A Johnny-was-neither story contest seems to be a quite interesting suggestion. Shouldn't we have one?

Jenz said...

I would also appreciate clarification of double spacing, because I'm pretty sure a lot of email clients don't allow true double spacing. You do mean that extra line between paragraphs, right, the way it appears in this blog post and in the comments?

Amanda Helms said...

Interesting. After reading in the Sharkives about someone whose query had become gobbledygook in the Shark's inbox when he/she used direct copy/paste from Word, I'd been making sure to convert my query and any included pages in that email to plain text. I then used "email style" (which many do call block style, after the block style formatting of business letters: no indents and double-return between paragraphs so that paragraphs have a one-line space between them).

So I'd also like some clarification on the double-spacing, too. I've noted that even copy/pasting from RTF docs into RTF emails, my sent (test) emails then have *additional* hard returns between paragraphs--3 or 4. Which seems it would make scrolling difficult.

BonnieShaljean said...

I share everybody's question about the spacing issue above! Also:

That word "block" is a bit confusing to me too, because I've always understood it to simply mean non-indented paragraphs, separated by an extra line.

But I gather that (?????) when The Shark refers to blocks, she specifically means chunks of single-spaced text…? ("You must keep the double spacing.") I'm sure I've also read elsewhere, either on this blog or Queryshark, not to indent - but to me, that IS block paragraphing, however its lines are spaced.

So - can I please just get a yea/nay/chomp-&-spit-out as to whether the following assumptions are correct:

- Paragraphs should be non-indented (including both manual hard command and word-processor/rtf formatting) and - somehow or other - double-spaced. And not too long. Pasted into an email.

- In plain text?

- The lacuna between the paragraphs has an extra empty line, i.e. those should be triple-spaced.

- Font should be TNR-12 or Courier (though these do make quite a difference to the number of pages, so can we judge by word-count) ??


I will be sooooo grateful for clarification on these points!

Joseph Snoe said...

Why can't you indent? That seems silly. Indents help identify the new paragraph.

I'm experimenting with double space inside a paragraph and triple space between paragraphs. It looks better than it sounds.