My novel has an unusual prologue and I'm wondering how (or if) to present it when I get requests for pages.
My novel involves a sitcom, and the first chapter takes place during the taping of an episode. The book begins with four pages of the teleplay for that episode. These pages have a photographic look to ensure they are understood as intentional and not weird screenplay formatting in a novel.
This four-page scene sets the reader up with what's supposed to happen on stage. Then the actual chapter shows how that all goes wrong.
I know a prospective agent isn't going to care how well I can write sitcom pages, but how well I can write a novel. So my instinct is to never submit the pages (which can't even be pasted into the text of an email, as many agents require). But to read the first chapter without seeing the teleplay pages feels like watching the second act of "Noises Off" after skipping the first. I worry that the comedy pay-off doesn't pop without the setup.
How would you suggest I handle this?
Exactly as you did here. In your query, you tell the agent that the first four pages are the screenplay and the first chapter is how everything goes horribly wrong. The reference to Noises Off! is good because I can instantly see what you mean.
Email formatting won't allow proper script formatting as you've pointed out. BUT you CAN simply change the format and label the first four pages TELEPLAY and then write it as dialogue with stage directions.
The point of a query is to entice an agent to read the manuscript. No agent is going to let a little thing like format stand in the way of reading a good idea, as long as the format is clean and legible.
When the time comes to submit a full manuscript, you might inquire about submitting as a PDF. I generally do not like PDFs because I can't make notes on the actual manusript or mark anything with track changes. Also, most editors I work with require mss in .doc style format so it's better to get that at the query stage rather than discover the author has no clue about that format later in the game.
This is yet another instance where meeting agents in a face to face situation will be a good thing. Actual pages will solve this problem and get you to the real question: is this a novel I want to read.