Thursday, October 01, 2009

Let's have a pop quiz!

Sucked up from the comments column is the driving force behind tonight's pop quiz:

I noticed you mentioned TNR 12-pt. font. At Seattle's PNWA conference in August, a book doctor told me to switch my manuscripts from TNR to Courier.

Got any advice, oh wise sage of the Publish-o-sphere?

Question: Which font should I use in manuscript pages sent to agents (assuming a particular font is not specified in the guidelines)

A: a literary agent says Times New Roman

B: A book doctor says Courier

Which one is right?

think carefully.

A or B?

Not sure?

Let's try another one:

Question: Do you need to know someone in publishing, ie have connections, to secure representation by a literary agent?

A: a literary agent says no

B: the authors in a survey are divided; some say yes, some say no

Still not sure?

One more, just for fun.

Question: If you want to find out who the agent is for a book (and it's not listed in the acknowledgements or dedication) should you call the publisher and ask for the editor of the book?

A: A switchboard operator at RandomHouse says "one moment, please" and drops you into the publicity department voice mail.

B. The switchboard operator at PenguinPutnam says "one moment, please" and drops you into the subrights department's voice mail.

C. An industry blog says "yes, the editor's assistant will be happy to tell you."

Still not sure of the right answer?

Here's the key: follow the advice of the person who actually DOES the job that you're asking questions about.

Don't follow some goofball book doctor's advice about query letters instead of an agent's.

Don't follow some unknown author's prognostications about how agents choose clients instead of an agent's.

Don't follow some well-intentioned but bone-headed advice from people who don't actually answer the phone at a publishing company.

It galls me to no end to see people slavishly following misguided instructions about query letters given by people who don't work in a literary agency, don't read queries, and don't know anything beyond their own experience.

It galls me further to see people repeat things as gospel which are absolutely and totally wrong; things they heard were true from people who don't work in literary agencies, don't sign clients and don't have the first clue about how this works (but have a lot of experience in how it doesn't.)

And it amuses the hell out of me to see people tell you to call publishers to ask for information.
Publishers are not in retail or reader customer service. They're also not the library. Their job is NOT to provide writers with information about agents.

I won't tell you how to write good novels, if you'll stop telling people how to get an agent. Deal?

Answers: A, A, and none of the above


_*rachel*_ said...

2/3. Not bad. And I wouldn't call and ask anyway.

As someone whose knowledge of querying, etc., comes from agent and editor blogs, I agree on where you should get your info. I would.

Rissa Watkins said...

*highlights page and changes font back to TNR*

You know it's funny because recently on one of the agent/editor blogs I read someone mentioned in the comments section that all manuscripts should be formatted in Courier New only. Several other commentors agreed.

So I changed mine. Now I remember, the actual blog owner never said it was correct, just the other commentors.

Thanks for the quiz.

Sophie Playle said...

Great post - will tweet this!

Skeptic said...

God bless technology. I can't stand reading hundreds of pages of Courier.

I had an agent request Courier back in the dark ages. She didn't use email (not that I think it was possible to send file attachments that large back then - this was when 14.4k modems were shiny new toys). She preferred Courier because there was more space between characters for notes/edits/etc.

Linda Maye Adams said...

This reminded me of one that happened to me. My book is in omniscient viewpoint (something I chose because it was right for this story--and also with the understanding that I needed to master the viewpoint).

Other Writers: Agents will reject you automatically for using omniscient viewpoint.

Agents: I have been following agent blogs. I've never seen any of them talk about rejecting automatically for omniscient viewpoint. I've not been able to point to one agent who even says, "I don't like the viewpoint."

Where do these things get started anyway? My conclusion from the lack of information is that I still need to follow the basics--make sure I do a good job with everything.

Linda Adams

Jude Hardin said...

Aced it.

Welshcake said...

Sound advice.

I belong to a couple of on-line crit sites and forums. The advice unpublished writers give one another sometimes seems plain wrong to me (but I’m also an unpublished writer, so what do I know?). It pays to consider the qualifications of the advice-giver.

Margaret Yang said...

People just coming into the business right now have got it easy because agent blogs and editor blogs and writer blogs and websites and all that explosion of information.

People just coming into the business right now have got it hard because most of that information contradicts itself.

jjdebenedictis said...

Reminds me of how a certain actress criticized the treatments Patrick Swayze's doctors chose for him. I couldn't comprehend how she had the steel ovaries to suggest she knew better than medical professionals how to treat cancer.

Les Edgerton said...

Janet, I'm glad to hear you say to use TNR. My understanding of why agents/editors prefer it is twofold: 1. It lets you know at a glance how many words are in the mss (computer word counts are awful!)
2. TNR is a font that's easy on the eyes, especially when reading billions of words. It's because the descenders are long and allow the eye to travel easily. Fonts like Courier have short, stubby descenders, causing the eye to "bump along" and create eyestrain and headaches. Not to mention the kerneling is different and creates very different word counts.

One thing that I just noticed (I'm slow...) is something I've done myself in my own writing books. I just read the same in another World Famous Agent's Writing How-To when he said what I've been guilty of saying myself. In referring to some no-no in writing, we'll say, "If you do this, the reader will hurl the book across the room." Well, in my experiential experience (how's that for a term that's meaningless!) I've visited libraries and bookstores literally thousands of times... and I've NEVER seen a single person hurl a book across a room. Could this be exaggeration on our part? Am I just never in the right place at the right time when this happens? Are we portraying readers as bloodthirsty, violent people, directly descended from the Huns and with those genes for physical violence active? I suspect we are... If anyone has ever actually witnessed someone throwing a book across a room, I'd be interested in hearing the particulars. I suspect we're scaring writers by painting these scenarios on their brains...

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

Yay, I got them all right.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Yeah...but my doctor's nephew's housekeeper said...

Sara J. Henry said...

I was able to find out who the agents were for all the authors I was interested in by some concentrated Googling. And some you can find simply by typing the author's name into the search box on Agent Query.

Patience-please said...

Whhat is it about human nature?

My husband is a retired physician. I can't *tell* you the number of times he would explain the patient's condition, the treatment choices, and the probable outcomes. A lot of expensive education and 30 years of experience went into that advice. (Plus, he's smart.)

But every so often the patient would say, "Well, my neighbor/auntie/hair dresser said ... " said...

I won't tell you how to write good novels, if you'll stop telling people how to get an agent. Deal?

is this a trick question? one is the other, no. C.) You get an agent by writing a good novel.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love this post. Spot on. The remark that publishing houses are not libraries, reminded me of an incident when I was a newspaper features writer. I did a piece on art, and a woman phoned to ask me to help get her collection of old Asian art appraised. I informed her, nicely, that I was a reporter, not an appraiser, and did not have the information she was seeking. She got quite ticked off and told me her father always said, "If you want to know about something, call the newspaper."
Alas, my bosses did not pay me to be research assistant to the world.

Tana said...

I switched long ago from my favorite ariel to TNR. Word to the wise if you switch fonts after several drafts you will lose all italics.

Travener said...

Actual quote from AAR-member literary agent: "Submit the manuscript as a Word document in Courier, 12-point."

Actual quote from other, AAR-member agent: " not choose anything other than [Courier or TNR]..."

Paraphrased quotes from a number of publisher's websites: "Please print your manuscript in...Courier or Courier New font."

Glad we got that straight.

Sara J. Henry said...

I constantly switch fonts because I do each new draft in a different font - partly because it helps me see the text differently, and partly because I print drafts on the back of the previous draft and if I happen to knock it on the floor, it makes sorting easier. And I've never lost italic formatting (this is in Word).

ryan field said...

I get e-mails from writers asking me to read their work. And I hate to say no.

The one thing I always see the most is that people aren't sure about how to format a ms. These mss aren't double spaced and they aren't in Times New Roman. Many are in PDF and not Word.

The first time it happened, I offered the same advice you just posted, assuming they were going to submit this to an agent or editor. I've been reading blogs like this for a long time, and I know how to submit a standard ms. And the writer took it personally, as if I had something against Courier and single spacing.

Now I just give them links to agent blogs like this and tell them to read it on their own.

What always amazes me is that people will pay a "book doctor" for bad advice when they can get the right advice by reading blogs like yours for free.

Julia said...

You'll get my Courier New when you pry it from my cold, dead fingerpads.

Not Quite Human said...

Ha! Damn book doctors, always trying to throw people for a curve ball.

M. Kassel said...

I just don't see an agent saying "hmmm, brilliant book, compelling dialogue, riveting plot... too bad I have to reject it because it's set in Courier."

Anonymous said...

I once read an agent blog comment in which a writer asked, "One agent says to send a synopsis and the other says not to send anything but the query! Which is correct?!"

I can't even imagine what sort of story might be written by someone stumped by that little logic puzzle.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this basically the issue about which method is used for word count? Those who do the calculation based on print pages like in the old days will often prefer Courier/Courier New because it is a monospace font. Each letter takes up exactly the same amount of space on the page = equal characters per page count.

In TNR, a variable space font, a letter "i" will require less space than a letter "m", resulting in a varied characters per page count, depending on whether the chapter is about Agamemnon or the Iliad...

Not that I argue that you should always take your advice from the person primarily dealing with the topic of your question, on the contrary – I find it excellent advice! But the reason some agents say they want Courier is probably more than just a vanity thing. =)

laughingwolf said...

dang... i always consult leprechauns and fairies ;) lol

Jude Hardin said...

Actually, TNR averages about 250 words/page, while Courier averages about 200. Some agents prefer TNR because it corresponds more closely to the eventual page count in a published novel. said...

great advice...always go to the source...and who uses courier ever?

Hart Johnson said...

I have a little history on the Courier/TNR thing from a history of scientific publication that I've lived through. There was a time, only about 15 years ago, that published things were type-set--little pieces put in a frame for each letter... enter computers instead of type-writers for submissions (very new at that point) and it threw a giant wrench in calculations for space (as mentioned).

Digital publishing has changed this, but not everybody has kept up--the advice for Courier is from old-school, but some PUBLISHERS may still be doing things old school--so that is their perogative (and agents working with these old-school publishers may just find it safer).

Most publishers though, are taking an electronic file and using THAT for publishing. Times New Roman is easier to read and space efficient and so seems a logical choice. Because it's easier to read, I think those of us seeking an agent are better off with it (I've never seen an agent say NO on TNR).

Pepper Smith said...

Les Edgerton--on book throwing.

I actually have thrown a book across the room. The book was "The Empire Strikes Back," and the point in the story was right when Vader drops the big bombshell on Luke. It took a little while before I calmed down enough to pick it up and finish it. (This was back before the movie came out, so it really was a complete shock.)

This is probably not the sort of thing you're going to witness in a public venue. People are going to be more careful with books they don't own, because they'll have to pay for what they damage.

none said...

Well, Les, I once had my husband throw a book out of a window for me, and later into the dustbin. But the only person I've ever seen hurl a book across the room is me.

none said...

Oh, and you can send me TNR or Courier but please no Arial and no bloody Garamond.

Hallie Ephron said...

Some of Gone With the Wind was written on the back of laundry lists. Oh, for the good old days.

You tell 'em, Janet!

Steve Stubbs said...

So suppose someone misses all three questions and guesses C, C, and D. Suppose furthermore that said hypothetical individual wants to know if it is OK to call Fine Print at some idiotic hour of the night and ask Janet to explain the test. Said hypothetical individual is not a signed client. Should she ask permission from:

A. The mailman in the osouth Bronx.
B. The dog catcher in Queens.
C. Mayor Bloomberg, OR
D. Former Mayor Guiliani.

Please make your selection carefully. With modern computer technology you cannot change it once entered.

lotusgirl said...

Lot of good points.

Editorial Anonymous said...

"yes, the editor's assistant will be happy to tell you."


BJ said...

As someone above mentioned, you probably won't get rejected because of your choice of font - as long as it is a clear, easy-to-read font. TNR and Courier are always safe.

UNLESS, of course, the particular agent you're subbing to says they won't read anything but a certain font. If, however, they say (or you learn) that they *prefer* a certain font, then you get that tiny bit extra appreciation in their mind if you follow their preference.

I'm always one to give agents or editors what they prefer. It's one less distraction from your writing -- which is really what sells your novel.

This is where reading and following an agent's guidelines comes in handy.

Terri Coop said...

As a lawyer I get way too many 'helpful' clients and their relatives who 'just want to help' me with the case. We refer to this as having got your law degree from the University of Google.

My worst was a woman's daughter. She would call me every day to discuss legal strategy and all the great info she had discovered by badgering everyone involved as witnesses. I told her to back off, she was hurting her mother's case. She then said in a (what to her no doubt) was a wise and sage voice that "I was right, it would probably be better if I (as in me, the one with the law degree) was the public face of the case and that she do all of the investigative work in the background."

I quit the case the next day.

My oh-so-unreasonable demands of my clients:

Give me the information I ask for in the format I ask for it in. Show up for court. Quit breaking laws. Keep your mouth shut about your case. Take a bath. Don't harrass the victim. Stay sober. Call me when I tell you to and not before unless you've been arrested.

Hey, I just re-read Janet's submission guidelines! It's like we're twins separated at birth!

BJ said...


Courier is still a pretty common font. You see it mentioned in many submission guidelines. Of course, it's usually given as 'Courier or Times New Roman' - but not always. And I've read a lot of submissions guidelines.

Me, I prefer TNR. I use TNR when I'm working on a manuscript. I'll sometimes switch to Courier for editing (a change in font can bring all those invisible errors out of hiding), but I generally do the creative stuff in TNR.

However, if the agent I'm interested in has told me he prefers Courier (as he has), I'm going to send my subs to him in Courier. Seems logical to me.

Anonymous said...

/ It's not you, you're just not my type joke here.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

So, let me get this straight.

After a 6-month restoration of my trusty old Underwood to meet the submission guidelines of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, you're telling me I need to go find a working IBM Executive with proportional spacing to type my manuscript?

Oy, what I do for my art.