Thursday, December 04, 2014

Query Question: The first 50 pages

We had a request for 50 pages. The pages end in a better place at about page 53 (12 font). We know not to send more, however, would changing the font to 11.5 from 12 be okay? The agent's site didn't specify 11 or 12 and I have seen both sizes. What should we do? 

What an illuminating question, and by this I mean, illuminating for me, not you. I always wondered why manuscripts showed up in a weird font and 11.5 point. I assumed it was a platform conversion problem.

NOW I see it's clever little hands trying to be smarter than my Format key.

When you send something in ANYTHING other than Times New Roman 12pt font, I immediatly convert to that.

Often I end up with more pages than I asked for. I don't care.

When you send in a font like Courier I end up with FEWER pages than requested. Again, I don't care, but you should. If I ask for ten pages and you end up sending seven you are asking seven pages to do the work of ten. (Your pages will be unionizing soon if you keep doing that, and rightfully so)

Here's what you need to know: An agent says "send 50 pages" but what that means is "don't send the whole novel" and/or "don't send too little." Send enough so that I can see what you're doing here.

If the best place to end is on page 53, send 53 pages.

DO NOT SEND a cover sheet.
Don't send acknowledgment pages.
Don't send a page dedicated to "Chapter One and an epigraph"

Start where the first chapter starts. In an effort to "follow the guidelines" don't make an agent nuts: Don't break a sentence or a paragraph EVER;
Don't break a chapter if you can help it.
UNLESS you have a natural break in the chapter that lends itself to an ending.

 And don't go haywire on your font: TNR 12 is the gold standard.

I sometimes get the idea that querying writers think agents are like the old style compulsories judges in figure skating. Those judges sometimes got down on the ice and measured the accuracy of figures the skaters were required to complete.

 Agents are not like that. Querying is more like the interpretive section of the competiton. We expect your technical skills are up to par and we want to see what you bring to the program.  We're not measuring your figure 8s and not counting your pages. You on the other hand are not falling on your asterisk and sliding off the cliff.


Ellipsis Flood said...

Good old TNR 12pt. I wish the new Word versions still had that as their standard font. Instead, they have that weird sans serif font in 11pt.

But seriously, that kind of 11.5 point page counting thing reminds me of school, when teachers would ask for a certain number of pages and all the padding tricks were used to get up to the count.

In hindsight, though, I feel silly for ever thinking the teacher wouldn't see through that.

Thomas Andrew Green said...

LMAsteriskO! Thanks a billion for clearing that up! Now I can relax about that and start looking for something else to worry about.

Susan Bonifant said...

I remember when I stopped doing this. It was after I'd spent hours wondering how I'd squeeze in that essential, additional two pages. Hours.


I looked at the time, realized the sun was setting while my cursor was still hovering over "send," and thought: this could be what people refer to in future discussions of "signs that Susan was losing her mind." I'm pretty sure I tacked on the pages and sent it at that point.

A little fretting is good, but it's important to know when your inner crazy-perfect person is trying to take over.

Anonymous said...

I wonder. Just how long is the list of worries writers flip out over? I think this calls for a investigation.

Or a t-shirt that says, "You're Okay. I'm Not. I'm A Writer."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

As you so aptly say,
"Start where the first chapter starts".
Does that mean I do not include my prologue?
Hey, you prologue haters, stop the snickering.
Some of us out here like prologues. Some of us out here think they are vital to the story set-up. Some of us don’t give a holy-freecoly what you - I should call CNN about this.
You know what Janet, I’m taking a stand, (stamping my foot), I’m sending the prologue not just because it’s a ‘darling’ but because it best introduces the reader to what “I” am about regarding personal substance. It is, after all, an amazing memoir, prologue and all. I just had a thought, if the prologue cites my amazingness, maybe I should add an epilogue regarding my humility. Any opinions on epilogues out there? Oh stop snorting, it really does not become you.

Craig F said...

Style Points, Style Points, my kingdom for Style Points (preferably in twelve point Times new Roman).

Carolynn, see what happens when you don't eat Lima Beans. You get cabin fever on only the fourth of December.

Ellipsis Flood said...

The more I think about it, the more getting an agent and getting a job feel alike.

In both cases, you try to show your best in a letter and fret endlessly over style points. Many people don't grasp the meaning of "business letter" and send ridiculous things. And finally, it's extremely frustrating if you don't hear back, and a bit less frustrating if you get a form rejection.

...great, now I want to know if people send query letters in Comic Sans with sparkly/scrolling/blinking text.

Unknown said...

Donnaeverhart--make my T-shirt a medium in black using Times New Roman, 12 pt.

Artemis Grey said...

VERY interesting!!! Since I'm actively querying agents, this is something I've struggled with. I've been lucky enough to get just enough insight into agents to know that you're safe sending slightly more than requested, if it means ending in an appropriate place. But it's still good to hear that you're safe (within reason) to send what you need to in order to make the story as strong as possible.

Also, the change in font/pages is always interesting. I tend to write in Courier, but then change it all to TNR for submissions. As a result, I know how different those two are, but it's still shocking to realize exactly how much it will change between different fonts.

Anonymous said...

Margo, LOL! Exactly!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Craig, you know what you can do with your lima beans...go plant a garden babe.
And may your beanstalk reach all the way to Janet's office and back. Damn lima beans they always get me in trouble.

MNye said...

Wait, Janet's office is UP?

Craig F said...

Carolynn, watch those mixed metaphors, there are children reading this. Besides I am very happily living in sin. Thank you very much.

Back to relevance.

Writing is much worse than just having a job, unless you are the guy with the net on a stick at the wastewater plant.

Writing is more akin to birthing a child. Remember the old saw about unconditional love, birthing babies and a bucket full of water? Writing is like that.

Colin Smith said...

A follow-up question that I'm not sure we want to hear the answer to: How many agents upon receipt of the 50 pages actually decide whether they're interested within the first 10--or even 5--pages? I would presume if an agent gets to 50, is glad to see another 2 pages, and is disappointed there's not more, it's a very good sign. :)

Carolynn: I think your lima bean hate is going overboard. Are you on Facebook so I can Friend then un-Friend you? I'm hardly ever on Facebook but I'd make an exception for the lima beans. Someone's got to take a stand for them! ;)

Elissa M said...

In a college advertising class, we were required to write a 20-page research paper on some aspect of advertising. I wrote about the various ways advertisers can acquire music for use in ads. I covered the topic thoroughly, and it took five pages. What to do?

Well, padding is always an option, but I immediately discarded that idea. My professor was an adman, having spent years in advertising before he became an instructor. Verbosity is not a plus in advertising. I thought, "He's going to have a pile of papers to wade through and grade, most of which will be padded out to make the 20 pages. When he gets to my succinct but complete report, he'll sigh with relief." I handed in five pages. I got an "A".

Ever since then, I've never worried about exact page counts. All that really matters is the writing. I'm more than certain any agent who rejects a submission because it was three pages longer than asked for is an agent I wouldn't want to work with anyway.

Amy Schaefer said...

I think that polar bear has the right idea. That is going to be my new go-to photo when I start to fret about nonsense.

Totally off topic: I begin my three-day odyssey to get home for Christmas this afternoon. Wish me and the kids some smooth plane rides with no gastrointestinal interruptions. (Please, please, just this once can we fly home without anyone getting sick?)

Anonymous said...

Good luck and safe travels for Amy and the kids! (Stay away from eating lima beans until you reach your destination)

AJ Blythe said...

Ellipsis Flood, you can change your normal template in word so you don't have to reset the font everytime you open a new document.

Carolynnwith2Ns, I just read yesterday's post and you had me in stitches - great way to start a day. I'll never be able to look at lima beans again without snorting.

Janet, the paranoia of us writers will never dim. You might put a damper on one thing, but just round the corner will be something else for us to chew our nails over.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

MNye, hahahaha !

DLM said...

I used to sweat this and saw/heard more than one comment from agents similar to our kind hostess's. Generally, I'll cut a sample short by a paragraph or few, and allow the text to end on a BEAT, if a SCENE doesn't work itself to a convenient end. Reading these excerpts out loud, I often find myself pleased with the dramatic/rhythmic effect of leaving a scene just when *that line* of dialogue comes but without resolution.

Indeed, I wondered not so long ago if that didn't increase the tension in a way the MS itself needed, after an agent had a full read and (having not mentioned tension on initial feedback), said they felt the overall pace flagged. I didn't go in for a complete revision, but I did ratchet a few joints and was very happy with the effect. (I so wanted to go back and beg for another read, in fact - but I didn't. Sigh!)

So, yeah, I still stick right to 50 or just a few paragraphs less, but I find the pause and leave off on an intake of breath.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Can you blame us writers for being a tad paranoid, especially with the popular notion going about that agents will look for any reason to say "no" to a ms.

That said, we need to remember that the purpose of the first five/ten/fifty pages is to show that our voice and style works, not to show off the plot, or even the characters. (Most of the time a skilled agent can determine that in five pages.)

Anonymous said...


Oddly enough, we've been having this debate on the Compuserve Lit Forum. Barbara Rogan convinced me to get rid of my prologue. I didn't think I could do it, but after I did, I can't even remember now what it was or why I thought I needed it. All the elements got worked into the story.

Having said that, Diana Gabaldon, weighed in because she does use prologues and people, apparently inhale every word of them. Who knew people could be so rabid about prologues that the wax poetic about reading them?

One agent was discussing prologues and said the reason she doesn't like them is because the writing style in a prologue and the book are often quite different. The reason she requests pages is to see if the author can write and that prologue often eats up valuable real estate that could be devoted to the story.

In the case of one person on Lit Forum, she felt she needed the prologue because it set up the story and character. "A thousand years ago..."

"Any opinions on epilogues out there?"

The same person with the important prologue also had an epilogue. Beth Shope, my go to gal, said this is called "bookending". Who knew it had a name? I actually like some epilogues.

*Hands Carolyn some chocolate laced with sedative* I see December is getting to you. Have some cocoa.

Anonymous said...

Carolynn, I think I misspelled your name in the last post. forgive me.

Amy, have a safe, sick free, blessed and happy journey. Yay, you! Have fun.

I sent out some partial requests that cut off at fifty pages. I adjusted my spaces new chapter headings, I adjusted my margins. I usually write with a 1.25 margin. I finally got 50 pages to where it wasn't at least breaking mid sentence, but it was still awkward. Now I'm submitting 52 pages to finish out the chapter. It just left it at such a terrible place otherwise I thought the agents would throw it at a wall and scream bloody invectives at me about that horrible character I'd created.

I figured if they got that far they would read one and a half more pages.

"...great, now I want to know if people send query letters in Comic Sans with sparkly/scrolling/blinking text. "

Apparently yes, if agents have to ask writers not to send weird fonts or anything with glitter on it. One agent said a writer had her manuscript delivered in a beautiful, handmade, carved wooden box. The agency had to go to the trouble to get a box to return the box because they weren't going to keep it even though the author told them to. They didn't even read the manuscript because the well-intentioned author kind of screwed up their day so badly and cost them money.

Where I stumble is the personalization part of the query letter and maybe that's a subject for a blog post. Some agents want to know why you're querying them. Others don't mention it in their guidelines.

Should I say, "Well, I've been following you on twitter and I love your personality. I think we could make beautiful books together!"?

You rep so and so who writes things similar to mine.

I guess it isn't obvious, but a person should be researching agents to make sure they fit the book and the author before they query.

I guess some writers don't. They just see, "Ah, they rep my genre!" Send.

So much to think about Little Writer, but someday you too shall become a Mighty Writer.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

It's better (within guidelines and reason) to send too much than too little. Nearly every agent I've seen answer a question of this nature has said do not stop in the middle of a sentence, or a paragraph. Finish the chapter. If the agent thinks it's not for them, they'll know, regardless of those final 200 words or whatever.

And if you think those 200 words will be the deciding factor? Perhaps you need to rethink your pages, n'est-ce pas?