Friday, June 22, 2007

email query tangles

Many of the literary agents today invite email queries from authors. Some accept only email queries, while others accept only snail mail. Email seems to offer a convenient, economical means of reaching an agent and getting a faster reply, but it has some pitfalls which writers should be aware of. If a writer drafts his query letter in a word processor program, like MS-WORD, and then copies and pastes it into an email, problems can and do occur. This may happen because email does not recognize your word processor's formatting codes. In reviewing many agent blogs and writers' comments, the most common problem is the use of 'smart quotes' by WORD. These are the curly-shape quote marks that also have different shapes at the beginning and end of a quote (most writers recommend turning this feature off in WORD). The email recipient will see smart quotes reproduced as a clump of strange symbols on his end of the transmission. Other WORD formatting that will be lost and replaced by other strange symbols are italics, bolds, and em symbols (conversion of double dashes into a single long dash). To avoid these problems, the writer should save his WORD document as a Text file, then copy and paste from the text file into the email. This should resolve those particular problems. Some writers advised an intermediate step of copying the WORD file into a Notepad, or other Text-editing file, and then copying from there into the email. However, that shouldn't be necessary; copying from a WORD text file should be sufficient.

The next problem occurs if the agent requests sample pages be included after the query, and within the body of the email. Indents and double spacing within the paragraph will be lost when copying and pasting from the WORD manuscript into the email. It appears that the best the writer can do to improve the appearance for the benefit of the agent-reader is to manually insert a blank space between paragraphs. The email format does not allow providing double spacing within paragraphs, as is customary when submitting hardcopy manuscripts.

The situation is a little daunting yet, and has led some agents not to accept email queries, but hopefully things will improve in the future. Hang in there, writers—and agents.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

It seems like catching an agent's attention is almost as hard--if not harder--than writing the book itself.

You're right to offer encouragement to hang in there. It's a long road, without any guarantees. But I can't imagine another road that I'd rather follow, can you?

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