Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Formats, fonts and attachments

I write young adult medical science fiction. Two of my stories have been published in Analog. I have dreams of having novels published, but realise that YA SF does not sell books right now. I am, however, looking at agents for the three books I have in various stages of polished, from basically-finished-and-re-edited several times to still-a-mess. Maybe I can set a new trend or pull up the one established by James White.

To my delight, I found three agents who like young adult science fiction. But one of the Guidelines confused me. One wanted snail mail. Easy. I submitted there first -- yesterday. The second wanted email and would accept attachments. Good. I can do that if the first comes back. The third wanted email, no attachments. Now I'm totally confused. Won't my five-to-ten pages, of beautifully formatted novel, arrive in the agent's office in a mess?

I've asked tech people and got some really strange responses but no answers. I really do not want to send junk.

I'll answer your questions in a second but for now I can't get past the sentence 'I can do that if the first comes back.' Why are you waiting to submit elsewhere? Have the agents you're submitting to told you that they want exclusivity? If they haven't, don't give it to them. That's a waste of your time. If they have, what are they going to do in exchange for the exclusivity? Are they going to get back to you in a fortnight? They should.

Okay, now I'm over that. Let's look at what you actually asked about: submission guidelines. Many, many authors get hung up on formatting, and I don't know why, unless they're trying to hide behind the formatting as a reason for why they get rejected - 'It wasn't that my novel was awful, I just didn't use the Helvetica font they wanted'. But I have heard enough talk about it to realise that some authors spend a lot of time and use up vast amounts of creative energy formatting their text. I find it curious, and occasionally disturbing.

I may be an island on this issue, but I don't care about formatting. My clients and the authors who submit to me can use whatever font and font size they like, because I'm probably going to change it all to Garamond with 1.5 line spacing. I can do that, you see - that's the beauty of Microsoft Word: I get to have the font I want. So when people submit in a body of an email, I can either read it as is or I can copy and paste it into a Word document and change the font. The only thing that drives me crazy is when they've used a soft return (using Shift + Enter instead of Enter) because then paragraphs disappear when you paste the text.

I wouldn't mind betting that the agent who's asked for the text to go into the body of the email feels the same as I do - they wouldn't ask for a submission like that if they were worried about an author getting formatting right, because email always does wacky things to text. So just make sure there are no soft returns and you'll be right.