Ask Daphne! About Format

April 21st, 2010 • Kate

uniform_shoesDouble-trouble today, with our first question coming from Kathleen, who asks:

When agents (such as yourself) request a certain number of pages to be included in the query email, how do they want them formatted? If an agent asks for 3 pages, does that mean 3 pages single spaced 12 point Times New Roman font? Or double spaced?

Also, as far as chapter outlines and plot synopses go, how long/detailed should these be?

And finally, if an agent requests a partial or a full, should one send it as an attachment or put it in the body of the email, the same way one would include the first few pages?

I’ve always wondered what the proper formatting guidelines were, and I realize they may be obvious to people already in the business, but I would love to learn some basics for writers just starting out!

In general, when I agent asks for 3 pages included in the query (or 5, or ten, or what have you), they mean 3 pages in the same format as they would appear in your manuscript — that is, double-spaced in a standard font style and size. Now, a lot of agents dislike a lot of formatting in an email, and that’s because many email programs strip formatting, or mess with it. So the best thing to do is keep it as simple as possible, and before you send a query to an agent, send a sample query to yourself, so you can see what your email looks like on the receiving end. Nathan Bransford posted a simple how-to for how to format a query letter here. To my mind, if your attached sample pages look the same, that’s fine by me. If they’re in the more traditional manuscript format — double spaced throughout with an indentation at the start of every paragraph — that works, too. Just avoid quirky fonts, weird sizes, or, god forbid, color.

In terms of outlines or synopses, when I ask for one, I’m looking for five to ten pages that tells me the complete story of the book. Exactly how detailed they should be depends on the author — but I expect a synopsis to cover all the major plot points and characters in a text. On the long end of those guidelines, a synopsis should be double-spaced, and in all ways similar in style to the manuscript itself. If an agent asks for a one- to two-page synopsis, I believe single spaced is fine.

When an agent asks for a partial or full, most will tell you how they want it formatted. My requests state, “Please send the first five chapters and a complete synopsis as Word document attachments by email to [redacted]. For our purposes, the synopsis should include the full plot of the book including the conclusion, and the file names should include the book’s title and your name.” I certainly don’t want to read your full manuscript in my email — I want it on my Kindle, and the way I get it there is if it’s a word document or rtf file.

Hope that helps!

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4 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Format”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    That's incredibly helpful! Thanks so much!

  2. Irene Says:

    Yes, thank you SO very much, it's very, very helpful!

  3. Becky Mahoney Says:

    This was a great post for me to read today! I was wondering about how you wanted the synopsis formatted, so this is very helpful.

    I was psyched to get your e-mail today. I'm going to send everything along the minute I get home!

  4. Deb Salisbury Says:

    A very helpful post. I've fussed and fretted about emailed-pages formating. Now I can stop worrying.