Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Why do we ask that manuscripts be double-spaced? Obviously it’s easier on the eyes, but actually it’s also easier to edit. Traditionally, copy editing has been done by hand on the page, and for editors to have the space they need to make notes, editing marks, and adjustments the lines need to be double-spaced. It also helps agents edit and critique as well. Often when editing I make notes to either myself or my author on the page, and having more space between lines to do that is easier for everyone to read.

Why do we require page numbers and headers on every page? Have you ever dropped a manuscript all over the floor? Well, that’s obvious, but the other, not-so-obvious reason is that often I print out material to read on the back of old manuscripts. Having a header and page numbers helps me keep track of which side I’m supposed to be reading. Page numbers are also imperative in editing. When writing a revision letter to an author I almost inevitably refer to the page something is on. It makes it easier for us all to find it.

Why do we like submissions unbound? Rarely is reading done in the office and juggling a 400-page manuscript while standing on the subway is nearly impossible. An unbound manuscript can easily be divided and carried around as needed. One piece can go in my checked suitcase while the rest can be carried on.

Why do agents want queries without any other material? Don’t they know that judging a book from a query only is unfair to the author? I receive 25 to 30 email queries each day. Imagine if that were 25 to 30 proposal packages. I wouldn’t have room in my office for anything else. And, truthfully, the query can say a lot. Most of the time I am able to judge the author’s writing, style, and voice from the query alone.

Any other questions?



MAGolla said...

For those of us who haven't perfected the art of the query, and probably never will, I paste the first page of my manuscript under the query when I equery. Do I still get rejected? Yep, but I know it isn't totally from the sucky query, rather E/A simply don't like my voice. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Queries are not easy to do, and yet they are such a vital part of the publishing process.

Thanks for the heads up, Jessica. Reading this blog always gets me pumped up to start my writing day.

Anonymous said...

when I queried agent in June, I pasted the first chapter of my book in the body of the email, whether it said to do so in the guidelines or not...I think it's pretty safe to say if done this way the agent will at least skim the chapter....I was able to snag two offers of representaion in less than 2 weeks....

Anonymous said...

You are always so good to us!


Danette V.

Anonymous said...

I'm guilty of the pasting on sample pages at the end of equeries strategy. I figure if an agent is interested it's no big deal for them to check out the sample. It is just another 'bullet' in the query wars.

Keri Ford said...

I've started posting in pages below my query, too. I try not to do any more than 2-3 pages at the most. I hear a lot about agents being on the fence with a query, so I figure that's the best way for them to decide which side of the fence to fall off.

Either that or the agent liked my query, but saw the writing and decided my tone wasn't to their taste. It'll save us both time.

Anonymous said...

I always figure violating the submission guidelines is (almost always) a surefire way to get rejected. I also figure that, whether mine is the first or last query of the day, the agent is LOOKING for a reason to reject. Violating the guidelines looks like you're just giving the agent an extra reason, so, I stick to the rules as best I can.


Mark Terry said...

Sure. Why 15%?

What was the rationale of increasing from 10% to 15%? (Was that in the 1980s or 1990s? It was, after all, a 50% increase). Why not 12.5%? Or 20% Or 25%?

Where do these numbers come from?

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

I'm a freelance copyeditor. Even now that most copyediting is done onscreen, it's still just plain easier to read a manuscript when it's double-spaced than when it's single-spaced.

Do you, as an author, want the copyeditor to miss an awful blooper in your manuscript just because far too much text is crammed onto every page? That's why, when freelancers negotiate pay rates with publishers, the industry standard is 250 words = 1 page, not 500 words = 1 page.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I can't answer that question. I came into the business at 15%. I guess that's like asking a real estate agent why their percentage is what it is. Because someone a long time ago decided it was a reasonable amount to make a living off and people were comfortable paying it.


green_knight said...

I noticed that most agents seem to have switched from 'query only' to 'post the first two/five/ten pages in your email,' and I think the correlation will be better. It's not unlikely that someone has a great idea but the pages fall flat, or has a decent book and the query does; but combine both, and the likelyhood of the rest of the book being radically different shrinks drastically.

Anonymous said...

I have a quick, unrelated question. Since you rep so much mystery, I was wondering if you could tell me how realistic a novel's depiction of the police force (and policies and procedures) needs to be. Should I interview an officer on that to make sure I get everything right, or is a little artistic license fine? Thank you.

Julie Weathers said...

I wrote for a sports magazine for seventeen years so the need for double spacing is deeply ingrained. I do it for myself also so I can write notes to myself as I am reading it over.

Page numbers are also imperative. Aside from me being a klutz, things get mixed up on the other end. Sometimes, if there were just a few edits, my editor would call and say, "Page two, graph three...."

Even I don't want to pack around an entire manuscript. I can understand unbound. It's my baby, but manuscripts are just much harder to rest on the hip than real babies.

Yep, I'm gold with the first points.

Ugh, the Q word again. *Gets out holy water and sprinkles it around.*

I'm reworking my query letter for the 954th time. I think it's where I want it to be. Seriously, writing one page shouldn't be this hard.

I do have a question.

I just finished an advanced writing class with an editor and retired agent. I put in the query letter she agreed to critique that I had worked for this magazine seventeen years. She suggested I expand that and add a little more about myself even if it didn't pertain to writing. Her theory is agents are human and if their curiosity is piqued about the person, they would be more likely to look at the first pages enclosed, if any are.

This goes against everything I have heard several people say, but I added I was a lady bronc rider and ran a prison ministry for six years. She thought that was perfect.

I really do trust her judgment implicitly, but I am curious about another opinion of including anything in the biography line that doesn't pertain to writing.

"I can't answer that question. I came into the business at 15%. I guess that's like asking a real estate agent why their percentage is what it is. Because someone a long time ago decided it was a reasonable amount to make a living off and people were comfortable paying it."

In Texas, real estate commissions are not fixed. Six percent is pretty standard, but saying they are always x percent can get you burned at the stake. For real estate, that is how it works, though. Agents have to decide if it's worth working their butts off for 25% of whatever percent.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Great info. Great answers. I have to wonder about writers who send work single-spaced without page numbers. I look at something like that as self-sabotage. Even my kids, in junior high and high school, always double-space and number their pages.

The Rejection Queen said...

I've always double spaced my manuscript. That's always been the typical format of a manuscript.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


Without reading your book it's hard to say how much research you need to do. Creative license is allowed in anything you write, but knowing how much is allowed without sounding phony is important too.


BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

A touch of personal info in a query letter never hurts, especially if it might make you stand out. A line or two is fine. Remember, we are looking for something fresh and different and that should go for the query too.

As for breaking the rules. I'm a habitual rule breaker and believe that all rules should be broken within limits. You have to decide what the limits are. I'd never post this on our guidelines, but sending along a page or two is brilliant and has resulted in more then one request from me.


Anonymous said...

Ordinarily a query is so easy to write that hardly anyone has a problem with it. But I've had some difficulty trying to show my voice in a third-person query for a first-person novel. I tried to query in first person. I showed it to my family. They told me to hold onto it because it could be really useful the next time I had to clear up doggie barf.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:09-

Do the interview! The information you'll pick up will be invaluable.

The great thing about extensive research (besides the wonderful random facts you'll know) is that it will teach you where the plausibility line lies. For example, I have a character who dies of a stab wound to the heart, and I interviewed a paramedic to find out what the visible symptoms would be. Now, it was absolutely critical that the dying character say something. But the paramedic told me that talking would be impossible. Then he added, "for fiction purposes, one or two words, then dead." Having the character speak an entire sentence or two might ruin my credibility at a critical moment in the story, but a two word statement keeps the story going AND protects my credibility.

A side note: there's an excellent book called the Howdunit Guide to Police Procedure and Investigation. It would be a great starting point for you.

Authenticity can be a tremendous selling point. Your readers will come from a wide variety of specializations, and you don't want to jar too many of them with implausible scenarios. I recently read a NYT bestseller with an entirely implausible plotline, but the attention to detail was so good that the story worked.

Bottom line: why risk losing readers? Do the research so you can make the judgment call.

Joyce Tremel said...

Anon 10:09, as someone who worked for a police department, please, please, please do the research! Especially don't rely on what you see on TV. 99% of it is wrong!

Definitely get Lee Lofland's book, Police Procedures & Investigation: A Guide for Writers. I can't afford to throw any more books against the wall.

Anonymous said...


I just bought Lee Lofland's book, and it looks great. I also recently took an on-line class about L.A. cops by an L.A. cop named Kathy Bennett (who's also a writer). It was excellent. The hero in my WIP is an ex-LAPD member, thus the research. The Yahoo group, crimescenewriter, is also great for crime scene research. I'm all for research. Then, if you take creative license, at least you know *what* you're taking creative license with. Try not to go by TV shows. Apparently, they're rife with misinformation (like CSI, etc).

Julie Weathers said...

"Ordinarily a query is so easy to write that hardly anyone has a problem with it."

Ummm, yeah. Not really.

Julie Weathers said...

"I have a quick, unrelated question. Since you rep so much mystery, I was wondering if you could tell me how realistic a novel's depiction of the police force (and policies and procedures) needs to be. Should I interview an officer on that to make sure I get everything right, or is a little artistic license fine? Thank you."

I despise books that delve into a profession and are not researched.

Yes, I know the mantra is, "It's just fiction." However, do you really want people talking about your book because it was so far off the mark? Do you want it pointed out as a "what not to do" example?

Interview the police. They are happy to share their thoughts and experiences and your book will be much stronger for it. Aside from that, they might tell you a really cool story that fits right in with your novel.

Julie Weathers said...

Thanks, Jessica. I guess you won't be surprised when you get a couple of pages.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:09 here!

I just wanted to thank everyone for their wonderful responses and advice. Thank you.

Elissa M said...

Never skimp research, even if you write fantasy. If you don't know dip about horses, for instance, it will be glaringly obvious to those of us who do. Readers are good at picking out mistakes, too. No one wants to be the "don't do this" example, which you set yourself up for when you call on "artistic license".

Julie Weathers said...

"If you don't know dip about horses, for instance, it will be glaringly obvious to those of us who do."


Voluptuous Virgin dashed out of Muy Macho's stronghold naked and jumped on the raging black stallion no one had ever been able to ride before. The stallion nuzzled her bare, silky smooth leg affectionately and then galloped out of the gates. His raven mane flicked across her bare breasts and she began to sing, "Whip it, baby. Whip it good."

Sorry, I got carried away.

No animals or voluptuous virgins were harmed in the making of this scene. Well, the virgin was a little, but she liked it.

T. M. Hunter said...

Why do some agents not give the author the benefit of a short, quick rejection note on a query?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I don't know. I guess they figure it takes too much time or they want to avoid a conversation.


Kimber Li said...

Why does my daughter nag me when that's my job? I never get to nag and it's just not fair!

My dearly beloved fellow aspiring authors-

Just because you can't write a query letter right now, it doesn't mean you *can't learn.*

"I can, I will, I ought." -Charlotte Mason

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:09

PS: Be very thankful that the subject of your research is something that's attainable. My writing often involves national security issues, and if my questions make my interviewee uncomfortable, I could become the target of an investigation. The time I interviewed a cop was a cakewalk in comparison! Enjoy the luxury of researching something that the experts actually want you to know!

usagibrian said...

You know, I've heard that speech several times at conferences, and it always amazes me when an (unpublished) author invariably stands up during the Q&A and tries to argue about it.

I think very loudly, Dude, this isn't a discussion! You've been handed the inside track out of the slush pile, use it (or don't--more room for the rest of us)

Sarah J. MacManus said...

I do all the editing for the magazine online and I find that double-spacing is terribly difficult to follow. (All the scrolling, I guess.)

But double-spacing is ingrained. You're just 'sposed to!