Monday, October 18, 2010

Formatting Tips for Writers PART 1--Agent Query Formatting and Submission Law--WORD COUNT



I don't know about you, but word count has always been a mystery to me. I found a great website for not only finding agents and editors, but I helpful submission tips on it as well. So over the next few days, I will give you agent tips on formatting, submitting queries, synopses and completing MS to agents that I found helpful from this article. Hope it helps you, too.

How do I snail mail my query and SASE in the same No. 10 envelope?

Do I include the agency name and business address of the agent in my email query?

How in the heck do I format a synopsis, and how long should it be?

When Ms. Agent requests to see my full completed manuscript, do I really shove all 300 pages, loose and unbound, into a box and mail it off?

My goodness! Agents have heard the panic in your little voices when you email them, asking for formatting guidance. And they actually empathize with you 100%.

Let's start with a few obvious assumptions:

Obvious Assumption #1: Queries and manuscripts must be typewritten NOT hand-written.

We assume that since you are savvy enough to find our website on the internet, you are savvy enough to use a computer. Always send submissions printed out from a computer, not written long-hand, even if Sister Paula did give you an A++ for your pretty cursive back in sixth grade.

Obvious Assumption #2: When we talk about "word count," we mean the word count generated by your computer.

In MS Word, this feature is found under Tools---->Word Count. And yeah... we've heard all those crazy publishing urban legends about funky formulas for calculating manuscript word count. Our favorite? Multiplying the number of pages of your manuscript by "250"—the standard number of words on a printed book's page. Bunk. Are we still living in the typewriter age? We think not.

The 250 method is the most ARBITRARY way to calculate word count in existence. And here's an illustrative hypothetical to prove it:

You've got a 400-page novel, using Courier 12-point font. If you calculate word count based on the 250 method, your novel is 100,000 words (400 x 250).

However, if you use Courier 10-point font—for the same freaking novel—your novel shrinks to 350 pages, and so does your word count. Magically, you've reduced your novel's word count by 12,500 words (350 x 250 = 87,500 words).

Now, put that same novel in TNR 12-point font, and you'll shrink it even more: 325 pages. Same exact novel. Different word count of 81,250 words (325 x 250).

All we can say is, "Huh?" Based on how you format your manuscript, your word count changes? Is this not the dumbest thing you've heard since the news that Paris Hilton was going to marry a guy named Paris?

The 250 method may be how publishers calculate word count, once they've perfectly typeset your manuscript with a proportional font to include 250 words per page. But heeeello?...agents aren't publishers or typesetters.

The 250 method is not how agents calculate word count. And we care about what agents want, and agents want to know your computer's word count. In fact, once you've accepted representation, most agents nowadays (especially the younger ones) will request a digital copy of your book. And try explaining to your agent why your digital word count is only 50,000 words (Ouch!), and not 81,250 words as calculated via the 325-page, Courier-12 font, 250 method.

Obvious Assumption #3: You are writing in English.

Believe it or not, it has to be said. And unfortunately, the people who need to hear it the most probably can't understand any of this anyway.

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