Paging Dr Cluenstein

Hello Miss Snark,

I was directed to your blog by a friend, and found it very helpful.

My question is this: when an agent says they want the first three pages of a manuscript, does that generally mean three pages single-spaced, three pages double-spaced, or the equivalent of three pages single-spaced: six pages double-spaced?

Thank you for your time.

It means three pages...physical sheets of paper. We're not trying to trick you. Pages means pages.

Some of you may think this is a joke, but I get at least one query a week from someone who has missed the "industry standards" part of the tutorial at Query School.

Before you query ANYONE you need to learn some basics. You need to get one of the many books on the fundamentals of querying like "Guide to Writer's Market" and read ALL the material about how to query.

Among the things you'll see are "musts" few agents mention on their websites cause we assume you already know it. Included among these are: double spaced, print on one side of the page, no screwy font.

I can and do overlook a lot of nitwittery in the slush pile. "Overlook" means I don't throw it out unread. It does NOT mean "I read it carefully".

If you show me you're ignorant of the basics, I may read one or two lines at most. I don't read single spaced pages. I don't read pages printed on two sides. I don't read oddly formatted stuff. I don't need to. I don't want to. Whether you think this is smart, or good, or mean, is irrelevant. It's how it is.

There are more of you than there are of me. There may be several agents clamoring for one or two really good writers but most of you will get ONE agent offering to take you on. Don't fuck up your chances by not investing time to learn the basics. It's not obvious to you now and it wasn't obvious to us either when we started out. We had to learn it; you do too.

This answer applies ONLY to paper queries. If you are querying electronically you do not double space. You also strip out all the cute little word processing tricks that put -> and =20 in place of all your returns and drives me to distraction on listservs.


Anonymous said...

Please somebody tell me how to strip out all the cute little word processing tricks. I have no idea.

Twill said...

So, for the confused, that would mean that the first three pages (in electronic form) would be roughly the first 600-750 words. Right?

Anonymous said...


I cut and paste the text from Microsoft Word to Wordpad. Then I highlight and copy a smartquote and do a search-and-replace to swap the smartquote for a ".

Then I highlight the other type of smartquote and do the same thing.

Ditto for both kinds of ' and the long -

It's a pain in the bum, basically.

Anyone know a better way? I'm all cyber-ears, here.

BuffySquirrel said...

Please, anonymous, tell us what application you're using and on what platform. It helps us to help you.

This post reminds me of reading in an agent's submission guidelines that the opening paragraph of any scene should be "full out". Fortunately, my dad sent me a Dictionary of Publishing and Printing for Christmas. Yay for dads!

Terry said...

In Word, you can kill the smart quotes by going to the auto correct options and unchecking the box that say replace straight quotes with smart quotes, or whatever it says.

If you've been using smart/curly quotes, just do a find/replace by putting a quote mark in both fields; repeat for apostrophes.

If you save the document as a .txt file, you shouldn't have to mess with switching to word pad.

Of course, none of my "vast" knowledge of Word helped when my editor said my manuscript showed up on her end all in itallics, but when she sent it to me, it was fine. THAT took some sleuthing (and not by me--I was clueless.)

I'm guessing sixty-leven people have already answered, but I couldn't resist the word verification: qigdykd

first anon said...

I"m using microsoft word. I had an agent respond to my email to her that had had one of my sample chapters pasted in and when it came back to me, my sample was filled with hieroglyphics.

Please tell me that's now how it's ending up in some agent's email box so I don't have to shoot myself.

Anonymous said...

Yikes! I have sent many a query letter that was single-spaced (double spaced between paragraphs) out to agents. In 2007 Writer's Market, on page 17, it says, "Limit the query letter to one single-spaced page." Is this wrong, or were you referring to pages from the manuscript when you said you don't read them if they're single spaced?

Anonymous said...

Trying to help, here ...

As I understand it, query letters may be single-spaced. They should also be one page long.

For manuscripts, the first three pages are, as Miss Snark said, the first three pages. Double spaced. 1" margins all the way around. 12pt Courier or Times New Roman Font. Approximately 250 words per page. Simple!

But please do yourself a favor and investigate proper manuscript style thoroughly before submitting. Life's too short for agents to read ugly manuscripts. ;-)

Per formatting in MS Word, here's what I do. In MS Word go to Format > Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks tab. UNcheck the "Widows and Orphans" box. That keeps globs of text from jumping from one page to the next if a sentence goes over to the next page.

Then go to Format > Autoformat > Options button > AutoFormat tab. UNcheck "replace straight quotes with smart quotes". Also in Format > Autoformat > Options button > go to the AutoFormat-As-You-Type tab. UN-check "replace straight quotes with smart quotes" there, too. That should help with some of the weird formatting problems.
Cheers ~

G. Atwater

gm said...

As far as I know, the easiest way out is to type your query/sample page in Word and then copy it to Notepad. If there are any probs fix it in Notepad then copy it from Notepad to your email. Experiment by sending a couple of your queries to yourself from different mail ids.
first anon, even I have had replies from agents in which my sample looks like hieroglyphics, but I am pretty sure my mail didn’t look like that to the agent. So don’t worry, its not time to shoot yourself yet :)

first anon said...

To gm and G. Atwater, thanks for the help. I have no idea if this will solve the problem, and if it does, why it will. I am a complete moron when it comes to this stuff. And on the note: what the heck is notepad?

Sign Me, Another Moronic Writer

Bethany said...

The quickest way of fixing word-processing tricks I've found:

Download RoughDraft. It's a little freeware word-processor, very popular among NaNoWriMo participants for its quick word-count and the little scratchpad on the side. It also has a truly wonderful feature called "convert". This converts curly quotes to plain quotes and vice-versa. It will fix all the quotes in your story at once, no need to search-and-replace. I cut and paste anything I plan to email into RoughDraft and save it as an rtf file before I email it.

Diana Peterfreund said...

QUERY LETTERS, like all business letters, are single spaced.

MANUSCRIPT PAGES, like the whole manuscript, are double-spaced.

BuffySquirrel said...

The hieroglyphics happen because other applications can't read MS Word's proprietary codes, so they substitute gibberish. The usual suspects are the curly quotes and that special character Word uses for ellipses (...'s).

Ideally, if you want your writing to be portable, it should all be in ASCII, which anything can read. Notepad is a basic ASCII text (.txt) editor that comes bundled with Windows; in XP it's found in Start, All Programs, Accessories. A huge advantage of Notepad is that you can copy&paste into its Find&Replace, so you don't have to hunt down all the gibberish and replace it manually. The disadvantage is you can't squeeze a whole novel in there.

Wordpad is a more sophisticated text editor bundled with Windows that can open .rtf (Rich Text Format) files. You'll find it in the Accessories menu a little below Notepad. .rtf is less portable than .txt but more so than .doc, and retains basic formatting like italics, etc.

To get rid of the special ellipse character, uncheck "Replace text as you type" on the AutoCorrect tab of AutoCorrect Options (found in the Tools menu).

Word is a powerful if frustrating tool but you'll get the most out of it if you learn how to use it. Borrow a book from the library or take a course.

Anonymous said...

Yikes! I have sent many a query letter that was single-spaced (double spaced between paragraphs) out to agents. In 2007 Writer's Market, on page 17, it says, "Limit the query letter to one single-spaced page." Is this wrong, or were you referring to pages from the manuscript when you said you don't read them if they're single spaced?

The query letter should be in standard business letter format (single-spaced). The accompanying manuscript pages should be in standard manuscript format (double-spaced).

Anonymous said...

what the heck is notepad?

Notepad is a plain text editor that comes with Windows. To find it look in 'Start--All Programs--Accessories'.

But really, any writer using MS Word should beat it into submission from the get-go. The default settings are quite inappropriate for us. Under 'Tools--AutoCorrect Options' turn everything off and then turn back on only those features you are absolutely certain you really need. Some of the things you definitely don't want are: replacing straight quotes with smart quotes, replacing two consecutive dashes with an em-dash, replacing three consecutive periods with an ellipsis, and other similar special character replacements. Note that you have to turn some of these off in multiple places: on the 'AutoCorrect' tab, the 'AutoFormat' tab, and the 'AutoFormat As You Type' tab.

Making these changes won't fix what is already written, but it will greatly reduce future problems.

Less critical, but useful in forcing Word to conform to your personal writing habits, are many of the choices you can make under 'Tools--Options'. Many of the behaviors people find annoying can be disabled there.

first anon said...

buffysquirrel - you are an angel to take the time to write all that out.

But, uh, if you are an angel, what are you doing on the Spawn of Satan's (MS's words, not mine) blog? Aren't you worried your wings will get singed?

Thanks again everyone.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Cluenstein still in the house?
I get that three pages means THREE PAGES, what I am not so sure of is this:

Does fifty pages mean fifty pages, or can it mean fifty-six pages when the next scene ends there?

Anonymous said...

50 pages means just that. if the agent wants more, they will ask for more.
doesn't anyone read the style book or writer's market?

Lyeshea said...

Okay, So I'm late to the show, I don't check in here every day, but for electronic submissions are pdf's acceptable? To me, that seems the easiest solution to all the formatting gibberish and such. *said by someone who uses a mac and thinks making a pdf is as easy as printing.