Greetings, O Queen of Snarkdom,
It looks like you’ve started something.
On the heels of the COM, Anne Mini over at “Author! Author!” has been presenting a very helpful overview on how to write a well-formed query letter. Her tips have been helpful, and have led me a fifth or sixth meaningful revision of my query and hook, but one bit of advice left me puzzled. Under the heading of “standard mistakes that send agents screaming into the night,” she says:
“I’ve literally never seen this advice given elsewhere, but it is a fact: to people in the publishing industry (and the magazine industry as well, I’m told), business format – be it in a letter or a manuscript – looks illiterate. And that’s the last thing you want to convey to someone you expect to take your writing seriously.
“Indent EVERY paragraph the regulation five spaces. (Yes, in your manuscript, too. If you don’t know why this is an automatic rejection offense, please see the FORMATTING MANUSCRIPTS category at right.) Single-space the letter, and have the date and the signature halfway across the page.”
I’m puzzled: business format looks illiterate? I know that you’ve said time and again, “Formatting doesn’t matter: it’s the writing,” but are you alone in this opinion? Is there a secret cabal of indentation-loving, business-letter-shredding agents in New York just waiting to be addressed chummily by a new author? Is a 5-space indent the secret handshake that will usher me into the inner sanctum so that my work can be judged on its merit?
I don’t want to obsess over minutiae, which is what this feels like. On the other hand, I don’t want to pull the agent-querying equivalent of walking around Times Square with a tour map and an “I Heart NY” shirt on. So what’s the verdict? Is this a great insider tip, or could you and your fellow agents care less about they way I format my paragraphs?
Well, I think this is crazy. I don't care about much except the very very basic things: use a font I can read, double space your pages, and don't print on both sides. I don't care if you print on the diagonal (sure, I notice, but who cares?).
I'm MUCH more concerned with your spelling and syntax than your spacing.
I'm MUCH more interested in what you have to say than your indents.
Writers obsess about things that would be amusing if they weren't so crazy.
And just as a rule of thumb, don't believe anyone who says "agents do this, or editors do that" unless they are actually yanno editors and agents. Writers who tell you how to get published are usually telling you how THEY got published and one size does not fit all.