Formatting email submissions

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A reader writes to ask:

Thanks for all the useful, easy-to-follow information about formatting on your web site. If I were submitting pages by snail mail, I think I'd be set. But the vast majority of agents I'm planning on querying ask for sample pages along with the query letter, and ask that the pages be submitted by email in the body of the message. This seems to make irrelevant a number of issues of formatting. For example, if it's translated into plain text, then the font and the spacing and so forth, that's all suddenly out of my control. Can I assume most will be able to read emails in html? In which case I am trying to approximate the format the best I can or..? I can't find advice on this anywhere. Help!

Formatting submissions for inclusion in the body of an email is indeed a very different beast from formatting them for paper or as email attachments. These days it's rare to find someone whose email client doesn't support reading HTML, but you still don't want to try to duplicate standard manuscript format in email. Instead you should reformat the message to match the medium.

The generally accepted guidelines are to single-space the text of your story, double-space between paragraphs, and not indent the first line of paragraphs—in other words, to format it just like this blog entry, as if you were posting it online. (Some markets expect you to go so far as to place _underscores like these_ around emphasized text instead of underlining or italicizing. I think that's a little excessive myself, but it's probably important to editors who read email in a text-only client.)

As always, check your market's submission guidelines carefully and be sure to comply with any variations they may specify. And remember, if they request that you send your submission as an attached file, standard manuscript formatting will still apply.

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FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.

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