Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting Crazy With Fonts

And then it was 3:30. Apologies for the tardiness of today's post, I had a great time meeting with an editor this afternoon -- networking is easy in SF because everyone comes here on vacation!

Now then. I have already blogged about how I advise people to format their query, which can be summed in one word: don't.

Block paragraphs. Default fonts. Black. No fancy background. No animated gifs. No indentation. No centering. No bolding. No images. Just type your words, double space after paragraphs, and click send.

Don't even worry too much about how your sample pages are formatted: I understand that not all e-mail programs offer double-spacing, so just paste it in and send it however that works out.

I honestly don't know what's behind the wacky formatting craze, but it seems to be sweeping query nation. Please bear in mind that because e-mail programs vary, the wackier you get with your fonts and formatting, the less likely it's going to be readable when an agent receives it.

I just want to see your words. They don't need to be dressed up in fancy clothes.






67 comments:

Bane of Anubis said...

I just figured you were pondering the lottery tonight. Even if you get #1, go with Rubio... Griffin might be a step above Kwame Brown or Mark Madsen, but he's got the dribbling skills of a sea turtle.

As for queries - I'm always doing the indent thing - the whole block paragraph format will be difficult for me to adjust to, but it's a minor change. Taking the Lakers logo off my letterhead, now that'll be tougher.

Elissa M said...

I have found it's best to save as plain text before cutting and pasting. Otherwise weird symbols sometimes show up on the other end.

Patrick Rodgers said...

I just spent two months designing the greatest query letter design ever known to man to send to you Nathan and now I read this. I am devasted, I am crushed, I am heart broken.

I spent a week finding the perfect font, it's called Goth Horror and it drips blood.

I spent another week designing a background that was so eye appealing that I swear you will go blind if you look at it too long.

I spent two weeks finding animated gifs to color up my query in between paragraphs. I mean it was wonderous, thing web page design circa 1997.

I colored every other word in a different color so it was as if the sun had parted and a rainbow had blessed you on this gracious day.

Now all that hard work is ruined, man I could have been writing. Nathan you have to admit that a query designed so would have garnered your attention and you would have been rapturous at your desk as you read it. But alas my dream is gone now.

Nathan Bransford said...

BofA-

Both Griffin and Rubio scare me. Griffin is athletic, but I don't think he's very tall and he doesn't play defense. Rubio isn't very quick.

Of all the years to have a shot at the #1 pick.....

Kristy Colley said...

At first I wasn't even going to read the blog post because your short version on twitter read: don't.
What more did I need?
Then I realized I might miss out on a sweet video like rainbows, Sesame Street, or a baby pig.
But no videos.

Maybe next time.
#iheartbransford

I kinda don't want you to check out the hashtag, but then again...I do.
And when I say, "I had nothing to do with this", I'm lying.

JohnO said...

The makers of the film "Helvetica" are going to be SO disappointed.

Bane of Anubis said...

True - Rubio's probably getting hyped a bit more because he is a foreigner (who'd a thunk that 10 years ago?) - but it's a PG league now and if he has anything of Nash's skill (comparing him to pistol pete's a bit of an overstatement - that man was phenomenal), it's worth a shot (i.e., I think he's got more of that proverbial 'upside' scouts are always yapping about).

Definitely a bad year, though - no sure things (unless you want to just get a solid Mutumbo like player in Thabeet)

Nathan Bransford said...

I think Rubio is getting a whole lot of hype because he makes fancy passes, but he didn't look all that impressive in the Olympics to me. Granted, he's only 18, but even still, he makes me nervous.

Definitely like Thabeet, but he's pretty much just a defender. The Kings could use that though. I wouldn't be too upset with a #3 pick.

Patrick Rodgers said...

Kristy if you want I will send you my query letter, that has rainbows, a duck reading to a swan, 500-600 smiley faces doing all sorts of silly things and the cookie monster smoking cookie dough.

And Nathan I feel that you are showing some hypocrisy as I have no entered the word verification for this post like 10 times as I can read the darned crazy fonts it keeps throwing at me.

Joy said...

Thanks for posting this. I am almost to the query stage and was wondering about this today. Weird.

Jen C said...

I got nothing to say, I just wanted to be up the top of the page. Carry on!

Kristy Colley said...

Patrick -
that gave me the laugh I needed today, thanks!

Still laughing...

Bane of Anubis said...

That's the problem with picking some of these young players - you don't know if you're gonna get Dirk or Darko. Drafting on potential potential (as opposed to just potential) always struck me as an odd metric (Though upperclassmen are frequently lambasted by analysts, at least you know what you're getting - Brandon Roy goes 6th in 2006 draft and he's easily the best player from that class but his stock dropped b/c of his age... ridiculous).

Good luck.

MzMannerz said...

What's so ironic is that one of my most frustrating and embarrassing formatting issues occurred in correspondence with you (it wasn't intentional, but still embarrassing!) and I am HUGELY against using fancy fonts and whatnot.

I once received a resume with curly fonts and italics galore printed on paper with a blue cloud motif. Klassy.

Jen C said...

OMG, #iheartbransford is hilarious! You cyber-stalkers, you!

Damien Grintalis said...

Why people would use colorful stationery or whimsical emoticons is beyond me. A query letter is a business transaction, not a note to Aunt Maude.

A Paperback Writer said...

Okay, I confess to indenting my paragraphs (so shoot me; I'm an English teacher.), but I find it hard to believe that anyone would stick anything blinking into a query e-mail.
However, if they can find a way to do that with a paper letter, it might be impressive....

word verification: tutorati -- the Italian underworld teachers' union

Cass said...

Double space, no indentation. Got it. Thanks Nathan. I can't wait until I am at the point where I actually can query.

Litgirl01 said...

There are some definite similarities between agents and teachers. I tell my students to open up Word and not touch anything! Don't touch the margins, fonts...ANYTHING. Just start typing. Inevitably I get four inch margins, 14 pt. font, graphics, you name it! Ugh!!

PurpleClover said...

The little black dress works every time.

Patrick Rodgers said...

That's the oldest trick in the book though litgirl. If a teacher asks for a 5 page story you will always get some student who thinks he is the most clever person in the world by changing font size and margins to turn a 2 page story into 5.

You should do what my English 2010 teacher did in college. First you tell them what the acceptable format is, 1 inch margins 12 font times new roman whatever you want. Then you dock them points for everything they do incorrectly. Wrong font minus 5 points, too big of a margin another minus 5 points etc etc.

Amy said...

Before I make this comment I'd like to say I'm not a fancy formanter...

Thank you! This is more helpful than you might think!

JohnO - Wasn't the movie HELVETICA the best? Nathan, if you haven't seen it, it's HILARIOUS! I recommend it to anyone who likes independent films. The best of the year.

DebraLSchubert said...

Fine. I guess I'll stop querying using Edwardian Script, even though it's quite impressive and makes me feel like royalty. You really are a buzz kill sometimes, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

No more wingdings. ò

abc said...

" I just want to see your words. They don't need to be dressed up in fancy clothes."

I think that is a line from a Prince song.

Douglas L. Perry said...

I am sure it has to something to do with the latest vampire theme, but I could be wrong :-D

Laurel said...

Flashing font should be outlawed anyway. Maybe under the ADA. Seems awful risky for epilepsy and migraine sufferers.

Oooh! dropped articles...

D. G. Hudson said...

Just the basics, so as not to obscure the story. I like that. The bare naked words.

Is there a purpose to the use of different fonts within a novel? Or is the tactic simply to try and get an agent's attention?

In life, some things are all flash and without depth, and other things are plain in appearance but rich in depth.

Nice to know that you look for the richness, Nathan, without the boa feathers.

Scott said...

Kinda pervy to request naked words, Nathan. Guess you need something to perk up those long hours in the slush.

My font's a grower, btw.

Kristi said...

Scott - no idea what your last sentence meant but that sounded way more "pervy" than Nathan's naked words.

I'm totally an indenter by nature (Mom was an English teacher) so I need to get over it before I query - glad to have the heads up beforehand. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Why does Words default to 1.25-inch margins when the whole world wants 1-inch?

You do have to modify default Word settings!

Ink said...

Nathan and Bane,

I think Griffin's for real. He reminds me a bit of a gritty Amare Stoudemire. Sorry, Amar'e, I should say. At least it's not some unfathomable Prince symbol. :) Really, though, Amar'e wants to score and look good. Griffin wants to grab boards and win games. I've seen him do some things... like grab a defensive rebound, lead the break up court, pull a 360 spin move in the lane around a defender (under control) and drop a scoop pass to a teammate for an open layup. That's a 6'10" kid weighing 260. And 20 years old. Not normal. And he's a beast on the glass. He can get better defensively, but most kids like that are used to relying on their athleticism. I'm told he's a workaholic and great competitor, so I'm guessing he'll pick up that stuff at the next level.

And Rubio... one of the things I like about him is that he can defend. Everyone says that. And he can really pass. And the NBA guys who have played him internationally say he's the real deal. I mean, he's been playing top flight since he was fourteen. This kid is not typical. Now, he may not have the superstar athleticism of Derrick Rose... but I definitely think he can play. He can defend and he has the B-ball IQ. I think he's gonna be pretty solid.

I admit I'm intrigued by Brandon Jennings, too. He has mad skills. But will they translate onto the court at the highest level? We'll see. My Raps won't get any of them, so I doubt it matters. And my Cavs don't need any of them. :)

Bryan

S.D. said...

Personally, I like Times New Roman best :D

I'll keep the no-indention in mind too.

Scott said...

"Scott - no idea what your last sentence meant but that sounded way more "pervy" than Nathan's naked words."

Heh, my bad, Kristi. It was intended as a self-effacing bit of humor regarding...ya know what, how's about I don't ring that bell for you. ;)

And to be fair, I realize Nathan said no "fancy clothes", not no clothes at all.

Disclaimer: I've been at work for over 13 hours and I'm fried. And I promise that no fonts have been injured in this posting.

CindaChima said...

It's been my experience that many people overfocus on format and underfocus on content. I had another writer lecture me that no agent or editor would ever look at my ms if I used Times New Roman instead of Courier.

M. K. Clarke said...

Good advice, Nathan!

Bane of Anubis said...

Cinda, that cracks me up - perhaps that's been my problem all along - that damn TNR font :)...

Bryan - I still don't buy Griffin - he's a great college player - a man amongst boys, but when he gets to the NBA, unless he develops a jump shot, he's gonna be a mid-level player (which ain't bad, but not what you're hoping for in a #1 pick), particularly if he's with the Clips :).

Too bad the Kings dropped to 4 - bring on the small-market conspiracy theories.

Fawn Neun said...

Business letter = no indent
Manuscript = indent
A query is a business letter.

I hate courier, it looks cheesy. But whatever they want, right?

Patrick Rodgers said...

I can't bring myself to use Courier over Times New Roman because the look of it is horrible.

I understand the purpose of it because when used you can quickly access the word count of a manuscript through a little math. But it is a hideous looking font.

If the only reason I can't sell my novel is because I opted for Times New Roman over Courier then at that point will I make the change.

Christine H said...

This has nothing to do with fonts, but Nathan... I know you like puppies. We just got a new one. He's 1 yr. old, but still basically a "pup." Beagle-dachshund mix, so cute he should be illegal. Pix at my blog.

I'm going to try to sleep now! Little guy won't stay by himself, and the crate's too big for our room, so it's the couch for me. *Yawn!*

Word veri: Poodged = Being forced to sleep on the couch by a pooch.

Jen P said...

I once received a word doc. flyer from a publicity agent at a major publisher which was artistic gibberish until I selected all, and formatted in Times New Roman. It wasn't deliberate, they just didn't consider that not everyone receiving it was a PC user. I can understand the frustration.

Is Arial out for formatting? Courier looks really tecchy on my screen - bleh.

@Paperback Writer: "word verification: tutorati -- the Italian underworld teachers' union" - had to laugh at that one.

Furious D said...

Glad to see you finally got some coffee into you.

Also try sleeping, it can help.

And thanks for the pointers, helpful as always.

Mira said...

This is simple, but very helpful advice.

After working so hard on a query, it's a relief to know that the format can be basic.

Reesha said...

haha. When I was little I wrote a 200+ page book in a program called Creative Writer. It was all in a curly font unique to that program. No wonder it didn't get accepted when I sent it to a publisher! My 8 year old heart was crushed. Even more so when I realized the program wouldn't let me type past page 256.
Apparently they didn't think kids would write that much.
I still have the book in hard copy form with the funny font. I cringe every time I look at it, but I also smile.

Court said...

All this talk of words and clothing brings to mind a lovely quote from Mark Twain:

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."

Modified:

"Simplicity makes the query. Fancy fonts have a negative influence on hapless agents." ;o)

Rebecca said...

great advice...thanks for being so clear.

Jen C said...

Reesha said...
haha. When I was little I wrote a 200+ page book in a program called Creative Writer. It was all in a curly font unique to that program. No wonder it didn't get accepted when I sent it to a publisher!


You actually sent the book you wrote to a publisher at age 8? That is SO cute!

Word Veri: sayesse. Oh, so many ways I could go with this one. Choosing to keep it clean, I'm thinking *Comic Book Guy* "Her mouth says no no, but her eyes say yes yes!" Ah, stalking is hilarious in cartoon-form!

Yamile said...

I hate indentation anyway.

Word verification: dialtu. Dial tu. hahaha!

Jil said...

Darn, all this great advice after I've already shot my bolt with Nathan!

Oh well, thoughts of Adam will just have to console me for now.

Patrick Rodgers said...

Reesha I always wish I had the stories I put to paper when I was younger but alas they are all gone. I remember writing a story when I was 7 about wanting a pet crocodile that endeared me to my teacher.

I also miss all my college papers as well as my articles I wrote in my stint for a newspaper. All gone in a hard drive crash in 2002 or 2003 (well not the croc story as we didn't have a computer when I was seven). Somewhere in boxes that have sat in storage are the hard copies of the newspaper articles I wrote but gone are all my digital copies erased into the nether of the computer world.

I wonder what I was thinking and writing then, my last memories as a political columnist are not fond ones. I wanted to write a piece of banning Wal-mart from our everyday lives and after it going to the editor six times always with the suggestion to make it more broad (which was another way of saying remove the name Wal-mart and call it the big box store or some other vague title) I missed my deadline and my newspaper writing days were at an end.

I wish I had kept a journal or my writings because I would love to read my own stuff when I was young and naive.

Anonymous said...

This is great advice, and I'm sorry to be pesky, but could you please offer an opinion on how to handle italics/underlining in the sample pages? For a single word I suppose *this* would work for emphasis, but I have an entire paragraph that needs to be set off from the main text. I was thinking of putting (italics) and (end italics) at the beginning and end of the paragraph.

If I don't do something, the pages will be confusing. I don't wish to be confusing. (And I've thought carefully about whether this needs to be done at all.)

Thank you.

Ulysses said...

I'm concerned.

If I don't dress my words up in fancy clothes, how on earth will they be able to seduce you?

Er... it occurs to me that I'm spending too much time alone with my word processing program.

Jason Crawford said...

Nathan, please don't tell me you're a Sacramento fan. Well, I'm a Celtics fans, so I suppose I don't have much room to gloat after their historic meltdown. I keep telling myself, "if only we had KG..."

BarbS. said...

"I just want to see your words. They don't need to be dressed up in fancy clothes."

They'll be all dressed up with nowhere to go, eh?

Maya / מיה said...

Can I please use a little sideways smiley face? Maybe if I leave out the nose, like this-- :) Otherwise, how will you understand the tone of my voice or determine whether or not I'm sarcastic when I say, "I'm Michael Chabon"? (I've heard that Michael Chabon actually opens his query letters like this: I'm Michael Chabon >:-} )

Er, right, that whole thing about us being writers and using WORDS to communicate... not dancing gifs. Or emoticons. Unless I'm sending you that novel I've written entirely as an IM conversation.

allegory19 said...

It seems that people will try anything to stand out.

But it's like that quote from the movie He's Just Not That Into You:
"That's the exception and we're not the exception we're the rule."

Dara said...

Good advice! Thanks!

Ink said...

Jason,

He is, he is a Sacramento fan. But we like him anyway.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

The way they play basketball today, well, why not just mug the guy!
I played in high school. (Yes, the ball was round and stayed inflated). BUT, you could not dribble above the waist. At all times while dribbling, palm of hand MUST be on top of the ball, and no defender touching/holding any offensive player, ANYWHERE!
Michael Jordan walked on most every move to the basket. He place his hand on the bottom or side of the ball, CARRIED it forward while taking a step, then dribble if needed when taking his allowed two steps to the hoop.
Most of the Mac Trucks playing today don't have the skills needed for the days of... yesterday, last week, years ago!
You actually had to have speed and agility to dribble around a guy instead of plowing him under.

Haste yee back ;-)

Cat Moleski said...

query nationLove it!

Chuck H. said...

Ah, Haste yee back, you make me nostalgic for the good old days when I understood sports and cared. But, my friend, those days are long gone and it's all business and no fun anymore. Excuse me while I go to my drooling corner and play with my marbles--and, no, that is not a euphamism for anything.

Word Verification: borpit - where I'll no doubt end up.

Cyndi said...

To be honest, Nathan, I don't think the people doing weird and wacky formatting are people that read your blog. And if they are, they should receive a public flogging. ;)

Nathan Bransford said...

cyndi-

Some of these are personalized, so......

Cyndi said...

Personalized. Oh, my.

Maybe it's a written form of Tourette's. They just can't help the obnoxious outbursts of font and formatting. Go easy. It's a sickness.

Xiexie said...

Maybe it's from my teaching and tutoring (English) but no indented paragraphs just feels awful to me, but it is email. I'll enjoy my indents snail mail I guess.

Alex said...

When one is working in an experimental format where the layout of the page does play a role in the story (Danielewski's House of Leaves and Plascencia's People of Paper come to mind), should the sample pages reflect that? Thanks.

Free Fonts said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and related thoughts.I'll bear it in my mind.
Free Fonts

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