Saturday, March 11, 2017

The purple prose eater in my email program

I recently sent a query to an agent, and when I hit send, I realized I forgot to include the manuscript pages listed as a requirement. (So much for making sure of things...) I re-sent the query, carefully re-copying all the necessary pieces into Notepad and into the new email, to prevent weird formatting issues. With all the right pieces in, I added a line at the top that said the earlier email had an error in it. I hit send.

The entire email text (except for those pesky manuscript pages) turned purple.

I'm not sure of the etiquette here. Do I... send again? I am not sure how to prevent this fresh error. It's never happened before. Do I cross my fingers and pray it's somehow not purple on the agent's end? Make a sacrifice to any query-deities?


I bet you turned purple too.
This is the kind of thing that drives even the most self-controlled authors into a frenzy.

Well, fret not.
Truthfully, if an email shows up in a weird color, I chalk it up to the email gods and read it anyway. If it's got promise, I might copy and paste into a word .doc to adjust the color.

In other words, it's not auto-reject when there's a formatting issue.

That said, you DO want to try to get it right. One do-over is ok, but if I got three emails from you for the same query, I'd start wondering.

A trick to avoid those gremlins lurking by the send button:

Save your queries in Draft mode for an hour or a day.
Go back and double check before hitting send. You'll be amazed what you'll see...like missing pages.


54 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I think is was the late fifties movie, THE NUN'S STORY with Audrey Hepburn, which preached a nun's tenent for perfection.
I try, I really try but boys and girls, I ain't catholic and I ain't perfectomundo.
To let your work sit and rest is a great way to view, with fresh eyes, that which you previously would not portent as failure.
It is, with equal moments of revelation, I reread and am amazed how perfectly I nailed something and then in the next line I am swearing at my vomment. ( haven't used "vomment" in a while, felt good.)

Ellen said...

Another trick to avoid those gremlins ...

If you have Gmail, you might be able to prevent future whoopsies by using the "undo send" option, which is in the settings. It's a feature that makes the email hang for 10 seconds after you hit send, giving you the option to click UNDO and stop the process.

10 seconds is usually enough, but you can extend that to 30, if you want.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Ellen,

That just might be the single most useful information I have come across in 2017 (outside of the nuggets of wisdom dispensed daily by the QOTKU)

Thanks!

Claire Bobrow said...

Ellen - I had no idea that feature existed. Thanks for clueing us in!

Great post - nice to know you won't automatically land in the rejection pile due to the goofy email gods.

Theresa said...

Colored font may be the electronic equivalent of glitter. No wonder OP was worried.

Now going to look at the undo send option. Thanks, Ellen.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Ellen- thanks for the heads up on that feature. I had no idea it existed. And I have had my share of query mishaps. Will definitely take Janet's advice and hold my queries for 24 hours next round.

BJ Muntain said...

I've heard people tearing out their hair (yes, I heard that - funny how loud it can be over the internet) over formatting their manuscript in an e-mail. "It took out all the indents!" "All my formatting!" "It's single-spaced now!" "Why are there so many extra spaces?!"

You try to talk them down from the ledge, saying, "It's okay. Agents know what they're in for when they say they want the pages in the text of the e-mail." You're not always believed.

E-mail programs suck at formatting because that's not their purpose. Their purpose is to take your words, disseminate them into ASCII bits that can easily be sent across the world on that mysterious wave called the Internet following established standard protocols, so the next program knows what to do with them. The purpose of the e-mail program on the receiving end is to take those bits and put them into a format you can read. How that works out depends on both e-mail programs' interpretations of the standard protocols.

Be happy everything you send gets there in one piece in a format that can be read. That's the most you can ask for from an e-mail program. Formatting is gravy - and sometimes it turns out lumpy.

Elissa M said...

Great advice here from both Janet and Ellen. I, too, was unaware of the "undo send" option. Proof yet again that the Shark + Reider comments are a winning combination.

DLM said...

This is one of those days the comments add so much! Thank you Ellen, VERY interesting. I use Outlook and tended, when I was querying, to re-use already sent emailed queries with the correct elements in place, changing the salutation and any personalization.

I never, EVER addressed a query until it was DONE and checked - so I cannot accidentally send it as it's not "to" anyone until the final step. I'd copy an email address into notepad and keep it off to one side while finalizing a query; pasting that in came last. This is also how I write important emails at work, and even the odd love note to Mr. X.

If you are an actively editorial writer, saving the addressing to last is the best thing to do in ANY email, but especially for queries.

kathy joyce said...

I format once in email, send to myself to see bugs and fix them, then use that email as the base of all queries. You have to be careful to make all necessary changes. But, it is a timesaver. Also, I have to look it up, and will send later: I found a way to format a doc in Word that results in double-spaced when copied into email. A real timesaver!

Donnaeve said...

Those of you using Gmail - what a great feature!

I have Outlook, and I can do something kinda sorta like that,(think it's called "unsend..." not sure). I think it's a matter of timing on my end - i.e. if I don't catch it quick enough, it's gone. And if the recipient reads it - too late.

RosannaM said...

I haven't had my queries turn purple--but I have some kind of glitch where my em dash turns into the fraction 3/4 when it has been copy/pasted. I can't figure out why, and I have to manually fix it. Any of you computer people have any suggestions?

It would be an unfun task to go take all of the em dashes out of the whole manuscript, but I would do that sooner than correct them each time I need to send the doc to an agent. (God willing I get some requests for fulls.)

Ellen-thanks for the unsend info. I'll check it out.

DLM said...

Donna, you can try to Recall an email in Outlook, but it is a bit of a buggy feature. It's basically an attempt to claw-back a message, and it SENDS a message saying so - and I'm not sure it works at all when an email exits an Outlook network. Pretty inelegant, but it could work as a desperation move.

RosannaM, that's one of those HTML quirks that changes certain rich-text symbols into gobbledygook; using "paste as plain text" or transferring to Notepad then pasting into email should resolve. It's just a sort of translation for one form of formatted text into another form of formatted text that is configured differently, so specialized characters "read" garbled.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

When Microsoft first designed Outlook, I'm sure they were convinced one day everyone would be using Outlook. Of course this was back in the days before the internet was a thing, and even when it became a thing, Bill Gates thought it was a flash in the pan, until it wasn't, and Netscape was giving away its Navigator browser while Microsoft Explorer was $10 a pop, and Microsoft found itself ten miles behind the rest of the industry which had all jumped on the internet bandwagon... BUT I DIGRESS...!

Needless to say, there is no standard email software, which is why you can't guarantee any special settings you use in your interface of choice will translate to the recipient's interface of choice, unless you are both using the same product (and, in some cases, the same version of the same product).

If in doubt, do everything in Plain Text. Or just keep it simple, and pray the message gets through. As Janet indicated, these days, most people are used to common "translation" glitches (missing line breaks, special characters not converting, etc.) and will overlook them. As long as the query is readable, you're probably fine. :)

John Davis Frain said...

Ellen,

Thank you! Found it under Settings, pushed it to "30" and now I just have to figure out how to use it. Three test emails have failed so far, but I'm a writer -- I have way more stamina for failure.

Using that same writerly logic, it should come as no surprise to RKeelan and Cecilia Ortiz Luna that they can receive congratulations a week later for their magnificent stories. Read them again this morning, and I'm finally able to get here and offer my applause. That was a fun contest with great flashbacks to Barbara Feldon and Don Adams.

Snow is falling, I'm caught up on work ... Today is going to be a great writing day. Good wishes for y'all too!

Lennon Faris said...

Useful post (and comments - thanks, Ellen!).

I once sent my mss to a beta reader and she commented on all the red marks. Turns out MY copy had none, the email had none, but when she opened it up on HER end, Word had apparently kept a lot of my editing (like Track changes). They were totally invisible to me. Heart attack moment, but I guess that's partly what betas are for!

Now I always send everything to myself first. And, like Diane, I keep the address label blank until I'm totally ready.

John (mss) Frain sounds like a good day -hope you get a ton done! Everyone else, too!

BJ Muntain said...

RosannaM: It's a problem with the e-mail program interpreting the special ASCII character for the em dash. If you really want, you can do a search/replace in your manuscript to change your emdash to two hyphens (--). This is the generally accepted non-special-character version of the emdash. And it's easy enough to change back if you want to do that at a later date. People rarely have two hyphens together if it's NOT meant to be an emdash, so there shouldn't be any weird replacements.

Mark Thurber said...

I also follow Lennon's/Diane's suggestions of sending to myself first and filling in the email address as the last step. I also like to bcc myself (to a different email address than the one from which I am sending) on all queries so I can make sure nothing too weird happened.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Thanks, John :)

Karen McCoy said...

Ooh, this is a beautiful tip. Saving for later...

Donnaeve said...

Diane - that's it - I couldn't remember the name. And you're right, it was/is clunky. I recollect (recall?) using it, and I would get irritated when someone would open an email I was OBVIOUSLY trying to recall (because it would show that to the recipients) and if I did it before anyone read it, it would then send me messages saying "Recall Success" for each person who tried to read, or "Recall Failure" if someone read it before I did the RECALL.

Lordy - this is reminding me of my Nortel days.

Joseph Snoe said...

My email server is Windows Live Mail. I cannot find an unsend feature on it. Anyone having more luck with it than I did.

So many things can go wrong with email (mostly my human error).

RachelErin said...

This is a little off topic from the email question, but is it okay to send pdfs instead of word docs? That way one can guarantee the fonts, formatting, lack of track changes, etc.

I don't know how to turn track changes off, apparently. I recently merged a bunch of docs that had gone through the same process to strip out tracking and comments, and about a third of them showed up with tracking when I inserted them into the master doc. Weird.

RosannaM said...

Thanks, DLM and BJ. I will try your suggestions. So many things to know...

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Diane- not addressing email until you are ready to send is excellent advice. I started doing that after a couple of email booboos.

Off-topic- My daughter arrived safely in New York last night and is all moved into her tiny apartment in Brooklyn. Wow, how time flies and slaps you into oblivion.

DLM said...

RachelErin, most agents (or anyone) who don't want attachments don't want attachments of *any* kind. It's not a formatting issue, it's a security one. Nobody should ever open ANY email attachment, no matter the context, from an unknown source or which was not asked for. Even the emails of people you know can be infected/hacked and may send you malware etc.

As close as anything to an industry standard, "don't send attachments if we haven't asked for a partial/full" is about it. Plain text inline is always the best bet.

Kate Higgins said...

I paste my text into a plain text program then paste it into an email and send to myself. When I receive it, I again copy and paste it back into an MSW doc. If there are any weird glitches I catch them that way before I send. Most have been character and paragraph spacing. I did have a paragraph turn green – it was a previous edit from a client that I was able to get rid of in the edit/comments.
I haven't had too many problems but it is, after all, Microsoft Word.

If you believe that I have a bridge to send you, i...

Craig F said...

At certain times I get somewhat compulsive. Because of that I make packets in word that are various permutations of what most agents want. If I were to query my Queen it would be ASQ5. The AS is the title, Q is query and 5 is five pages.

There are only four of the Q5, Q10, QS(synopsis)5 and QS10. Those are all formatted for email and tested by sending them to a friend and having them send it back. All I have to do is the Snookums to the Mr, Mrs or Ms.

I do this because I know by brains is capable of infarction's at the least opportune times.

Craig F said...

I also hope that doing the packet thing will keep me from exercising another bad habit of mine. I tinker with things that I don't feel are perfect and I don't think I will ever have a perfect query.

With luck I will be able to abstain from last minute tweaks on a query I have agonized over for a long time. Those tweaks never do what you hope they will.

BJ Muntain said...

RachelErin: The formatting problems are in the e-mails themselves, when they ask for 5 pages sent in the body of the e-mail.

If they like your query and ask for a partial, they'll tell you what to send. Usually, it will be a Word document, and the formatting there doesn't change nearly as much, because even different versions of Word have similar formatting rules. Not all - I sometimes have problems with spaces in friends' works, that I figure have more to do with Word's automatic formatting than anything else.

But as someone above said, don't send documents of any kind unless you're asked to. Otherwise, you may just get slid straight into the spam bucket, and you'll never get seen, let alone a response.

Brigid said...

It turns purple in Gmail if it's copied text from an earlier email with the same subject line--just means it's a repeat. If they don't also have Gmail they'll never know. They might not know anyway; I have never emailed my other account identical text to check. This also sometimes happens when you email multiple people separate emails with the same content and subject line.

In other news, I had a baby Tuesday! I feel magnificent and she is perfection. Ilaria Jacqueline.

John Davis Frain said...

Sand timer emptied (again!), and I didn't even notice. Thanks, Julie, for that gem of an idea.

For my break, I emailed myself -- and stopped it from arriving! Oh, the joy of success. Except my dog thinks I'm taking him for a walk now. Because why else would a human be so excited, right?

Ellen, you've made my day. I've given myself the full 30 seconds [for the email recall]. After all, what missive originating from me can't stand to arrive 30 seconds later?

Excuse me now while I send an email and forget the attachment ... until I snatch it from the edge of the ether and fix my world!

John Davis Frain said...

Brigid, Hey!

Super news! And what a cool name. A literal Happy Birthday to you. Have a blast.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Brigid That's awesome. What an absolutely gorgeous name. A great adventure has started for you. Enjoy her and don't fret too much about missed sleep. It's worth the sleepless nights.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Congrats Brigid!

Joseph Snoe said...

Great day in the morning for Ilaria and Brigid. What a creation.

RosannaM said...

Congratulations Brigid! That is such wonderful news. Enjoy your little one.

Colin Smith said...

You know you are a resident of this blog when "I just had a baby" is a casual aside at the end of your response to the article. :)

CONGRATS, Brigid!! All the best to you both. :D

Panda in Chief said...

I started using text edit to completely draft my queries, partly because I no longer had Microsoft Office on my laptop after last upgrade. I've also been using google docs to write drafts of emails as well, since I have a gmail account (or three)

Congrats to Brigid on her new addition to the family! Glad everyone is well, not to mention perfection.

Kate Larkindale said...

Congrats, Brigid! What a gorgeous name. Glad everyone is doing well.

Claire Bobrow said...

Oooh - Brigid! Just re-reading the comments. Congratulations! I love the name Ilaria Jacqueline. Perfection! Warm wishes for a blissful experience with the new addition :-)

Amy Johnson said...

Congratulations, Brigid! What a beautiful name!

BJ Muntain said...

Congrats, Brigid! Wonderful!

Casey Karp said...

Congratulations, Brigid!

(And here I thought I was going to get a day off from posting.)

Lennon Faris said...

Congratulations, Brigid!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Brigiiiidddddd congrats, you mama you.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Brigid, congratulations!

Donnaeve said...

I have time warp head.

Congrats Brigid!!!! I loved the name, and am glad you're feeling well to boot!

Jill Warner said...

Congratulations! That's super exciting, Brigid!

Ellen said...

My favorite reading this weekend was this comment section. It made my day to discover I could help my fellow writers with that gmail tip!

And Brigid, huge congrats!

Melody & Words said...

If the OP is using Gmail, that's a feature to show you when you've sent duplicate text (any changes from the previous email would be in black). As far as I know, it only shows that way in your inbox - not in the agent's. I've had a moment of panic like this before, as you can tell!

Kate B said...

Thanks for the tip, Elaine! I definitely have to look into that.

And DLM, I do that , too - I've accidentally hit the send button before putting all the pieces in the email before. I treat the address I'm sending to like a stamp on my email envelope: I only put it on when everything else is there.

Thanks for clearing up the purple text mystery, Brigid!

I am the one who send the purple prose, so if anyone's curious: the agent sent me a form rejection, though interestingly (to me, anyway) he replied to the first email, not the second. Hard to tell anything from a form rejection, but I'm guessing it went into the reject pile before he got to the pages (and possibly the second, purple email). Oh, well. Querying onward!

AJ Blythe said...

I've been doing a course to learn how to build my own author web page so am behind in my blog reading. Trying to catch up now! Wasn't planning on commenting but couldn't help myself with this one.

Congratulations, Brigid. I hope you and Ilaria are doing well.

Ellen, brilliant advice. I use outlook (previously hotmail) and discovered it also has the same feature. I tested it and it seems to work without any clunkiness. Thanks!