When Formatting Attacks…

“Your cover letter is beautifully written, but it needs some different formatting – the punctuation marks come out as strange characters!”

This frightening message came to me in an email from a family friend. She had graciously allowed me to send her a copy of my cover letter, so she could give me feedback before I sent it on to a publisher. I thought she might make a few tweaks here and there – change a few sentences around, nothing major. I never expected her to tell me that my cover letter looked like alien symbols and gibberish!

Soon after this exchange, I came across an article detailing what happens to the formatting of a Microsoft Word document when you Copy and Paste it into the little “Compose” box of your email. To sum it up: bad things. VERY VERY Bad Things can happen when you C&P from Word into any web browser.

Luckily, I had sent this most recent cover letter to a friend first. But I’d already sent more than a dozen email cover letters in the past, without any idea that even though they looked perfectly normal on my screen, they looked dramatically different to the person receiving them.

And all this time, I thought I was doing a good thing by composing them in Word. I didn’t want to just dash off some sloppy cover letter right in my email. I wanted to pre-write the letter, perfect it, and print it off so others could read it and edit it for me, even if the letter was only five measly sentences.

(Side note: Just to be clear, sending an attachment in MS Word is totally fine. If you’re sending a story or even a cover letter as a .DOC or .DOCX attachment, it should look exactly as it’s supposed to, as long as that’s the format requested by the publisher. The problem only occurs when Copying and Pasting something from MS Word into the body of your email, be it a letter or even a whole story (yes, some publishers want your whole story in the body of the email).)

The solution:

There are several simple things you can do to make darn sure the content in the body of your email looks exactly as you intended. The easiest way is just to directly write your message in the “Compose” box of your email. This is the method I now use for very short cover letters and other succinct messages. For longer content, however, this would not be practical. (Who wants to re-type their whole 6,000-word zombie pirate adventure?) In the case of longer material, I would recommend Copying and Pasting from Word into Notepad, and then from Notepad into your email. (You will have to go through and redo all the italics, bolds, etc. in your email if you choose this method, because that formatting will be lost in Notepad.) The final safeguard: send the email to yourself or a friend before sending it to a publisher. You want to start off that writer-publisher relationship on the right foot – not the ugly alien foot with sixteen blue toes!

Last note: I wrote this post with full knowledge that most people are already completely aware of this issue. In fact, most people reading this post probably think I’m an idiot for not being aware of it. Nonetheless, for that one person who might not know, for that one poor soul who’s about to unwittingly send out an important query letter filled with wing-dings and squiggly lines, I decided to put this out there.

Hope it helps!

Keep writing and submitting!

-Gretchen

The Race: Midseason Musings

(Okay, when I wrote this post, it was actually a lot closer to midseason than it is now. Nonetheless, the scores still stand!)

So, time’s been winging its way along like a carrier pigeon, and here we are, over halfway through the TV season. Well, the network TV season, at any rate. This is the time when I’m starting to ask myself some important questions, like:

“Which shows am I looking forward to the most?”

“Is there a breakout star in the pack?”

And the real biggie:

“Which shows do I want to start reading fanfiction about?”

Right now, the shows fall into three categories:

Old Favorites – the ones I already read (and even write) fanfiction about

The Mentalist and Supernatural both land firmly in this category. They’re both having strong seasons this year, although The Mentalist has been hurt recently by a super-long hiatus. Thankfully, the drought finally ended with the first new eps in what feels like months. We got to see a playful Jane, fulfilling the secret childhood wishes of his coworkers (it bothered me at first that he didn’t get anything for Lisbon, then I realized he already fulfilled her secret childhood wish when he got her the pony – no way he could ever top that!). We also got to see Jane’s new, er…vehicle. Yeah, I guess you can call it that. Personally I was a fan of the Citroen. This silver thing will take some getting used to. What’ll take more getting used to, however, is the show minus one of its most interesting and unique characters. Why did they have to kill JJ off? WHY? I so was not in the mood for the cheerful preview that aired moments after his death scene. Couldn’t we have had more than a commercial break to mourn him?

Midseason Score: 8

Fortunately, Supernatural only had a short hiatus before kicking out brand new content for us to snuggle with. There was just one bad egg in the new batch of eps – the ep with Crowley and Dean hunting together and Sam and Castiel working to remove Gadreel’s grace from Sam’s body. I liked that Dean got the Mark of Cain (Dean-girls always get a thrill when he’s part of the mythology) and I love the actor who played Cain, but there was just something missing in this ep. Maybe it was the disappointing PB&J storyline with Cass (He may have recently experienced being human for the first time, but he’s had humanity – and morality – for years. Even back in Season Five, Cass refused to kill Sam to stop the apocalypse).

Anyhoo, I’ll forgive one dud ep, seeing as most of this season has been above, beyond, and just plain better than the last three combined. The Garth-as-a-werewolf ep was entertaining (who doesn’t love Garth?) but I DID mind that they messed with the werewolf “rules” on the show. Apparently, now werewolves can change at will – not just when the full moon beckons – and can control their behavior if they “try hard enough.” This means Madison in the episode “Heart” could have been saved. Which detracts from the episode “Heart.” Nothing should detract from that ep, dang it!!

Other than that, though, the Garth ep was cool. The first really AWESOME ep of the new batch was the one where Sam and Dean went undercover at a health spa to hunt a Peruvian (?) Fat Sucker. Really cool storyline that went back to basics, but also had some cool new twists. The episode with Kevin’s ghost and Tiger Mommy (YESSSSSSSSS!!!!) was just plain sublime, and revisiting the Ghostfacers was fun and sad at the same time. Also of note: “#Thinman” was probably the scariest episode we’ve had to date this season. So, kudos. All in all, this season is a bulging container of awesome, ready to explode all over the place.

Oh, and for those people who might be worried about the strife between the bros? For me, it’s only adding to the pleasure. Because I’m hoping – really, really hoping – that Sam’s going to eventually prove himself wrong. That he really would go to the same lengths to keep Dean as Dean went to in order to keep Sam. And seriously, for a guy who “doesn’t want to be brothers,” Sam sure does run fast whenever Dean calls for him. 🙂

Midseason Score: 8.5

Rising Stars – the ones I don’t read fanfiction about, but am starting to get tempted

These two were a bit of a surprise. But when I asked myself which shows I look forward to watching the most, which ones I think about when they’re not on, which ones are really starting to get my fire going the answer was pretty simple: Castle and Grimm.

For some reason, these two are just working. Grimm has never been more entertaining. The cast is just overflowing with great characters, and the writers seem to be on the literary equivalent of a runner’s high, churning out great story after great story. Getting to meet Monroe’s parents for the first time was cool and painful at the same time. The parallels to real-life racism are all too real as the show continues to explore “mixed” marriages and friendships. We all knew Wesen weren’t supposed to hang out with Grimms, but who knew a Blutbad couldn’t get engaged to a Fuchsbau without severing family ties? The writers have also unleashed a slew of new baddies for Nick and Co. to fight, resulting in high-octane action and super-creepy monster moments. Those hair-wearing warriors were the ultimate Big Bads, while that Aswang thing that attacked the pregnant lady was just plain EW. And Adalind’s Hexenbiest baby, though perhaps not technically a villain, might be the scariest of all with those freaky, glowing eyes.

Midseason Score: 8

Equally on fire is Castle, which continues to find new and interesting ways to explore Castle and Beckett’s relationship without allowing it to grow stale. From intense episodes like Beckett undercover as an assassin, to more lighthearted installments like the ones featuring Carrie-like telekinetic powers or a Miley Cyrus-ish pop star gone dark, I am always Velcroed to my seat when this one is on. It makes me laugh, it keeps me guessing, and it makes me awful happy Caskett are a couple right now. Only the best shows have elements of comedy, drama, mystery and romance. This one has it all.

Midseason Score: 8

Dark Horses – the ones I love to watch, but I don’t see the relationship developing into full-on fangirl obsession anytime soon (though there can always be surprises – that’s why they’re called dark horses 🙂 )

The majority of my shows fall here, including Elementary, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Beauty and the Beast, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and even some I watch but don’t review, like Tomorrow People, The Good Wife, and Blue Bloods.

Make no mistake – these all are Must-See TV with a capital M. Chicago Fire has been just as amazing this season as it was last year. Katie’s attack, Benny’s revenge, Matt’s memory problems, Gabby’s struggle to become a firefighter, and Jones’ floundering as she tries to fit in at the firehouse are just a few little morsels in a non-stop chocolate chip conveyer belt of great stories. You just love the characters – even as they add more and more, it never feels too crowded. I was bummed when Rafferty and Katie left the show – I hope they will be back, because even after a short time, I had already grown attached.

Midseason Score: 7.5

Same goes for Chicago PD. A big pile of likeable, loveable, and even just plain interesting characters. Couple that with wonderful acting and stellar writing, and this show is a big, fat WIN, just like its big brother, CF. From drug mules to street justice to covering up a family member’s involvement in a murder, the storylines just get stronger and stronger. The crossovers between the two shows are a bonus treat for people who watch both – which, hopefully, is everyone.

The only crossover disappointment was the “2-hour SVU/Chicago PD Crossover Event.” Once again, we have NBC doing the false advertising thing. In no way was that a “2-hour crossover event.” I watched an entire episode of SVU, thinking that the storyline was going to in some way relate to the Chicago PD episode that was airing next. I spent almost fifty-five minutes waiting for CPD characters to show up at any moment, only to have a brief cameo by Erin in the final five minutes of SVU. I can’t believe I missed Tomorrow People to watch the first hour of something that couldn’t even loosely be construed as a “2-hour event.” The sad thing is, NBC has a great line-up right now – they don’t need to lie about their programming. Hopefully, they haven’t hurt themselves too much with this crying wolf business.

CPD Midseason Score: 7

Over on Elementary, the writers have continued adding emotional depth to this season by having Sherlock serve as a sponsor to a recovering young addict, and by revisiting old Scotland Yard friend/foe Lestrade for a two-episode arc. Throw in a couple of reformed roosters and a couple of ears grown on the back of a lady who faked her own kidnapping, and you’ve got a pretty darn entertaining show.

Midseason Score: 6.5

Speaking of entertaining, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is a total powerhouse, delivering action, emotion, great characters and butt-kickingly awesome special effects. I am super-glued to the screen for the duration of this super show. Even a healthy splash of nailpolish remover couldn’t unstick me from the couch while SHIELD is on. When Skye got shot, I felt like I was the one who couldn’t breathe. I liked how they went back and showed the different timelines for each character, showing how each ended up where they finally ended up when Skye was wounded. The battle to find the Guest House and the miracle drug needed to save her life was riveting. Who wants to see these characters in the next Avengers movie? **Raises hand and waves it exuberantly** Me! Me! Me!

Midseason Score: 7.8

One show that has upped its game – and its entertainment value – this season is Beauty and the Beast. I am loving the humor this season, from Vincent and Cat stuck in a crashed car together, to Vincent appearing on an episode of The View, I have laughed out loud so many times while watching this show, and that is a good thing. All great dramas need to be able to pull off the comedy, too. Another good thing: really cool beast mythology episodes. Beast skeletons? Shackles? Dungeons? A mysterious gemstone? Count me intrigued! But, of course, it wouldn’t be B&B without the love triangles, and Gabe/Cat/Vincent has me hooked like a small-mouth bass. Wish they hadn’t killed off Tori so soon, but maybe they’ll have another she-beast in the near future. Why should guys get to have all the fang-snapping fun? Only major quibble this season: did they have to make the gemstone green? Between that and Kristen, I’m having Smallville flashbacks here…

Midseason Score: 6.8