A couple weeks back, after the post on manuscript formatting, someone requested I do a post on query formatting. I'm going to start with e-queries and save paper queries for another day, as I think it would be confusing to try to mesh the two.
Now, like manuscript formatting, there are all sorts of different ways you can format, and lots of different opinions on how to do so, but as long as it looks professional and is well-written, you're going to be fine. Don't sweat over it so bad that you never query! Agents will overlook a lot if the material is brilliant. But, you want to always put your best foot forward anyway, right? So, here are some guidelines...
What you put in the subject line matters. I think it's best to include the title of your manuscript headed by an appropriate label such as "query" or "requested material." Examples: "Query: The Cat That Went Splat" or "Requested Material: The Cat That Went Splat. It also doesn't hurt to throw the genre in there, if you'd like to make that designation. This can be good if an agent has mentioned a strong desire to see more of the genre you write, i.e. "Query: Atomic Angst (YA). Just make sure you're not trying to fit your whole query in there. No need to have the title, the genre, the word count, the synopsis, and your check routing number in the subject!
Address your query directly to its intended recipient. Some agents don't care all that much, but a lot of others are put off by general salutations such as "Dear Agent" or "To Whom It May Concern." It doesn't say a lot of good about you and your search for representation if you can't even take the time to properly address the person you're sending it to.
Example: "Dear Mr. Bransford" or "Dear Ms. Reamer." NOT: Yo Nathan or 'Sup Jodi!
Tip: It should always be Ms. or Mr. Never Mrs. Miss, or Mister, even if you know the marital status of the agent. Treat your query letter as business correspondence -- that's what it is.
Tip: If you're unsure of the agent's gender, research until you find a first name, or reach out to fellow writers on a message board. It shouldn't take a lot of extra time to find out the agent's gender and knowing it will help you avoid having to use a general salutation.
As with paper queries, you still need to include your contact information. However, I suggest putting it at the bottom of your query rather than the top. Why? It's harder for an agent to skim down a query on screen than it is on paper, especially if they're using a handheld device such as a smart phone or e-reader. It's more time efficient and inviting for them to be able to open your e-mail up and start reading immediately. They still need all your contact information, though! so make sure you DO include it. Full (real) name, phone number, address, and website or blog (if you have one you'd like to list).
On the flip side, some people prefer to put their contact information in the left upper hand corner, like you would a business letter, arguing that that's where an agent will look first, if they're interested in contacting you. A valid argument, so you'll just have to decide on your preference there.
Tip: Wherever you put it, format your contact information as you would in a business letter, flushed left, name on one line, phone number on another, street address on another, and then city / state, etc. Confused? Look up business letter formatting or grab a stack of mail.
Tip: Always include more than one way to be contacted.
It's not necessary to include the agent's contact information, as you would on a paper cover letter. The agent knows who they are and, if the query is addressed to them and has arrived in their e-mail, they know it was meant for them.
I suggest writing (and rewriting) your query in a document where you can save a "shell" that you can then personalize for each agent before pasting it over into an e-mail.
As far as actual formatting: Single space, align left, no indents, 12 point font, Times New Roman (nothing fancy, peeps). Do include paragraph breaks! One space between each. Nothing worse than a huge block of single spaced text. Write no more than a normal screen's length of text. In other words, nothing too long. You risk getting skimmed or losing the agent's interest if your query is overly long.
Tip: Paste your query into Notepad or another program that will strip the formatting and make your text Plain Text rather than HTML or Rich Text (some e-mail programs will do this, others will not). This will save you a lot of formatting headache, as the conversion from your e-mail program to another will often adjust your text formatting and make it look all crazy. Plain Text, on the other hand, will transfer as it appears to you before you send it, and you can rest assured it's not turning into gobbledygook.
Tip: If you're especially anxious about your query, you can test drive it by sending it to yourself or a friend (especially a friend that uses a different e-mail program) to see how it comes through.
Just like you began your query on formality, you should close it on formality. You can choose any number of standard business closures such as "Sincerely," "All the best," etc. and then "sign" with your full name.
Tip: Make sure you thank the agent for their time! And if you've decided to put your contact information at the bottom, now's the time to add it. Don't forget.
Your safest bet is to include sample pages in the body of the e-mail, under your closing line several spaces, as a general rule of thumb. Most agents request sample material be sent this way, if they request sample pages at all, but you should always follow each agent's specific submission guidelines, so if they happen to request that it be attached, attach it.
If you're including sample pages, I would highly suggest pasting the pages into Notepad, as you did with your query above, to strip the HTML or Rich Text formatting. This will remove your indents, yes, and that's fine, but it will ensure your formatting looks good and readable. Agent's won't care if your sample pages are or aren't indented when they're in the body of the e-mail. It's pretty standard knowledge that e-mail formatting is shifty.
If the agent requests more material, such as a partial or full, and does not specify whether or not to attach it, I would attach it. That's usually how they'll want it. It's easier for them to load onto their reading devices and will retain your original formatting.
Tip: If you do strip your pages of HTML or Rich Text, as suggested, it will also strip your italics and/or underlining. So, if they're important in your sample pages, you'll want to go back through when you've pasted your pages into the e-mail and put the emphases back on using your e-mail program's format tools.
Am I forgetting anything? Please, everyone, speak up in the comments and leave your own query preferences, how-tos, and tips. I'd love to hear what you've learned in the query trenches, and what you do differently or the same. Also, if you have any questions, leave those as well!