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How Do I Format My E-Query?

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...

Subject Line:

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!

Salutation:

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.

Contact Information:

Yours:

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.

Theirs:

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.

Query Body:

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.

Closure:

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.

Including Material:

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!

20 comments:

  1. Great post, Casey.

    I usually use a Sans Serif font (like Verdana) for e-queries because it’s easier to read on a screen. Serif fonts (like Times New Roman) are easier to read in hard copy.

    People have done studies on this. Honest.

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  2. Thanks for chiming in, Ann! I'll have to check out Sans Serif and see the difference.

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  3. Thanks Casey - super helpful post as usual :)

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  4. This was a great post!
    I am actually writing/formatting a query correctly. Yeahhh.
    Now to work on my ms...

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  5. Casey, this was great. I am the master of the hard copy...but the whole e-query this is scary. (You never quite know what the recipient is receiving....)

    Thanks!

    Shelley

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  6. Great advice! I've bookmarked this for future reference :)

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  7. Thanks for the helpful nuts & bolts post, Casey. My question is regarding word processing programs. I've written my MS using Microsoft Works rather than Word. Would this be a problem if sending it as an attachment?

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  8. Great info Casey. So many times I'm afraid to ask questions because it seems like I'm the only one who doesn't know the answer. Your posts are always so helpful.

    I'll check out the sans serif thing too because I usually use a serif font.

    Also didn't know about the notepad stripping out the formatting. I've had problems before when I have cut and pasted.

    Thanks for all your help and kind words.

    Oh, by the way, (sorry if I'm rambling) but thought you might like to know...

    I went to a workshop last month where Jill Corcoran talked about writing queries. Anyway, she actually mentioned you by name.

    When she talked about doing research, she said your site was "frighteningly accurate."

    I'm still quoting, she said "I've never met her, but all the stuff she said about me was dead on. I don't know how she does it, but you can count on her for good info on agents."

    That's high praise, and well-deserved! Keep it up because you are doing a great service to writers!

    On a personal note about Ms. Corcoran, she is an absolute screech - straight forward, honest, no holds barred and a real firecracker. I loved her.

    Okay, I rambled but I had a lot to tell you. The agents themselves are impressed with what you do! Thanks!

    I'm going to post about the workshop and I'll talk about everything I just said (about you being awesome) but I think you should mention on your blog (mined doesn't get that much traffic and your followers should know) that agents actually recommend using your expertise and accurate info.

    Well done!

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  9. Great post. So much detail and information. Thanks for all your work in this!

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  10. Maureen, I'm not entirely familiar with Microsoft Works but I do know that you can save files as a .Doc or .RTF, which is what agents will want (preferably .doc files). It shouldn't be a problem at all. If you're using one of those file extensions, they'll be able to open your MS with whatever program they're using.

    If you're pasting into an e-mail, you'll have formatting translation issues, just like with word, so you might still consider pasting into Notepad before putting any sample material into the body of an e-mail.

    Hope that helps!

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  11. Alyssa, I was really close to attending that workshop. I wish I would have! I could have met both you and Jill. Maybe we'll be able to meet up at another workshop in the future.

    Thank you for sharing what Jill said, too! I've been fortunate enough to receive/hear of positive feedback from several agents now. Makes me feel a lot better about what I'm doing!

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  12. This is the best set of instructions on the equery I've read. I'm going to link to this from my blog.

    This continues to be one of the most useful writing blogs on the Web. Thanks much!

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  13. My understanding is that NOTHING should ever be flush right in an email. Think about all the business emails you've ever gotten with contact information on them -- it's in a signature line, at the end, flush left. Right-justification loses formatting WAY too quickly if an email has to be replied-to or forwarded. Flush left everything, always.

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  14. Thank you, Anne, and everyone else that has commented!

    You're absolutely right, CKHB. I don't know what I was thinking. I was seeing left in my head, but writing right! I've corrected the post. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

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  15. Thank you so much for the helpful post. I was the one who requested the information. I'm hoping to start querying in the next month or two so it is really timely. I'm going to bookmark it. I love your blog. It is so helpful. I tell whoever I can about it.

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  16. @storyqueen:

    That's interesting. I am so the opposite. I have several agents on a "snail mail" list, but haven't gotten the courage up to send any of them yet. I don't know what my fear is, excactly. Something to do with stamps and SASEs and stuff. Ha!

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  17. Casey,

    I recently found your site and it's great. Lot's of really good information.

    I have a question about how to format manuscript pages in the email. Should they be single-spaced like the email itself or should they be double-spaced like the manuscript? I've looked at several sites and can't seem to find the answer. Thank you!

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  18. quasilaywer,

    Double-spaced is much easier to read, but it's really common to see single-spaced pages, especially since a lot of writers use notepad to strip the html. If you're stripping html to prevent formatting issues, make sure you go through and put spaces between your paragraphs at least. That helps a lot.

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  19. Earlier this evening, I was scanning a list of agents that I plan to query. Most of them request an e-query. As a beginner on the internet, I feel lucky when I manage to bring up the mail in my inbox. After typing in 'e-query', your site came up. I'm so glad that I found Literary Rambles! Thank you for your knowledge. Trust me, I took notes and I'm bookmarking this site!! (just learned to do that a few days ago!)

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  20. So glad this post was helpful to you, Anon! E-queries can be daunting if you're not used to sending them. Good luck!

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