how to format an e-mail query

NOTE: FOR AN UPDATED POST ON THIS SUBJECT, SEE: “how to format an e-mail query pt. II.”

You’ve done it. Your novel is complete. Your hook is firmly established; you’ve polished your query until it shines; your first five pages are immaculate, not an error in sight. Yes, this is the moment! You are ready to begin querying agents with your work.

So you research agents to find that most, if not all, accept e-mail queries. Diligently, you cut and paste your hard work into an e-mail and press send. When the e-mail leaves your e-mail box it looks like this:

Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina’s soul, but Catarina doesn’t want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell.

When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed, is dying from a demonic possession she has endured since he abandoned her in Hell. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath follows him. In the end, she will force him once more to decide between losing Rachael or opening the Hell Gates so the Fallen’s hordes may overrun Earth, their last obstacle before reaching Heaven’s Gates.

Based on Christian and Jewish mythologies, An Autumn Tale is an adult fantasy at approximately 87,000 words. It stands alone, but I do have four novels planned for this series and each book corresponds to a different character and season.

When the literary agent of your choice receives the e-mail, it looks like this:

Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina’s soul, but Catarina doesn’t want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell. When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed, is dying from a demonic possession she has endured since he abandoned her in Hell. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath follows him. In the end, she will force him once more to decide between losing Rachael or opening the Hell Gates so the Fallen’s hordes may overrun Earth, their last obstacle before reaching Heaven’s Gates.                                                                                                  Based on Christian and Jewish mythologies, An Autumn Tale is an adult fantasy at approximately 87,000 words. It stands alone, but I do have four novels planned for this series and each book corresponds to a different character and season. 

If you’re lucky, the disappearance of page breaks is the worst that will happen. So why can’t you just cut and paste your text from Word into your e-mail and let it fly with formatting intact? If I knew the answer to that, I would be Queen, not a mere mortal suffering at the hands of geeks, who can find 872 ways to screw up Word, but not a single way to make e-mail protocols uniformly recognize formatting. (Focus on the priorities, children, the priorities!)

Where was I? Oh! How to make it work.

Two caveats here before I begin:

  1. If you are using Word 2007 or Scrivener, you may have to play with some of the formatting to get the results you desire. I don’t know where Microsoft hid the commands in Word 2007, but if I tell you what to use, you should be able to find comparable commands;
  2. I used G-mail for this experiment. If you use a different e-mail server, your results may vary.

G-MAIL SETTINGS

Step 1 Click on Settings;

Step 2 Scroll down until you reach Outgoing message encoding;

Step 3 Choose Use Unicode (UTF-8) encoding for outgoing messages;

Step 4 Click Save Changes, and you’re done in G-mail.

WORD SETTINGS

This may seem lengthy, but I did find consistently good results each time I used this process. Here we go:

Step 1  Cut and paste everything you want to send with your query into one document. This will be according to the agent’s submission guidelines and will vary from one agent to the next. I would recommend saving each query under the agent’s name with a date, for example: StringerMar10.rtf (I have a file folder for each novel, so the StringerMar10.rtf file would be in my Masterfile-An Autumn Tale folder).

I cut and paste my query letter, the first five pages of my manuscript, and a short synopsis per Ms. Stringer’s submission guidelines into one document.

Step 2  Select all, then (if you are fortunate enough to still have toolbars), click Clear Formatting. You will lose all your paragraph breaks, any underlining, centering, or italics. That is okay, keep the faith.

Step 3  Click File, Save As, then save the document as Plain Text.

Step 4  Close your document and re-open the text file. Click Select all, then Copy (or Ctrl + C, whichever way is most comfortable for you).

Step 5  Paste the text into the body of your e-mail. There will be no page breaks, but that’s okay, you’re going to insert them in the next step.

Step 6  Go to the END of each paragraph and press Enter to insert a page break. (NOTE: If you place your page break at the beginning of each paragraph, you will still be sending one huge block of text. Don’t ask me why it works this way, I do not know.)

Under no circumstances should you add underlines or italics into the text you just pasted into the body of the e-mail. You have no way of knowing how the agent’s e-mail protocols will translate that coding.

When an agent asks for your first five pages, they are looking at paragraph structure and your ability to write. If they are confident you know what you’re doing, they will ask for the manuscript.

You should be able to send your query with confidence at this point.

I would highly recommend testing this entire process with some friends who use different e-mail servers just to be sure.

I hope that was helpful. If you have a different way of formatting a query for an e-mail, please post your instructions (or a link back to your blog where you’ve posted instructions) in the comments section.

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About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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20 Responses to how to format an e-mail query

  1. Helen says:

    Can’t you just send the query as an attachment? Or is that a fast track into the junk mail folder?

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Helen,

      Unfortunately, a lot of viruses are transmitted via attachments, so agents (out of self-preservation) generally refuse unsolicited attachements. Some literary agencies have forms set up for you to submit your query through their website, but most agents simply ask that you paste the requested text in the body of an e-mail.

      99.9% of the time, when you send your work as an attachment, it goes straight to the agent’s spam folder or they delete it. Interestingly enough, both Jennifer Jackson and Jessica Faust talk about attachments on queries here and here respectively.

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your query!

  2. Kelly Bryson says:

    Yikes. Emails I recieve are usually fine, but they’re almost always typed, not cut and pasted. I hadn’t really thought about this. Thanks!

    • Teresa says:

      Practice a few, Kelly, and see what works best. I submitted a poem via e-mail and thought everything was fine until I got the reply, which showed all my paragraph breaks had been deleted. It looked AWFUL! If it had been the query for my novel, I think I would have wept.

  3. lawrenceez says:

    Hi Teresa,

    I use a variety of email and online word processing options (incl. google docs and Zoho). Personally, I would recommend typing the entire query and enclosures in Yahoo. Yahoo saves it as a draft regularly and has adequate formatting.

    Just my thoughts.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Lawrence! Each time I re-type my work, I end up making a mistake. I also wanted to take into consideration sending my query to multiple agents and what was the best way to keep track of who I queried and when without having to do an e-mail search each time.

      I wasn’t pleased with Yahoo, because at one time, Yahoo was changing my apostrophes to cent signs; however, that was cut and paste and not a typed e-mail like you’re suggesting. That was one reason I switched to G-mail for my submission process.

      I think everyone has to find the method that works best for them, but I found I spent less time with this process than with re-typing the entire query letter, five pages, and synopsis over and over again.

      Thanks for sharing how you work!

  4. kat magendie says:

    Retweeting this!

    (and good strong compelling prose, T – )

  5. Terri says:

    This is really useful info, Teresa — thanks for sharing it!

  6. Alana says:

    Hi, Teresa, I’m so glad I found this site. As you say, ms. completed and first 10 requested pages pasted into the body of an email–tirelessly and perfectly formatted–hit “send” to agent, and then see in my cc: to myself that the ms. has gone completely berserk. No indents, single-spaced, the works. The agent’s nice rejection:) didn’t mention this. But I was mortified, felt utterly unprofessional, and now I’m actually scared to try this again. Have agents mentioned this problem? I am immediately going to try your suggestions. Thanks, Alana

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Alana, I’m not sure if agents are aware of the fomatting issues or not. I know I followed Nathan Bransford’s submission guidelines for one of his guest posts contests to the letter, and all my page breaks were removed. I also know Janet Reid always complains as Query Shark about giant blocks of text. A recent query she ran obviously had formatting issues, and the last time I looked it had been taken down. It may be back with paragraph breaks in the right places; I haven’t checked this week.

      Colleen Lindsay made recommendations, but her recommendations (like Nathan’s) just weren’t detailed enough. Personally, I don’t see how they could be, because there are simply too many variables involved. I think it was nice of them to at least try and give some guidelines, most agents just don’t have time.

      That’s why I went on a crusade to figure this one out. I was like you, absolutely mortified that my submission looked that unprofessional after all my hard work. I think when I do finally send it out there will be a brief disclaimer at the beginning of my text.

      I’m hoping that most agents understand what kinds of weirdness goes on when submitting via e-mail; although it does make me miss the days of mailing queries. At least then I knew my work arrived as professional looking as it left my hands. 😉

      Do be sure you practice the instructions to make sure you receive the same results. If you don’t, let me know and maybe we can figure out how to fix it.

  7. Tricia says:

    I came by after seeing your comment on Nathan’s site. I had no idea my cut and pasted emails would look any different from how they were sent. I’m too afraid to go back and look now. Thank you for the tips on how to remedy this. I will definately use them in the future.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Tricia, I wouldn’t have known except the ezine I submitted to sent me an acknowledgment and there was the dreaded “giant block of text.” Eeek! Talk about having a fit.

      Be sure you e-mail a copy to yourself and test my instructions with several different e-mail addresses, because my results varied from bellsouth.net to gmail to my office GroupWise e-mail.

      Good luck!

  8. Alana says:

    Hi, Teresa, I wanted you to know that after our correspondence, I followed your instructions–and they worked! Hooray! When did you have a comment on Nathan’s site? I subscribe to him by email and don’t go to his actual blog site. A day or so ago, he did a piece on email submissions saying fewer than 25% of those he receives are “correct.” He is right when he says no double-spacing, no indenting–it just does not work. But I don’t think he knows about your “secret” formula. Is it all right when I go to conferences to take printed copies of your instructions to hand out–with your name on them, of course? This is such important information. Thanks, Alana

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Alana,

      I left a brief comment on his recent post on e-mail submissions. I didn’t feel right putting a link back to my own post in the comments, so I just mentioned it briefly, because Nathan talked about cutting and pasting from Word.

      I’m so happy it worked for you!

      “Is it all right when I go to conferences to take printed copies of your instructions to hand out–with your name on them, of course? This is such important information.” Absolutely. I don’t mind if anyone uses the information on my blog just so long as I get credit (or blame, as the case may be). If you would feel more comfortable with written permission (in case someone questions copyright, although I have no idea why they would), please let me know and I’ll send you an e-mail.

      I’ve been trying to spread the word quietly, and if anyone wants to help, I’d be delighted. I really don’t believe agents know that a lot of the weirdness they’re getting from writers is due to the copy/paste problem. All of the writers I know want to present themselves professionally.

      Thanks a lot, Alana, and please let me know if I can help.

  9. savita1987 says:

    Hi

    I m savita, i create my own blog http://savita1987.wordpress.com. but i can’t see this blog without log out in. i want to see everyone this blog without my log on.
    how i can see?
    please help me

    • Teresa says:

      Savita, I’m not sure how to answer your question. I went to your blog and it looks like you haven’t clicked publish to any posts. I would recommend that you go to your dashboard and click on HELP in the upper right-hand corner. This will give you links to forum topics that might be able to help you manage your WordPress blog. I’m no expert on WordPress blogs, you can ask the support team about that!

      Good luck!

  10. Jennifer Redmond says:

    I came upon your formatting advice recently, which was perfect timing for me since I’m just beginning to send out email queries for my first novel. Your formatting suggestions worked perfectly. Thanks! Do you mind if I tweet this link on my Twitter account?

    • Absolutely, Jennifer, tweet it if you feel like it will help someone else. I’m so glad people are finding it useful. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Comments are closed.