how to format an e-mail query letter pt. II

Formatting your query letter from Word to an e-mail document can result in all kinds of formatting errors if you just cut and paste. I discussed a few techniques in this post on How to Format an E-mail Query. Having experimented with the issue some more, I’ve found a better way with fewer steps.

Here we go:

I use Google* mail for my queries, because I’ve had the best results there. When you log in to your Gmail account, make sure you have the following settings enabled:

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;

Step 5 Click Compose Mail;

Step 6 Check your settings — your default may be what Google calls “Rich formatting,” which gives you a toolbar with bold, italics, etc., followed by a command to covert the e-mail to “Plain Text.” Click on “Plain Text.” You will receive an ominous message that you will lose formatting. Click OK.

Now you’re ready to go to your Word document.

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. Usually it will be your query letter, the first five pages of your manuscript, and a brief synopsis.

Step 2  Select all, then 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. Insert paragraph breaks where necessary and clean up the document (for example: in some places, the text was still indented at five spaces as if there was a tab).

Your document should be left-aligned with NO underlining, bold, or any cool fonts. 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.

You should see a document with the proper paragraph breaks and no formatting. Send it to several different e-mail addresses and make certain the document displays the same in ALL the different e-mail addresses.

Even when using my former method, I couldn’t get my work e-mail address (GroupWise) to quit stripping the paragraph breaks from my e-mails. This technique fixed that issue. I had a nice clean copy arrive at my GroupWise, Google, and Bellsouth accounts.

I think this will fix any formatting issues some of you have been experiencing when you copy and paste a Word document into an e-mail.

If you have problems, let me know, because maybe we can find a fix!

*Google mail occasionally changes its settings. Please check the comments if you are having difficulty making everything work with these instructions, because some of our readers have shared their problems and solutions.

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16 Responses to how to format an e-mail query letter pt. II

  1. Great tips, Teresa! I remember always being nervous how my e-queries looked to the agent receiving it and no one seemed to know how to do it right, since all emails programs are different. I could have used this post back then FOR SURE!

    Oh, and don’t you love Drood? I thought it was GREAT! 🙂

    xoxo — Hilary

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Hilary!

      I couldn’t find any advice anywhere, and everytime I asked, they said, oh! make it a text document. Sometimes it worked, more often than not, it didn’t. There was a tad more to it than that.

      Oh, and Drood! Excellent writing and I now know more than I ever thought I would know about Charles Dickens! ;-D

  2. Lindsay says:

    “I use Google mail for my queries, because I’ve had the best results there.”

    Best results as in formatting or best results as in agent requests for sample chapters? 😉 I can see Google’s next advertising campaign…

    Gmail, preferred by 4 out of 5 literary agents!

    Ahem, I’ll just go back to writing now…

    • Teresa says:

      Ha! That’s great, Lindsay! I had a devil of a time figuring all of them out to be honest. It was one horror show after another. I’m starting to feel a little more confident now that I’ve got the formatting down.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Jan O'Hara says:

    I use Outlook. Now you have me curious if this will work there. If so, I owe you big.

  4. kat magendie says:

    Sometimes we receive submissions at Rose & Thorn with all kinds of weird coding – this could work for that, too! 🙂

  5. Michael says:

    That is great info. Thanks for posting it.

  6. Sari says:

    Hi Teresa, ^,^

    Thanks for your the post!
    I want to tell you that when I use the CLEAR formatting, the paragraph breaks are still there.

    Could you help me about this?

    Thanks for your time

    • Sari,

      I’m not sure what version of Word you’re using, but if I believe in Word 2007 clear formatting does not remove the paragraph breaks. I believe when I saved it as text, closed the file, and re-opened it, I was able to copy/paste the file into my Gmail client without a problem. My best recommendation to get a few friends who use different e-mail clients let you send them some test e-mails.

      I must have sent my query and first five pages to eight or ten friends and they all reported back what quirks came up. This method got my query package through in a readable format to all of them (meaning with weird symbols, strange spacing, etc.).

      The key is when you copy/paste the document into Gmail, make sure the paragraph breaks are still there. Send the test e-mail. If Gmail strips the paragraph breaks, go back, copy/paste again, and manually remove each paragraph break and add it back in. Do this from the end of the paragraph, not the beginning. (Don’t ask me why, but Gmail wouldn’t recognize the paragraph break if I removed it from the beginning.)

      If you get a minute, come back and let us know if it worked.

  7. Sari says:

    Thank you.

    So far, the formula has worked.

    Once again,
    thank you Teresa.


  8. Heloise says:

    Hi Teresa –
    I’ve done everything right by your instructions as far as both I and my techy husband can tell. Looks fine going out on gmail. And looks fine coming in EXCEPT the column is as narrow as a mass-market paperback. It appears paragraph breaks were inserted without my assistance. I cannot figure out what’s going wrong. Any ideas? I appreciate all thoughts…including “the agents won’t care if it’s a mile long because the galley’s slim.”
    Thanks for your time,

    • Hi Heloise,

      I’m not sure what would cause that. I had Windows XP and Office 2003 when I wrote those instructions, and I haven’t tried them since acquiring Windows 7 and Office 2010. It’s also possible that Google has changed something in its formatting. I’m not sure I would change anything in the Word portion of the instructions. I would test it with a process of elimination and start with putting your Google settings back to the default first.

      The other thing I would say to try is in Word, look at your formatting (click the little symbol that looks like a paragraph break) and make sure you don’t have any misplaced paragraph breaks.

      I’m so ungeeky, that’s why I screamed like a fan-girl when I finally got it to work. I never had that particular affect when I tried sending it queries through email; although, I know exactly what you’re talking about because I’ve seen it before in other emails that have been sent to me.

      (I’m not being very helpful, I’m afraid.)

      I would look at Help in Word and their forums to see if there is anyone else having the same issue.

      Sorry to be so bloody useless on this,

      • heloise says:

        Hi Teresa –
        I believe my wonderfully geeky problem-solving husband found the issue in answer to the prayer I said last night after trying every permutation I could think of.

        Gmail did indeed change their settings. In plain-text mode, Gmail wraps the lines before 78 characters, in compliance with their email standards. They do not support format=flowed, so if you want your messages to flow to the size of the recipients mail window, use rich-text. Only thing this changes in your instructions is #6 in gmail instructions…..leave in rich-text format instead of plain-text format.

        Got this from past chats (glad when it’s not just me). Have tested it on one email, waiting for reports on tests from two other accounts.

        So happy I got it straightened out. I know those agents are waiting for me! ;-))

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