SUBJECT LINE: Query – [Something that makes sense like your book title]
Dear Blog Readers,
This is how you format an e-mailed query letter. Note that I did not begin with the recipient’s address or my address or the date, as that is not customary for an e-mail. I also am not indenting because indenting and e-mails do not mix.
I am using block formatting. My BOOK TITLE is capitalized. I double space between paragraphs but otherwise the query is single-spaced. It is written in a default font, it is left-justified, and the font is a normal size and color. If I have copied from a word processing program or a past e-mail I am careful to have stripped any lingering formatting (pasting with Alt-Shift-Command-V can help). I haven’t added pictures or tried to get fancy with anything because I want the agent to see that I’m confident in my words and don’t need any gimmicks to make my query stand out.
Believe it or not, less than 25% of the e-queries I received when I was an agent were properly formatted. While you won’t get rejected if your query is incorrectly formatted, if you accomplish this simple task correctly you will convey an indispensable aura of professionalism.
And remember: the amount of time you spend formatting, coloring, bolding, italicizing, and adding pictures to your query is inversely proportional to how professional it looks when you’re finished.
Nathan Bransford (note that I didn’t leave space for a signature since it’s an e-mail)
My e-mail address
My phone number
(optional: my website)
First 5 pages of the manuscript in the body of the email.
More query formatting tips
Here are some more tips on formatting and email correspondence:
- Always address your query to a specific agent and personalize, even if it’s a general submission address. Personalize, personalize, personalize. It’s not about kissing up, it’s about showing the agents you’re diligent and did your research.
- Query with your real name. An agent is considering entering into a business arrangement with you and they want to know who they’re really talking to. If you are planning to use a pen name, include it beneath your signature but you should still query as yourself.
- Always include “query” in the subject line. Many agents have their spam filters set so that queries don’t get trapped. What you include in addition to that is up to you, but don’t get gimmicky. Just be professional.
- Do not send an attachment unless the agent specifically asks for one. Agents will likely delete an unsolicited attachment unopened. Follow submission guidelines but your initial query should most likely not have an attachment.
- Do not change the color or font. I really can’t emphasize this enough. Sometimes people feel they need to do something to “stand out” in an agent’s inbox and so they get crazy with the formatting. Do not do this. Stand out by just writing well.
- Do not use a shared email address with your spouse. Sorry, but this feels unprofessional and computer illiterate. Use your own email address.
- When corresponding with an agent, reply directly to their emails and do not change the subject line. This is just good email etiquette in general, but don’t make an agent’s life difficult by making them hunt for your past correspondence. Always just reply to their last email. Make sure all the correspondence is one place so they can easily refresh their memory. (Here’s more on literary agent etiquette)
- See also: How to format your manuscript.
Have any other questions about query formatting? Let me know in the comments!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
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Art: The Fish Footman and the Frog Footman from “Alice in Wonderland” by Sir John Tenniel