Sunday, February 1, 2009

Querying via email

In today’s post I thought I would discuss queries sent to agents and publishers through email. There are some differences when using this medium and I wanted to point out a few helpful hints on the subject.

Whether sending by email or snail mail, don’t forget the cardinal rule of querying which is follow their instructions to the letter. If they only want a query letter, send only that. If they ask for a synopsis, or certain number of pages then send them but never include things not requested – for the most busy of agents this will disqualify you immediately and they won’t see any of what you sent.

The various books that list agents such as
  • LMP 20xx
  • Writer’s Market
  • Guide to Literary Agents
  • Jeff Herman’s Guide to Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents
  • 20xx Writer’s Market
will list the preferences of each agent but because they are printed I NEVER rely on information there. It is too likely to be out of date. The best things these can give you is the website of the agent where they almost always have their preferences listed.

If you don’t find their information on their website then I prefer to use one of three on-line resources:
In the not too distant past, many agents required snail mail with ASAE envelopes as the only method to query. More and more agents are offering both email and snail mail options if given the choice ALWAYS do email. Here is why:
  • It shows you are technologically savvy – important as they are going to be replying on electronic and email communication a lot and those who are Luddites and use phone/fax will be more difficult for them
  • You will get a MUCH faster response – Agents generally do their emails first because they are “easy” so you will be on the “top of the list” I’ve gotten responses in a matter of hours and no more than 2 days when I’ve used emails
  • It’s less expensive – with snail mail you need 2 stamps (one for the ASAE one plus envelopes
  • An even playing field – with emails you don’t have to worry about factors such as paper stock interfering with the process
  • You get free advertisement on the “outside” – your subject line
You’ve all seen a piece of mail that has something written on the outside of the envelope – special limited time offer etc. This is designed to make you open that mail before all others. When doing an email submission you get that in the form of your subject line.

Some literary agents will specify what they want in the subject line – remember rule #1 if they give specific instructions following them to the letter right down to the words they ask if they say include QUERY then use that if they want SUBMISSION then use it. Many agent’s have email filters that automatically address any emails with certain words to a folder for processing. If you fail to do this they may never see your submission it might end up in the spam folder.

Don’t try to get too “flamboyant” with your subject line – sometimes simple is better such as: Query: Title of Your Manuscript. If you want to add a bit more like the genre etc then even better. But don’t make it sound like a used car commercial you don’t want it accidentally deleted because the agent thought it was spam.

Attachments can be dangerous things. Some companies have policies against accepting emails with attachments because of potential viruses and because they can take up a lot of space, but the bottom line is your work will always look better in word then cut/pasted into and email. If the guidelines say they will take attachments then by all means send them but if it is unclear, or if you get conflicting information between various sources then opt to not have attachments. It might not look as pretty but at least it will not be thrown out. When sending everything in the body the order should be
  1. Letter
  2. Synopsis
  3. Sample Chapters

Each should be separated in some way like a series of dashes

This is probably the single biggest change between your email and your snail mail query. In a snail mail you have a “letterhead” with your contact address at the top, then an address block with their contact information, then a date, and a salutation, then the body of the letter. Dump all of this in your email submission except the salutation.

Don’t waste the first lines of your query with this unnecessary information. They know who they are and where they work. Your contact should be at the bottom – where it is easy to find. The date is already on the email itself. Even though e-mail is less formal than snail mail, you should include a professional salutation. Use the standard Dear followed by Mr./Ms. and the last name of the agent. Make sure that you get the gender correct.

An email query should be even shorter than one sent by postal mail. Literary agents receive dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of emails each day, and you don't want to ruin their schedule with a lengthy submission. You can still use the standard four- or five-paragraph format but your paragraphs should be considerably shorter. The more concise, the better.

Let the literary agent know that you have done your research. Make sure that your manuscript fits into the accepted genres they work with. If there is any conflict in what they want mention where you found their submission guidelines that you used.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: No Net-Speak

Email query letters are automatically less formal than queries sent through snail mail, but don't mark yourself as an amateur by using "Net-Speak" or any other informal language. LOL, TTFN, TTYL and "U" for "you" have no place in an email query letter.

I would always “compose” the query in word so you an check grammar and spelling but before copy/paste make sure your document is in plain text. I sometimes go from word and paste into notepad then paste into the email. Certain characters - such as "smart quotes" - don't translate well into e-mail format, and the literary agent will receive a letter full of funky characters that make the e-mail difficult to read. Make sure also that you leave out any HTML code and that you you've typed the e-mail in black on a white background with a standard font.

I always try to do agents that accept emails first if I have a long list to go through. This format has many advantages and makes both yours and the agent’s life simpler. I hope you found some of this information helpful and as always would like to hear from you.


Rasheeda Green said...

This is by far the best desciption of how to tackle a query letter. Do you happen to have any samples of queries you or your husband have sent? I'd also be interested in the joining your writing group. Thank you.

Robin Sullivan said...

I do have some samples. I'll post one and kind of do a break down as to why I have in it what I do. Good idea for another post.

I see you are in DC - there are a number of groups I suggest they are: (My "business side of writing" group. - (A good "Critic" group for writers in Arlington VA) - A good "Critic" group for writers in Silver Springs VA