Friday, May 06, 2011

How to format a query sent by email

Heading on a query letter today:

VIA: Electronic Mail

Janet Reid
Fine Print Literary Management
240 West 35th Street #500
New York, NY 10001

Re: Literary Representation

It took up the entire email screen.  It told me nothing I didn't know already, and a lot about the querier.

If you are querying by email you do NOT put the agent's address OR YOURS, at the top.  E-queries do NOT follow the standard business letter format you learned in stenography 101.

A proper email query uses the subject line for the factual info: QUERY for (title of your book)/fiction or non-fiction

The first line of your email query is "Dear Snookums"

The next line of text is ABOUT YOUR FRIGGING Amazing BOOK.

A lot of agents are reading queries on their smart phones, and every time an agent has to scroll down, you increase the chance they won't. You want to entice an agent to read on from the VERY FIRST WORD you write.  Telling me you are "seeking literary representation" makes me wonder if you think I'm so stupid I need to be told this kind of thing.  You think you're being proper and formal.  You're not.  You're wasting valuable time and real estate. Get to the point. Entice me to read your work.

Be smarter than your phone: learn and follow e-query formatting.


Sarah said...

Dear Shark-ly Snookums,

(please scroll down as needed)


210,289 word











Josin L. McQuein said...

Dear Snookums:

I read on your blog that I shouldn't waste space with all of that business letter stuff I learned in school (I guess those A's in English Lit are worthless now.) So, I'll skip all of that stuff in favor of getting right to the point.

I am sending this email, today May 6, 2011, to you, Janet Reid, whose email is Janet@fineprint.

It's ironic that your office at Fine Print Literary Management is at 240 West 35th Street #500, New York, NY 10001, because my story also takes place on a street. It's not in New York, or at an office, but there is an address involved.

As I don't want to bog you down with things that are obvious and just parrot back information you should already know - like the fact that my book is totes blockbuster material - I'll just say I'm looking for literary representation (not that I write literary; I actually want to be published) and leave it at that.

The first attached file is the manuscript in full. I've used PDF since I don't have Word, but do have a virtual printer. The second attached file is the proposed cover that my second cousin designed as an art school project. He got an A+ and says the publisher can use it so long as he gets to count it as a professional credit. The last attached file is my photograph. I took it with my webcam, but I think it's an appropriately writerly pose. I look slightly confused, as I was waiting for a flash before I realized there wasn't one, but I think this gives me the look of being deep in thought. I can photoshop the posters off the wall behind me if you think a publisher's so uptight as to be offended by my political opinions.

Lemme know what you think. If I haven't heard from you by Saturday, I'll just give you a call. Or, as I'll be in NYC on business, I can drop by and discuss it with you. Whichever's easier for you. I'm flexible.


Ima Hack

* please click here to confirm this email reached its intended recipient.

If you are not the person to whom this email was addressed, be aware that you should delete it unread, immediately.

*** This is an automated signature. Please do not reply to this address as it doesn't accept incoming mail. Thank you -- the Management of Megacorp Inc. Employee ID # 987334 ***

(*sigh* I think I've officially been editing too long. I'm getting punchy.)

Amy Tripp said...

Thanks for this. I'm not quite at the querying stage yet, but this is great information from when I am.

Phil Hall said...

Someone really did that?


Also, it's nice to know my query failed because I didn't call you "snookums." I'll correct that post-haste. lol

--just kidding, don't kill me--

jaz said...

But what about the agents who insist on personalizaton and sucking up? Should that go first?

Christwriter said...

Janet, it could be worse. At least your selection of morons include the (nominally) literate ones (most of the time)

I work as a waitress (In small town with disproportionate number of very rich people on vacation. IT IS AWESOME) and our number one phone question for the past three weeks has been "What is your menu?" (On the front of the restaurant, on the website, but looking things up before you nag the staff is asking too much!)

*closes eyes, takes deep breath* "It is (information that really means "cook/owner is eclectic kitchen genius") and we serve (four favorite dishes including kickass curry)" <---90% of the time the calls stop here.

*silence*" that all you serve?"<--this is the other 10%. Apparently they only eat out on mother's day.

*did you know that all waitstaff have an inbuilt clock that goes off whenever a table has been sitting too long? We do. Mine is now going off.* "We have several other items."

"Look, I'm trying to decide between you and six (probably cheaper) other restaurants, and I can't be arsed to find this out for myself (<--might be artistic licence) Can you read your menu to me?"

"..." *Phone is approx. six miles away from a menu* *also, I have salads sitting in front of me that need to go out* *and the food for yet another table has appeared in the magic window* *And it is my turn to seat and serve yet another table* *AND IT IS A LONG. FREAKING. MENU*

Thank GOD one of these people landed on our owner while she was having a very bad day. It is now completely appropriate to say "I am sorry, we are very busy right now." and hang up. I would use her phrasing, but it would probably get your blog shut down. I love our owner. And most of our (awesome) clientelle. But you got that one segment, and you start polishing up the clue-by-four.

Janet Reid said...

Holy moly. I've never considered calling a restaurant to find out what they serve!

**adds to list of ways to torment people**

excellent! excellent!

Lucy Woodhull said...

I would also advise sending one of the queries to yourself to see how it looks. Of course, email providers will all look different perhaps, but looking at the result in your inbox once is a great way to spot oops-es.

And I'm sorry to see that I should have used "Snookums." That must be why "Dear Sexypants" has not been working.

Jennifer Welborn said...

Dear Sharkie-Snookums,

Thank you so very much for posting this. I've often wondered about proper email query format and there aren't any posts on it (but now there is). I am also very sad that you don't rep YA as I think I would love you as an agent. Oh well--maybe one day I will write a murder mystery/thriller just for you.



PJD said...

Is this evolving? It seems that many years ago, the advice was that "this is a business letter, so start with a how-do-you-do, etc."

Personally, I prefer the way you lay it out; after all, who has time for foreplay any more? I'm just curious if many of the perpetrators aren't truly clueless, just unable to keep up with the accelerating preferences of agents in our mobile, digital world.

Kristin Laughtin said...

@J I don't think by personalization, they mean listing their address and such. But I get what you mean...where do you put the stuff about why you want that agent, at the beginning or the end? My sense is that it's safer in most cases to lead with the story, because if you can't hook them with that, they probably won't care much why they're the perfect agent for you.

Also, every comment Josin L.McQuein posts is gold.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

You're about to get inundated with query letters addressed "Dear Snookums."

Suja said...

Funny, I thought I'd seen your comments on this type of letters before, where you'd mentioned the exact same thing. Sad that formatting took away that writer's chance at getting the proper attention for his/her query letter. Well, that's how you learn.

Jodi R. said...

Only a man would claim there's no time for foreplay.

Jodi R.

Ebony McKenna. said...

"But some other agent said they like all the stuff at the top" etc etc.

Which is exactly why writers need to do their research and tailor their queries to each agent.

Now if you excuse me, I'm off to get a scatter gun.

Anonymous said...

That opening says a LOT about the sender. It's a man. He's over 60. He worked in a corporate environment.

Oooh I bet he wrote a sexy thriller about an octogenarian amateur detective!

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you for a most refreshing area to spend my time polishing the craft of writing. Sometimes you search for that one thing that will benefit your art. You are a service to all who write. Thank you once again.

Rivka said...

I agree one has to research what the agent wants and prefers before querying. On the other hand, it gets REALLY CONFUSING when so many agents have such strong opinions about what is okay and what is not.
Rachelle Gardner (Rants & Ramblings), for instance, states emphatically that the query "is a LETTER, not a book synopsis dropping out of the should ask for what you want (e.g. "I am seeking agency representation and would appreciate your consideration")."
Kristin Nelson (Pub Rants) has a list of "good" query letters on her agency's website, and a lot of them start with "what if" questions, or the title and word-count straight off.
And of the four examples of good query letters on Bookends Llc., three of them begin with the agency address on top.
So I don't think the person who wrote the query thinks you're stupid. I think they were just following another agent's equally strong advice.

Janet Reid said...

Even with all that conflicting advice, you'll notice none of the suggest starting with the address of the sender OR the recipient. OR that it's being sent via "electronic mail"

thus, my point.

Unknown said...

I was cracking up at Josin's comment! Great post, Janet.