QueryTracker Blog

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Formatting Email Query Letters

Recently I was asked how to format an Email query letter and when I replied with the answer, the questioner Emailed back with another interesting question. She wanted to know why Emails were so difficult to format. It seemed like a good question, and knowing the answer could help authors when it comes to writing their Email queries. So, here it goes.

Understanding Email Text Formatting for your Query Letters

First off, let's talk a little about what an Email is. Without getting too technical, an Email is simple text; nothing more. A program like Microsoft Word stores text as well, but it also stores all kinds of information about how to format that text. Things like line spacing, indenting, bold and italics to name just a few, are part of a Word doc file. 

But Email can't do that. They just do text. Using html, some Email programs can add simple formatting codes embedded in the message, but not much. Another problem with Email is there are way too many different programs out there for writing and reading Emails. Why does that matter? Because they all do it differently. When Microsoft Word creates a doc file, it relies on the fact that the file will be opened and viewed by Word and only Word. Microsoft doesn't care if their files don't look right in any other program. Not their problem. But Emails have to look the same in hundreds of different programs.

To make sure your Email looks the same, no matter what program an agent uses to read it, don't do anything fancy. Stick to the basics. Most Email programs can handle the simple stuff.

For instance, don't even try to indent your paragraphs. It's a lot of work in an Email and it probably won't look right on the receiving end anyway. Instead, left justify everything and double-space between paragraphs, much like this article is written.

Use a clean, business-style font (Courier or Times New Roman) with a height of 12 points. No colors. Just simple black text on a white background. Anything else would be unprofessional, and might not even look right on the receiving end. Use bold and italics sparingly, and even then only if you absolutely have to.

A major issue a lot of authors have is pasting sample pages into an Email Query. These pages are usually copied from a program like Word, and when you paste it into your Email program all kinds of weird things happen. This is because Word tries to paste in all those formatting codes we talked about earlier, but your Email program doesn't fully understand or use them. Even if you don't see them after you paste them into your Email, they're there. And since they're there, they might do all kinds of weird things to your Email when the agent opens it up to read it.

But don't worry, there's an easy solution.

If you're using Windows, run the Notepad program, which you can find in the Accessories menu in the Start Menu. If you're on a Mac, you can use TextEdit, found in your Applications folder.

Copy the text from Word and paste it into Notepad (or TextEdit). Then, copy it from Notepad/TextEdit and paste it into your Email. Why? Because Notepad/TextEdit will strip out all those formatting codes. You'll probably have to tweak it a little, like adding spaces between paragraphs and adding any bolds or italics you may need. When you're finished, your Email will be clean and will look right when the agent reads it.

Keep in mind that agents are used to getting Email queries, and so they understand the difficulties involved. If your query is not perfectly formatted, don't sweat it. It probably won't be a deal breaker. Yet you still want to get it as good as you can.


The Feminist Grandma said...

Thank you VERY much for this. It makes me nuts how email messes up my gorgeous prose! Sometimes when I'm being extra careful I'll email a query cum 50pp to myself first to see how it looks. But I know the agent's email may screw it up differently. Thanks again.

Angela Brown said...

Thanks so much for sharing the "why" behind the need to format e-mail queries a certain way. I'll have to bookmark this for future reference.

Patricia A Miller said...

Thank you for the blog post. Is copying using "plain text" the same as using Notepad?