Michael J. McDonagh

An established writer who recently went to work becoming an author, trying valiantly to make someone give a damn and chronicling the process.

Nuts and Bolts of Formatting Your Query (and the shit that goes with it) Part 2: How You Send It.

A couple of worthwhile SNAIL MAIL NOTES here:

1)    I’m assuming you now have a properly formatted, awesomely written query letter (if not, check the archives, because this stuff doesn’t matter yet).

2)    If you are sending it via snail-mail, you need to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). An important thing to remember, here, is that the second “S” in SASE is stamped. If you want to hear back, it’s on your dime (well, couple of quarters). If you want to score a couple of bonus points with the assistant, make it one of those envelopes you don’t have to lick. Do it out of human decency, if nothing else. Can you imaging licking 50 things complete strangers sent you in the mail every day?

3)    Because your SASE is going to be the same size as a business envelope (exactly the same size, since it is one) you don’t want to try to cram it with your letter and your pages or whatever into a business-size envelope. Send this shit by UPS Ground or Fed Ex or (the standard approach) US Postal Service Priority Mail. It’s a big cardboardish envelope that lets you send everything without folding. Your pages and letter and even your envelope show up looking all crisp and neat. On top of that, they are super easy to open and get the pages out of. Believe it or not, that makes a difference if you’re an assistant who has to open 50 or 100 envelopes a day. Not coincidentally, that’s the same assistant who, as often as not, will be the first level of screening for the agent. So why the hell wouldn’t you want to be as nice to her as you can? A nice, easy to open envelope with crisp clean pages and nothing that yells, “lick this, bitch” when she sees it – can’t hurt.

4)    Any Pages or synopsis will need to follow the standard formatting requirements (the subject of the next post). This is a key difference between e-mail and snail-mail submissions. Your first 50 pages will be the first 50 pages of a completed and formatted manuscript (including, but not counting, your cover page).

5)    If you want your pages back, you need to include the extra postage (and a proper envelope) for that. Otherwise, just give them a normal envelope with enough postage to cover a standard first-class letter telling you your pages are awesome and they are writing to confirm the telephone call you just had, in which you agreed to send your entire manuscript ASAP. Or a rejection, but let’s think positive thoughts.

6)    If the agent asks for your first 50 pages and a 3-page synopsis, you include your query on top, the first 50 pages and a 3-page synopsis. If, on the other hand, the agent requests a 3-page synopsis and your first 50 pages, you include your query on top, a 3-page synopsis, and the first 50 pages. See the difference? It’s subtle. For an assistant ripping through 65 queries in a day, just making sure people sent the right shit is a big part of the job. Making that job easier (a) is the decent thing to do; and (b) helps make a good impression.

7) THANK YOU BOWDEN for pointing out my failure to include this: Do not send things to agents that they have to sign for. No certified mail. You’re not just going to get a return receipt back, you’ll get the whole thing back, because they won’t sign for it. With tracking, you can know exactly what’s up with your package via the interwebs, anyway, so DO NOT DO THAT. It’s the snail-mail equivalent of sending an e-mail with an attachment. Either way, it’s not getting opened.

On the E-MAIL END OF THINGS:

1)    Queries are our introductions to agents. Among other things, that means that agents don’t know who the hell we are when we send them. We know we aren’t trying to infect the agent’s computer with a virus to get hold of her banking information, but she doesn’t know that. Agents will not open attachments. It’s not their fault, can you imagine randomly opening attachments on every piece of spam your computer received? It’s the computer equivalent of licking 50 things that came in the mail from strangers. Eventually, they will open attachments to e-mails. That’s when you sent your stuff, the agent liked your stuff, and the agent sent you an e-mail asking for more stuff (usually asking you to send said stuff to a different e-mail address). If you send an e-mail with an attachment, it will be deleted before anyone even opens the e-mail. It will usually be deleted without a human being involved in the process. There is no faster way to get a non-response/rejection than to send an e-mail with an attachment.

2)    That means you need to cut and paste the requested materials into the body of your e-mail. Following your query letter (including your contact information, which should be at the bottom of the query, not at the bottom of the whole submission. It also means things like headers, page numbers, and all the manuscript formatting shit I’m talking about next post will be thrown out the window (except for line spacing).

3)    Raise your hand and repeat after me: The less formatting, the better. Your words are what matter. The goal here is to stop anything from getting in their way. The industry standard is Times New Roman 12 point font. Nobody is going to reject your query because you use Cambria, and nobody is going to bother reading your query if you use Windings. If you think your stupid font is Attention getting, you’re right. It just brought attention to the fact that you look like an idiot. It also took the attention away from your words, probably permanently.

4)    E-mail can be weird. The receiving e-mail and sending e-mail don’t always get along great, and once in a while, what was sent as something that had been bolded is received as something in a tiny font or whatever. In a paranoid, belt and suspenders kind of way, to make sure I don’t have any stupid codes lurking in the middle of a document from an old version when I cut and paste into the e-mail, I cut and paste into a Notepad file. Those are bare-bones, text only files that don’t include formatting. Usually, not what you’re looking for. But in this case, they work as a great scrubber to get rid of any hidden formatting you may have forgotten about. StripMail is a great program for this as well.

5)    The same rule applies here with respect to what order you put things in. Agents decided that this would come before that on the checklist for a reason. Maybe some would rather read a few paragraphs or pages before looking at the synopsis. Others may be more interested in knowing the big-picture before worrying about your sentence structure. Either way, it’s her call. Put things in the order they were requested. If nothing else, you are easier to get right on a checklist.

6)    Because of the runon nature of e-mail (all being one big page) I like to separate things like this:

Dear Agent:

Here is my awesome query letter.

I enclosed all the shit you asked for.

My name.

Contact information.

VELVET FALLS, CHAPTERS 1-3

1.

My first awesome chapter (and then her two friends).

***End Chapter 3***

VELVET FALLS, SYNOPSIS

Here is where I synopsize my book.

***End of Synopsis***

7)    Single space your query, double space your pages, and double space your synopsis if it is over one page long. If the synopsis is one page, single space (with block paragraphs) the synopsis.

Next, we’ll get into the structure and format of your submitted materials (manuscript, outline, synopsis, and firstborn child).

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5 thoughts on “Nuts and Bolts of Formatting Your Query (and the shit that goes with it) Part 2: How You Send It.

  1. I wait with bated breath for the next post, in which I learn that I can’t submit materials until June, and have to include my firstborn. Inconvenient.

    In other news, I wondered whether emailed pages should be double-spaced.

  2. Your articles are so informative, thank you. I have a very specific issue that I can’t figure out how to resolve: I’m in the midst of emailing queries out. Doing my due diligence, tailoring each query email, and following their submission guidelines to a T (no brown M&Ms). But my email to one agent keeps bouncing because of “high spam probability”. Do I simply give up on emailing that specific agent? I think the reason is that some spam keywords (casino, gambling) are key themes to my manuscript. Or do I email her, ignoring all submission guidelines to let her know I’m interested in querying but her spam filter is rejecting my query? Thanks in advance for your insight.

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