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.

Archive for the tag “Query letter format”

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.


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.



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

***End Chapter 3***


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).

Nuts and Bolts of Formatting Your Query (and the shit that goes with it) Part 1: Query Letter Format.

I’m a little bit tardy posting this. I have the best excuse a writer can have — I was writing my ass off. I gutted (by which I mean deleted to start from scratch) a third of my manuscript. It took a over a month, but there is a new, much better third now in there. The past week has been a writing frenzy, and it’s been awesome. But that’s a story for another post (and one that will come quite shortly, possibly even today).

But, as promised, this series is about formatting your query (and the shit that goes with your query). To the extent I can put anything on paper without being a little bit of a smartass, I will. This needs to be a reference post that you can refer to conveniently. In fact, to make this as convenient as possible, I boiled the entire post into a simple chart:


OK, the don’t be a smartass thing might not be working out as well as I’d hoped. But there’s a reason to joke around here. This shit is simple. So lets get to it.

A Quick Overview of the Types of Materials Requested.

  • Your query letter (obviously)
  • Pages (usually, and everyone asks for a different number of pages or chapters, so pay attention)
  • Synopsis (sometimes)
  • Outline (different from a synopsis and less often requested, more on this later)

That’s it. Until, that is, an agent requests your partial of full manuscript. Also, sometimes one of the items identified above, which was not requested in the agent’s submission guidelines, is also requested. For example, an outline is requested along with your manuscript. Plus, you need to send another letter (cover letter) with your requested materials. That one’s easy, though, once you know the basic query/business letter format.

The overwhelming majority of agents take submissions by e-mail, which is more convenient and easier for everybody. Some agents still require snail mail submissions, though, and an e-mail sub will be deleted — probably without ever being seen by a human. Because of that, I’ll run down the formatting requirements for each. Today, we’re starting with the delivery system for all of it.

Snail Mail Query Letter Format

A query letter should follow standard business letter formatting. That is because it’s a freaking business letter. If you don’t know what that means, Google it, because someone has probably dedicated an entire blog to the ins and outs of business letter formatting. It’s not rocket surgery, though.

Before going straight to the formatting thing, I want to reiterate one point: It’s a freaking business letter. Remember that. You are trying to establish a business relationship, not a friendship. You are not looking for someone to share your love for a book like it’s your child. You are looking for someone to place your book like it’s the most expensive prostitute on the planet. If there’s love involved, it’s mercenary love. Be professional.

In terms of format, it’s easiest to start with a snail mail letter, because it’s, well, a letter. It should look something like this:


If you can’t read all the shit in the middle, don’t worry. It’s what every other post I’ve done about querying covers.

Just make sure to put (normally right justified) your name (your real, big-girl name, not a nickname or something stupid) address, phone number, and e-mail address (again, if you need to set up a gmail not to have a stupid e-mail, do, but don’t be SparklyUnicorn6@mylittlepony.org or freak_on_a_leash@whipme.net or anything). Then a blank line. Next, the Agent’s name, then agency name, street address, city state, zip. Hard return, centered date, Hard return, RE: TITLE OF YOUR BOOK (in all caps), and the salutation.

The salutation is “Mr. ________” or “Ms. __________,” and I’m serious about getting this right. I cannot count the number of times agents have said they’re tired of people calling them by the wrong gender. And I’m not talking about people named Pat here, either. If the agent’s name is Janet, it’s probably a woman. More to the point, if you honestly don’t know whether the person your querying is a man or a woman, you probably aren’t paying much attention to who you’re querying, period. Pay attention, know who you’re querying, and get it right.

As an aside, I queried an agent whose assistant responded on his behalf with a request for a manuscript. The assistant had a name that is usually a men’s name, but can also sometimes be a woman’s name. I scoured the interwebz for a picture of this person or something, and came up empty. My guess is s/he is in the witness protection program. Anyhow, in that situation, I defaulted to sending my requested materials to Dear [First Name] [Last Name].

Next, spell the name correctly. I’ll be honest here, there are agents out there with some pretty fucked up names. When in doubt, cut and paste from her website into your letter. Seriously.

Then comes the body of the text, i.e., the part every other post about querying has discussed in nauseating detail.

if you want, you can include a closing  salutation (“sincerely,”) above your name. No matter what, you need a line where you sign and your printed name. Then you sign on the line. Easy.

E-mail Query Letter Format

This is even easier:

1) Wait to type the agent’s name into the To: box until you have done everything else. It will keep you from accidentally sending it, which CAN HAPPEN. I just started a list of things to do by telling you not to do something. That’s because it’s really important that you DON’T DO THAT.

2) The subject line in the e-mail should be identical to the subject line in the snail mail version. RE: QUERY [TITLE]. The only time to putanything different in your subject line is if you do those contests and festivals and whatever on twitter or a blog. Sometimes you will receive specific instructions relating to that contest. Generally, those instructions relate to adding one or two words to the standard subject line.

You can skip your information (for now) and the agent’s address, etc., and get right to

Ms. Agent:

Here is the body of my query.

You don’t need the formal formatting and address because the date and stuff is built into e-mail.

3) BUT, (he says, with a bold, italicized, all-caps conjunction, because it’s that freaking important) You do need to include your full name, phone number and e-mail address at the bottom of the query (not the bottom of the whole package you send).

So, after 200-300 words of pure brilliance, the query letter portion of your submission should end with:

  • Your Name, which is not a douchey nickname
  • Your Phone Number (including area code and country code if you’re in Queriers Without Borders).
  • Your e-mail address (that involves your name and an ISP or reasonably good e-mail service and doesn’t make you look like an idiot).

For the query letter part, that’s it!

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