Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Query Letter Formatting

This is all you need to know:

The amount of time you spend formatting, coloring, bolding, italicizing, and adding pictures to your query is inversely proportional to how professional it looks when you're finished.






79 comments:

Emily said...

Quick, snappy,informative. Makes sense to me!

benwah said...

Pictures.

Pictures?

PICTURES?!

I'm sure you can't share, but my mind boggles. Are they proposed book covers done on MS Paint? Or come-hither jacket photos? Perhaps blackmail shots of people in compromising positions?

Sam Hranac said...

Thank you!

Why aren't there more formatting options on this thing!

Adaora A. said...

LMAO!

How do you do all that to an e-query?

That must mean they're doing the abominable 'attachment' or they are...dun dun dun: sending it via post with all sorts of embelishments.

All look and no substance?

Linnea said...

It stands to reason that embellishments just get in the way of what you're trying to sell - your writing.

otherkatie said...

So just a spritz of perfume on the letter is all you want?

If only there was a way to make them scratch -n- sniff...

Jenny Rappaport said...

Completely agreed.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

You rock, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

you can post a picture in the body of an email, no attatchment, by scanning it and saving it to your computer. Then select the picture you want in an email.

Anonymous said...

Break out da crayons!

Morgan

Ulysses said...

It's a pity the people perpetrating these perfidious practices are probably not privy to your public pronunciations.

I briefly considered sending a snail-mail query on colored paper once, then realized that all it did was make my query look stupid. The query itself was bad, but (un)fortunately it could not be recognized as such until you actually started reading. . .

Anne Dayton said...

But I love bling. Bling makes everything better. Sigh.

Val said...

"spritz of perfume"????

Oh, no, otherkatie, I'm certain you meant a spritz of cologne d'scotch. Didn't you?

Maybe, if Nathan is an even better boy than usual this year, Santa Snark will bring him a REALLY BIG CLUE GUN for Christmas. Early. Like at Easter. On spec...

Moose said...

I am so tempted to send you a query letter with a picture of a blanket and "RIDDLED WITH SMALLPOX" written in Comic Sans font underneath. Maybe with a postscript reading, "You can help me develop the plot, right?"

(Heh. This is what happens when I eat a chocolate muffin in the morning.)

Nathan Bransford said...

moose-

I wouldn't even wait for you to finish the novel before I offered representation.

Smallpox. Comedic gold.

Guy Stewart said...

I'm a science teacher and I immediately saw this:

1
_____ = Qt(f + c + b + i + p)

prolook

Jessica said...

Great post, Nathan. Short and poinant, like a query ought to be.

Jessica said...

bah!
poignant!

Karen Harrington said...

I worked for a Dallas agent some years back. We received a query from a man in prison, written long-hand on notebook paper about "cell block romance." I gotta tell you, it was enticing.

Margaret Yang said...

Kind of makes you long for those bygone days, back in 1995, when e-mail was only capable of text. It gave those clueless people fewer weapons with which to shoot themselves in the foot (or shoot themselves in the font, as our dear Miss Snark would say).

This was your best, most snarkilious post ever.

Heidi said...

well, well, all I can say is you must have gotten quite the doozies this week.

It seems you're on a query rampage!

Diana said...

When I was in college, I worked in a university fundraising office that was looking for a new entry-level fundraiser. Knowing I was going to be hitting the job market myself soon, the person chairing the search committee showed me a resume and said, "Here's what NOT to do."

The applicant included her measurements and glossy.

Richard Mabry said...

I just discovered your blog, but I'll be back regularly. Excellent advice from an authoritative source.
Sorry I don't know how to add color and a banner headline to my comment, though.

Josephine Damian said...

After reading Nathan's post yesterday, I decided to blog about queries myself today.

Included in my post is a link to a free download from Agent Noah Lukeman - 103 pages of outstanding query writing advice.

I just got done reading the booklet myself and all I can say is: WOWIE! It's an eye-opener and a gold mine of information.

Here's the link to the blog post. Lukeman link is at the bottom of this post: http://josephinedamian.blogspot.com/2008/03/query-eye-for-not-so-straight-writer.html

Ulysses said...

It occurs to me that every agent's query submission guidelines can be boiled down to one rule: "Don't send me crap."

Of course, the exact definition of "crap" requires some research.

Morgan Dempsey said...

So what you're saying is: the bar is so low on queries right now that this is a good time to send.

Awesome.

I hope you enjoy reading the second, fifth, and thirty-seventh chapter of my 450,000word fantasy epic. I'll be printing them in Algerian because it really best represents my novel, nay, my soul.

The paper will be pink, and scented.

Anonymous said...

lol Ulysses

jackie9666

Elyssa Papa said...

I'm guessing the pictures aren't even that good.

What a waste of google image.

Melanie Avila said...

Best. Post. Ever.

Well, maybe not ever, but I can understand your frustration and I'm not an agent. I've been on the hiring end for graphic designer positions and it's scary what people who really should know better do to make an impression. I'm shaking my head at what you must be going through.

julcree said...

Pictures?

You mean I could have sent pictures? Man, I wish I'd known that. I've got a sweet one of my cat. Has nothing to do with the story but she's just so cute. At least when I get a rejection, I'll know the world has seen the beauty that is Etta the cat.

lol
Seriously, why would you ever include a picture?

Kaleb said...

I can't even imagine what would go through someone's mind if they were to include photographs with their query. Unless it's of themselves wrapped in a feather boa while wearing a landscape of leopard print and bright crimson lipstick.

Lorelei said...

What about cash? Is cash still good?

Jackie said...

fun time with computer here...

bare with me, tolerate me...just checking

Allison said...

I once tried to explain to an unpublished novice writer that her lovely letterhead, complete with head shot and title 'Romance Author', was going to annoy more people than it enticed.
Message not received.
Sorry Nathan, I think you are stuck with the dodgy queries.

Just_Me said...

Benwah- I like the idea of blackmail photos. Do you know where I can get some?

Poor Nathan, I wish I could help you out but I'm still in the revision stage and I'm not willing to rush a query on a bad draft. Maybe by the end of the year.

In the meantime, chin up, San Francisco is a fabulous city with some great places to eat an dit's almost beach season. You'll survive.

Colorado Writer said...

Pictures?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Oooo, still getting hammered, eh?

December/Stacia said...

How about MP3 queries? I was going to send mine in the form of a tone poem, with the actual query read so low as to be heard subliminally beneath it.

Nikki Duncan said...

LOL, that cracked me up! And scary, but there's a truth to it, but not the truth that encourages one to add pictures and such.

Kirsten said...

Well, I for one am very disappointed.

My glitter pen is as good as useless... Emoticons may as well be switched off (poor little guys). They're so peppy.

And damn the LIARS who sold me that "Shape Your A** for Literary Submissions" workout dvd. All that sweating and clenching for nothing.

...hmph

Diana said...

Kirsten, maybe you could write your query with your glitter pen, then scan it and send it as a jpg!

Kirsten said...

I like your thinking, and I do have a scanner handy...

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Three Times A Charm

That's the number of times you have to shovel and/or sweep snow in a night, to be rendered 'blog-incompetent.' (Although I'm aware "anon" over at bookends might think I'm always in that state.)

I want to write a defense of query pics sent to lit agents (hey, what's wrong with a little jpeg here or there?), but I don't think I'm quite up to it (still dazzled by all that after-dark snow blowing off the rooftops, like frozen smoke) (too much looking forward to finishing a short story by Gogol, Russian writer) (too engrossed in the Texas Dem primary outcome) etc.

But I make things. By hand. I design the things I make myself! I mass produce them (relatively speaking, if you make a 1,000 of something by hand yourself, it's mass production of a sort). I'm from SE Michigan, where Henry Ford & Co. invented mass production in the first place. I'm a writer who comes from a long line of tool & die makers, engineers, designers (okay, two generations, so sue me). I design things to go along with my poems and stories - it's like translating my writing into 3 dimensions. So don't mention it in a query letter? Hmm...

"It's a Detroit thing, you wouldn't understand."

Wanda B. P.S. Still puzzling over the smallpox-as-comedic-gold reference...maybe that's a SF thing an SE person wouldn't get. I looked up smallpox on Wikipedia...said that it was called "small" pox to distinguish it from the "great" pox - syphilis. Always seems like in historical films, you've got ONE character "disfigured" by smallpox, so their romantic prospects are nil...but seems more likely back then, a whole lotta people had pitted faces...kind of like acne and teenagers before Retin-A and such hit the shelves. You never see a movie with two people both scarred by smallpox falling in love...there's always just the one, wandering unloved through the film, hiding their face in all kinds of ingenious (to the filmmaker) ways...

Nathan Bransford said...

Wanda-

Re: smallpox. Loooong story. But Moose is extremely funny and has a great blog.

Anonymous said...

Need some advice:

Is it wise to send query to an agent for a book that is not yet complete?

Mona

Anonymous said...

Mona,

It's generally considered a waste of time to query for an unfinished manuscript, particularly so if you're an unpublished writer. Some agents even state specifically in their guidelines that they do not accept incomplete manuscripts. The reason being that it's hard enough for an agent find something salable out of the flood of *completed* manuscripts, and then here you are trying to say, "take mine, it's one of the salable ones, it's just not finished yet and I have no track record!"

But you can try. But you might not want to, because it would be kind of a downer to get rejections while you're still writing the first draft, and then you would have burned a few bridges already.

But mine is just the opinion of an unpublished writer (although I have just been offered a deal at a small house).

Anonymous said...

P.S. Mona: I was also assuming in my above comment that you're talking about querying for fiction; non-fiction is different and I know nothing about that.

Anonymous said...

For a (side-blinded) moment, I did not see the 'inversely proportional to' part of the blog post... It was downright scary.

Taylor K. said...

Mona: As said above, querying for an unfinished fiction manuscript is a waste of time. Nonfiction is totally different however. It is often good to query about your nonfiction concept so that you can find out from an agent if the idea is publishable before you spend all the time researching, writing, and editing said book.

that said, just because agents say that a book won't be published does not necessarily mean not to write it. It all depends on how important said book idea is to you.

Nona said...

And damn the LIARS who sold me that "Shape Your A** for Literary Submissions" workout dvd. All that sweating and clenching for nothing.

Kirsten,
The workouts are never for nothing. Besides making a person ridiculously healthy, they really up the ante on the facebook profile picture.

Anonymous said...

Thanks anon and thanks Taylor K. I just wish Nathan could tell us what he thinks about the matter.

Mona

Nathan Bransford said...

mona-

anon and taylor are speaking the gospel. Gotta finish the manuscript if it's a novel (and polish it and then polish it some more), if it's nonfiction you can query with a proposal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nathan. A lot. Would you be interested in a YA Fantasy? and I must mention I really like the fact that you are such an hands-on agent.

Mona

Nathan Bransford said...

Mona-

I'm hands on but I'm afraid I'm not hands on enough to answer that question. You gotta do your research.

Anonymous said...

Hmm I know you are game for good stories irrespective of genres. I read it on of your posts. I have done enough research. Just wanted it specific. Thanks.

Mona

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Web Presence and, um, Rat Tails

Re: "But Moose is extremely funny and has a great blog."

In her blog, Josephine Damian describes putting the question to Donald Mass, as to what he thinks of a wannabe writer having "a blog, a myspace, a website, if they already demonstrate the ability and willingness to self-promote."

His reply, as per Ms. Damian: "“I don’t give a rat’s ASS about ANY of that!” Reason: "...the biggest thing I’m afraid of with these blogs is that it scratches the itch."

Well, if those words don't brand themselves upon a writer's brain, I don't know what will!

So having that in the back of my mind (I hesitate to say, with a rat's ass in the back of my mind), my visit to Moose's "great" blog, written by an "extremely funny" person, wasn't entirely innocent...just to mix metaphors, I have to also wonder about "buying the cow when the milk is for free," meaning, if the blogger is scratching the writing itch by writing the blog...aren't the readers of such (i.e., the more "literary" blogs, less focused on nuts-and-blots of getting published), scratching their itch to READ "literary output," otherwise known as novels, etc...?

I mean, I had to ask myself the hard question, based on what I read on Moose's blog, would I want to buy something she'd written. Lay down cash. Or more likely, send a string of numbers and exp. date into cyberspace.

Well, the impression I take from the blog is of a "humorist," and the last humorist I bought was James Thurber in high school. So no...with a cold eye, I might say, why are there 11 pasta sculpting pics, I only really need to see 3 or 4...I wonder, maybe a magazine editor would hire her to write a piece based on this blog...but then I've seen other freelancer's blogs, and they just gave writing samples from actual magazine articles they'd written...there wasn't ANY of their personal life in there at all...

Now, maybe someone will want to leap to Moose's defense, i.e., "Wanda, we don't give a rat's ass what you think of Moose's blog."

But I know for myself, there are things I have posted in blogs, that I "recognize" - wow, I can do something with this, I can shape this into a novel. And then the public output becomes private again...I'm thinking specifically of Moose's "Memories of Being Eighteen Years Old in Manhattan" - they almost seem like somebody went through a short story or first chapter of a novel, and just picked out lines that they liked (yellow markered them, since they are college scenes) - they're great lines - I wonder, where's the rest of the story? Or novel chapter. Or magazine article? Is that what magazine articles are like nowadays?

Anyway, those were some of my thoughts visiting Moose's blog. Don't know if Moose wants to jump in here and discuss how she sees her blog in relation to her (paid) writing career - but isn't a blog kind of a...I don't know...long-playing query letter? A really super-attenuated query letter. A query letter that never ends...a teeny-tiny red flag waved at the publishing industry, continously...and even teeny-tinier, posts on agent's blogs, like this one...

Nathan Bransford said...

Um. Wanda? Moose isn't a novelist. She's a real-life friend of mine. I was just letting you know that the "smallpox" thing was just an in-joke, and I was pointing you to her funny blog by way of explanation (i.e. she's very funny).

Dave F. said...

A query letter is a business letter - 12 point type, single spaced, etc... It's improper to send a business letter on personal stationary.

Don't create work for yourself.

Before I retired, I had to act as a "contracting officer" for all the print jobs.

Story #1 - the quality of images on the internet is awful, ugly and can't be used on printed paper. It's technical dealing with dots per inch. Leave it to the professionals. I know, I've bought everything from CD covers to conference displays 25 feet long.

Story #2 - you don't own the copyright and therefore can't use the photo. Let the professionals buy a photo for you. They do it every day.

Story #3 - One pair of authors decided they wanted a particular image that they created on the front of their report. The graphics department threw a fit for several reasons. The colors weren't "pure" nor specified by pantone, there was no true black and no true white. The design bled off all four edges of the page with no allowance for the spine of the book. It took too much time and effort and in the end, a boss chose the graphics department's illustration because it looked professional.

Don't make extra work. Keep the query letter simple black text on a white page.

Isak said...

HAHAHA... That's awesome! Makes me re-think my mural, though.

What if you overnight each query letter out with a batch of fresh-baked cookies?

Dave F. said...

for the person that said they knew an agent who received a handwritten query letter from a prisoner...

Concerning Gideon v Wainwright, the landmark case on right to counsel decided by the Supreme Court in 1963, Clarence Earl Gideon hand wrote the appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. He had no money and no access to a typewriter but his appeal had merit.

La Gringa said...

BWA HA HA HA!!!

Falls over dead from laughing.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Real-life friend...and wannabe novelist...and potential client of Curtis Brown. Excerpt from Moose blog bolded for your convenience.

Re: "Um. Wanda? Moose isn't a novelist. She's a real-life friend of mine. I was just letting you know that the "smallpox" thing was just an in-joke, and I was pointing you to her funny blog by way of explanation (i.e. she's very funny)."

From Moose's blog 01/29/07 (which is why I posted what I did about the, er, um, "rat's tails," I did go and read her blog, of course as a writer I'm heading to the section entitled "writing"!!!!):

"Considering that I’ve only had about two weeks of practice with the fiction writing, it’s maybe a bit egotistical to be expect proficiency already. Listening for the phone call informing me of my Pulitzer for my story about the mute monkey is really just giving me tinnitus and a bit of a strained neck. If I have to write six crappy novels to get one good one, maybe that’s not time wasted. Maybe that’s just my process. All right, maybe five crappy novels. No, three. Three short crappy novels. I could do that.

I’m pinning all my writerly aspirations on the hope that stubbornness is its own reward. Even Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.” I’m pretty sure he’s lying because if anyone has historically proven smarts, it’s Albert Einstein. But he makes a good case for sticking it out. The IT - the greatness - is something you acquire, not something you are given or are not given. We see people being good at stuff - we don’t see them becoming good.* I find this comforting. Also, depressing. But I enjoy writing. I’m happier when I’m doing it every day. So, whether I write a novel that someone (or even two someones! I have goals!) reads or a whole bunch of gibberish that dies under the delete key, I still win."

Moral of story: Don't assume someone (I'm referring to myself here) is posting on a lit agent blog for "no reason" or "weird reason" or "what the hell is that all about?" I'm interested in the relationship between blog writing and the more "official" literary output someone has. I'm also interested in the interpersonal aspect of the publishing industry.

Frankly, I feel like I've just had a "Scrooge moment" - where he goes with the Spirit of Christmas Present to his relative's house, and they are all playing a word game, and Scrooge gleefully joins in, shouting out the answers, even though no one can hear him. Except it's Balderdash, and you all in San Francisco, and I'm in Michigan.

The Internet: An electronic learning curve for EVERYONE.

tcsherf said...

This post is a perfect example of why your blog keeps me coming back for more.

Clean.
Clear.
Concise.

And fun, to boot!

Kirsten said...

Nona:
The workouts are never for nothing. Besides making a person ridiculously healthy, they really up the ante on the facebook profile picture.

That's true. Tights buns will never be out of vogue... Re. facebook profile photos, there are some key areas I still need to work on. I can never get the balance between sultry and desperate right in my shots. And if I'm holding the camera myself, my chest is too paltry to make for a good 'incidental cleavage' shot. That dorky pic my boyfriend took of me cavorting with the cat in the yard will have to do for now.

Kirsten said...

...And Wanda b., I am going to leap to defense here, in defense of pasta ducks. I'd block a bullet for those little guys. You DO need all the photos. A ducky chewing his stitches is a distinctly different ducky than Little Duck on the Prairie. All duckies deserve equal representation.

La Gringa said...

I am so confused...

Kirsten said...

lg, wanda b. was writing in regard to moose, (whose post sparked a wild tangent/impromptu blog critique; the blog in question being the home of certain pasta duckies). I was writing in brief response to wb's comments. Convoluted, I know.

Julie Weathers said...

*Bangs head on desk.

I'm getting ulcers worrying about correct, plain vanilla formatting and people have figured out how to bold, color, add pictures, italicize, put in scratch-and-sniff scotch blotches, and 8x10 glossies?

Seriously, if you wouldn't send a query on rainbow paper with lovely lavender, grape-scented ink, why would you do that to an e-mail?

Ethney said...

Nathan -
Just wondering if I need to compliment my 'agent hunting' with self-advertising in manner of blogs online, bribing local rag-mags to publish snippets of my work etc. I don't know what I'm doing, only that I have a finished manuscript that I think could do well enough. Thanks for your time, love your blogs.
Ethney

Terri said...

I used to be gatekeeper of the resume slushpile for my company. It gave me a teeny little insight into the world of agenting. I automatically rejected all resumes on pink paper, bound in ribbon and embossed with any design, especially roses and/or kittens. Regardless of their qualifications, I didn't want to have to see this person every day in the office!

Anonymous said...

Blond Boy and you groupies and colored letters is what is wrong with literature.
Does anyone write anymore?

I never met an idiot agent and his mavens before. Damn stupid. I know Hemingway used crayons when he was looking for a real agent.

AnonymousX said...

I assume that it would be OK to italicize one's book tittle?

Nathan Bransford said...

anonX-

People in the business usually capitalize titles.

CoryLeslie said...

Hi, Nathan:

Thanks for your blog! It's been incredibly illuminating. I do have a question... When you query an agent that lists a 6-8 week response time AND you can't simultaneously submit to other agents at the same agency, what is the proper protocol for proceeding when you've gone past the eight weeks with no response? I'd like to move on to other agents, but I don't want to step on toes.

Thanks!
Cory

Anonymous said...

MAJOR TIP: email the query to yourself before you send it to the agent. Add any important formatting the computer knocked out (like your hard returns and paragraph indents -- not the picture of Daffy Duck).

Send it to yourself one more time to be sure you caught everything, delete the Fw: on the subject line and the record that you sent it to yourself, and send it to the agent.

lora96 said...

Wait--you mean I wasted all that time I spent blowing kisses at my camera phone to get the perfect shot to---WHO PUTS A PICTURE ON A QUERY LETTER??? My very first query letter will be inducted into the Hackneyed Crap Hall of Fame at the Curtis Brown Ltd Christmas party, I'm sure, but even I didn't include a beauty shot of me in my wedding gown.

bekah said...

Bribes, people, bribes!

Anonymous said...

How long should a book be, generally speaking? Is 77,000 words long enough or should it be longer?
Thanks,
author-in-training

Erin Pequeno said...

Hi Nathan,

I appreciate your response and have been scanning your blog as well as many others for answers. So far I have been able to find a few answers to some of my questions, but there always seems to be a bahzillion more :o)

I recently completed and illustrated my first children's book (of a series hopefully) and am in the process of revisions while I research how to write query letters and absorb the whole publication process. I was curious as to whether it would be appropriate to include quotes in a query. Ironically some of my friends have been posting some status updates on facebook that would represent the market for my book. Good idea? Bad idea?

The name of the series is also the exact name of something else on the market, which I didn't know at the time, but thought "hey, maybe they'll endorse it, go big or go home right?" Is this something I should mention or leave it out? I'm afraid to leave it out because I wouldn't want an agent to think I haven't been doing my homework. Maybe just say that I recognize this and I am open to make changes to the title?

This post completely foiled my plan to include pictures of cute and fuzzy baby animals that would melt anyone's heart...so I was thinking of including a double sided coin along with a note- "heads, you represent me." :oP

Thanks in advance,

Erin

Related Posts with Thumbnails