Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, March 18, 2010

How To Format a Query Letter

Dear Blog Readers,

This is how you format an e-mailed query letter. Note that I did not begin with the recipient's address or my address or the date, as that is not customary for an e-mail. I also am not indenting because indenting and e-mails do not mix.

I am using block formatting. I double space between paragraphs but otherwise the query is single-spaced. It is written in a default font, it is left-justified, and the font is a normal size. If I have copied from a word processing program or past e-mail I am careful to make sure the fonts and sizes match. I haven't added pictures or tried to get fancy with anything because I want the agent to see that I'm confident in my words and don't need any gimmicks to make my query stand out.

Believe it or not, less than 25% of the e-queries I receive are properly formatted. While you won't get rejected if your query is incorrectly formatted, if you accomplish this simple task correctly you will convey an indispensable aura of professionalism. And remember: 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.

Sincerely,
Nathan Bransford (note that I didn't leave space for a signature since it's an e-mail)

My address
My phone number
My e-mail address
(optional: my website/blog)

---

First 5 pages of the manuscript - don't worry about how these are formatted just do the best you can






156 comments:

Tracy Hahn-Burkett said...

So simple. So necessary. And thanks for posting this, because I haven't seen this question answered before.

Liberty Speidel said...

I thought this was basic knowledge. Guess I was wrong!

Martin said...

Great post, Nathan. I'd add that some mail clients (on both ends) can mess with line spacing. A good idea I've recently learned is to set your client to use plain text instead of rtf or html.

Piedmont Writer said...

I get the blocking, font, and all the other stuff, my question is about the date and the recipent address. Everyone says it's a business letter, therefore, wouldn't it be more professional to include the business you are querying in the format? I understand you already know where you are, and it IS e-mail, but still, it is business.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett said...

OMG, I got the first comment on a Nathan post! I'm off to buy a lottery ticket before my luck runs out . . .

Barry said...

Nathan,

I continue to be impressed with your practical generosity. Your posts deliver usable insights with humor and wisdom. I look forward to reading more. As William Zinsser said of writing, these are just small things--but great writing is made by paying attention to all the small things.

Crazy Cat Lady said...

I simply can't understand why people fret so much about this. Or how people, in 2010, can still be so oblivious to how digital formatting works. How do these people survive their everyday lives?! Don't most of us send emails in our dayjob? And how did they manage to write a manuscript if they don't know how formatting, styles, HTML vs. plain text email formatting, etc. works?

I continue to be baffled.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Gah.

There's a guy I critted a query for who refuses to believe that agents don't want ALL of the personal info up top in an email just like on a regular business letter.

No amount of agent blog links will get him past. "It's a business letter and that's how I was taught to write business letters in school."

TERI REES WANG said...

Basic knowledge these days, needs to be re-introduced, and often.

Crystal said...

Thanks so much for this, Nathan. This is extremely helpful as I plan on querying in the next few months, and most likely more than a few will be by email.

kevinluttery said...

I'm probably in the minority, but I think stuff like this is leaning toward the side of silly. I've seen other agents post sample queries on their site and, guess what, they asked that the writer's contact information (though not the agency itself) be included in the top right corner. So I started doing mine this way. A very well-respected agent signed me up in spite of it. My letter-writing skills may have been poor, but my query and subsequent sample pages were the only things that mattered. As well they should.

Alicia J. Frey said...

Nathan-
Great post, and most helpful. One question. I've seen a split on whether an agent would like us to include our blog and/or website address in the contact info. What are your thoughts?
Thank you,
Most appreciative follower

Jenna said...

Thanks Nathan. I would add that if you copy your text from a word processing program, watch out for things like smart quotes and ampersands which can turn into strange little boxes or symbols. I found it worked to copy what I needed, paste it into Word as unformatted text, check it for glitches, and then copy it into my email.

Tracy said...

Thank you!

I always knew about the initial query letter part, I've written enough work e-mails to have experience with that part ... it was worrying about how to fix the sample pages that are copy & pasted which made me a bit paranoid at times.

The Decreed said...

Are those spaces hard returns or no? I've seen some crazy things done with that durn enter button.

Nathan Bransford said...

kevinlutery-

Like I said, no one is rejecting anyone over formatting issues. But this post isn't for people like you, who maybe included their address at the top instead of the bottom - I don't even generally notice that. This is for people who are so wildly off the mark on formatting their e-mails are impossible to read.

Nathan Bransford said...

alicia-

Yeah, website/blog in the contact info would be fine.

John Jack said...

Interesting. Even though the query sample's context is a how-to, the opening starts off with one essential element of a pitch, establish rapport between the text and an audience. In that case, rapport is automatically established through resonance with an topically interested audience.

The part about less than twenty-five percent of queries follow the ideal format also engenders empathy from the audience. Pity at least.

If there's a rapport factor not included, nor do I see how it would be possible, it's deepened rapport from a suspense question artfully posed, except the given one of what does it take to engage an agent's interest.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I have added address and date at the top, though I guess it isn't really necessary. I think it's because I've seen so many agents and editors talk about how writers skip proper letter formatting when emailing.

But here, we have an unequivocal opinion that I trust. Yea! No more "To" address, etc.

Sissy said...

Okay, so here's another question: if I am querying an agent and I have been following their blog (like you, for example) and commenting, do I use "Mr. Bransford" or just "Nathan?"

D. G. Hudson said...

Good information, as always, Nathan. All the bits and pieces need to be aligned correctly -- to get us into the starting gate. Got it.

Your patience with your followers is phenomenal. Don't ever change that aspect, please.

Mike Mullin said...

"5 sample pages - don't worry about how these are formatted just do the best you can"

I'm worrying about it despite your advice. Sorry. Is it better to format them as block text for ease of electronic reading, or does this leave the impression that I don't know how to format a manuscript properly?

Sheri Larsen said...

Basic knowledge, but don't assume everyone knows it. This is great, Nathan. I'd also like to agree with Martin on the line spacing issue. I ran into that, only realizing it after I'd hit send and rechecked myself. A safe exercise is to prepare the email query and then email it to yourself first. Better to be safe!

Ashley A. said...

Sissy:
While I cannot speak for Nathan, I would say that, in business, you should always err on the side of professionalism and use an honorific until told that it is unnecessary.

Confessions of a Cashier said...

Great post Nathan. I'm glad to see I've been doing it correctly all these years. :-)

Nathan Bransford said...

sissy-

I personally don't mind if someone calls me Nathan or Mr. Bransford but some agents may prefer the honorific and I'd err on the side of formality there. (basically what Ashley said)

Ez said...

Haha...I know this should be basic info, but I've been wondering for awhile if I should put dashes and spaces between the end of the query and the sample pages. Now I know.

Thank you.

fairyhedgehog said...

Beautifully done.

Anonymous said...

You know what's funny? This conflicts with other information out there, so I can understand why you get different types of e-mails. Some agents say to format it like a business letter and include the address and date, other say to indent, not to use block formatting. In fact I read on one agent's blog that if you do block paragraphs it goes right into the trash.

This type of thing is really frustrating to me (and other authors I'm sure who've come across this same conundrum). Perhaps there should be a standard query format like standard manuscript format across the industry.

Scott said...

Thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Again, the address thing is of really minor importance in the scheme of things. If I'm going to give suggestions about how to format a query I'm naturally going to go with my preferences and what I see is common practice in everyday business usage.

This post isn't intended to make people lose sleep over whether the address goes at the beginning or the end. It's really, really not a big deal.

The bigger deal is getting something that looks approximately like the formatting in this post, and you'd be surprised how far people stray from anything resembling normal formatting.

But look, I'm not going to assassinate someone for straying from this format, nor do I think I suggested I was going to.

Marjorie said...

I say forget queries and self-publish. It's empowering.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

But since this is a form of business communication, a colon should follow the salutation, not a comma.

Picky, picky...

MJR said...

Anon--this is the way I've sent all my e-queries, exactly as Nathan has shown here. Maybe one or two agents would disagree with this, but I would go with this format. It's pretty standard for e-business letters of all kinds.

I haven't mastered emailing the 5 pages, but I'm glad that Nathan (and I hope other agents) are forgiving about muddled formatting.

T. Anne said...

Thanks Nathan. Once long ago I sent out a query, and when I re-read it as sent mail, I noted how wonky it formated without my approval. In other words I sent it one way and when it arrived it looked as though I had attached my DNA coding as well. Still not sure why that happened.

Christine Macdonald said...

Thanks for YOU.

Kimberly Kincaid said...

Thank you for this- yes, it's simple, but I want every ounce of professionalism that I can possibly muster.

I made an interesting parallel in terms of the "how to address an agent" discussion. Occasionally, charities will cold call my house, looking for donations. Here's how this goes:

Me: Hello?
Caller: Hello, is Kimberly there?
Me: (thinking I *know* this person, or should know this person) Yes, this is she.
Caller: pitch, etc.

I know that they do it to get on a personal foot with me so that I won't (politely) hang up right away, but it always bugs me. I don't think it's too hard to ask for Ms. Kincaid. I'm going to find out I don't know them soon enough. Might as well be upfront about it.

Of course, people are split into both camps on this one. I just figure it's better to err on the side of caution and not potentially irritate anyone I'd like to represent me and my work.

Kimber An said...

Thanks! It comes a little late for me. I just sent out all my eQueries. I had no idea there was a different way of doing them than standard letters until BookEnds mentioned it. Thanks for providing the details.

As for the sample pages, oy, I'm glad you said to just do the best you can. I've tried to make them pretty pasted into an email.

Teresa said...

I made an e-mail submission by copying and pasting from Word into my e-mail and was absolutely horrified how unprofessional it looked after it was sent. The e-mail program eliminated all of my paragraph breaks so everything was one giant block of text.

I figured out how to avoid that in the future and did a blog post on it. Some people have told me (via Twitter) when they copy/paste from Word, everything looks great until you hit send. If they cc a copy to themselves, though, they see all kinds of weird font changes, etc.

I don't know about other word processing programs, but Word can cause some real whammies with e-mail protocols.

Although I have to admit there are a great number of people, professionals included, who use comic sans fonts when sending e-mails. In screaming red fonts. Obviously they want my attention.

Thanks, Nathan, you do a great job of keeping everyone informed.

F.Panther said...

I really like this post. Its simply and clear and very helpful :)

Thermocline said...

Thank you for this simple explanation. Less than 25% are formatted like this? Yeesh.

Scott said...

Thanks, Nathan.

By the way, this is how a rejection is formatted in an email. Same spacing, same fonts concerns, same justification.

Thanks, again.

Scott ;)

atsiko said...

So a sample cover done by my art student friend in Vancouver as a background is a no-go? Do you think I should still pay him the commission?

Thanks.

Mira said...

I thought that was rather clever, agent-person, the way you formatted this post. :)

Amie Boudreau said...

Thank you!

roxy said...

As always, excellent information which I should have known but didn't. Thanks for the heads up, Nathan. I usually learn through the trial and error method, but reading your blog is so much better.

Cathy said...

Great post Nathan! Thanks!

Krista V. (the former Krista G.) said...

Less than 25%? Really? And I thought query formatting was pretty self-explanatory...

Anonymous said...

Two questions:

1) do you want an HTML formatted e-mail over a plain text e-mail?

2) how should sample pages be handled? Should I put a space between each paragraph since indenting tends to get lost in e-mails?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Either HTML or plain text is fine as long as it comes through okay, and as others have mentioned it's a really good idea to try e-mailing your query to yourself so you can see what it looks like.

When it comes to sample pages I would just paste them in and don't worry about it as long as line breaks are maintained. It would be way too time-consuming to try and take out all the indents and make everything just so, and as long as it's reasonably readable I am willing to forgive quite a bit of formatting weirdness. It's just not worth making people go through the trouble of changing all the formatting to suit e-mail programs.

Nathan Bransford said...

Further to my last comment, the only formatting element to avoid when it comes to pasting in your sample pages is the "block of text" effect where there are no line breaks at all and it's one huge jumble that's impossible to read. All the other formatting issues (indenting/single or double spaced/weirdness with quotes and apostrophes) I wouldn't worry about.

Terry said...

Thank you. I hadn't even thought about this yet. But it's good to know and to know where I can find the info again when the time comes.

Leila said...

Great post, Nathan.

Sending off a query letter is not something an individual does every day, so knowing how to 'fine tune' the query is a good thing, for all concerned.

Your post helps clarify all those little, yet important from a professionalism perspective, details so thanks very much!

Just out of curiosity, have you noticed a general, overall improvement in the quality (and content)of query letters you receive since you first started posting information on the subject?

Holly_D said...

This is great and vaulable information. Thanks Nathan!

Nathan Bransford said...

leila-

That's a good question. It's very tough to generalize when there are so many queries in general, but I'd actually say that with the early 2010 query deluge I'm getting a lot more of what I'd call "frivolous" queries. These are the ones that feel more like the result of get rich quick schemes than something they've devoted much time to.

Also, if you're reading this blog you most definitely don't fall into this category. I think most people would be shocked at the shape/quality the frivolous queries are in.

But that said, there are more good queries than ever before and I'm requesting quite a few partials.

So it's kind of like they're getting better and worse at the same time. For every one extra good query I'm getting three or four extra bad queries. Does that make sense?

Matthew Rush said...

Nathan I could have sworn you had posted about this before but probably this version is updated and more detailed, I will have to check back to see if my memory is correct.

Regardless thanks again for everything you do for the unpublished masses. The amount of knowledge that you give away for free is staggering. Karma.

@Tracy. Be careful about claiming "First" on an NB blog post comment. With a blog as popular as this one the time it takes you to type "First" (or whatever), the captcha and then to click publish will put you 5-25 posts down the list, depending on how relevant Mr. Bransford's post is to all us starving (or hard working in another field) writers.

Mary McDonald said...

Glad you cleared up the sample pages. I've spent, literally, hours, trying to get sample pages to look right. One agent said to make the sample pages double spaced, but no matter what I did, mine pasted single spaced. For some reason, if I sent it to a friend, and she sent it back, it came out okay.

Now, I'm going to just make sure it's readable.

Leila said...

Nathan -

Absolutely. And it must be encouraging for those individuals who grab your attention, regardless of the outcome, to see some reward for their efforts in shaping their query letter appropriately. In part I'm sure that's to do with your help in making the requirements more transparent.

Re the frivolous queries, I wonder if the changing landscape in the world of writing is making (some) people feel a need to rush in and query before any changes can affect them. Perhaps regardless of the quality, readiness etc of their actual work.

It is common, during times of change, for people to try and 'beat the change', get in before things change, out of fear of the unknown and/or because they like how things are done now. Anyway, just a wild, speculative thought. Do you have any thoughts you would be comfortable to share on that one?

Nathan Bransford said...

leila-

I personally think it has to do with the economic situation and with a cultural moment where lots of people think writing is the easiest path to riches. These frivolous queries aren't coming from people with even a passing familiarity with the writing and book world.

Calliopenjo said...

Hi Nathan,

I was reading a blog about query faux pos.

Somebody sent a Starbucks cup full of white powder (turned out to be flour) to an agent in HYC? Unbelievable.

Anyway, thank you for posting this. Sometimes, it's the simple things we can't figure out.

Calliopenjo said...

Sorry meant New York City.

Leila said...

Nathan -

Thanks very much for your thoughts and for sharing a bit more of your side of the writing world with us.

It will be interesting to hear how the rest of the year pans out in this regard (if you choose to share more information with us of course).

Clarity said...

Thank you. Should the 5 pages that follow be pasted after the query or sent as a Word attachment?

Nathan Bransford said...

Pasted into the query.

Clarity said...

Merci.

Ann M said...

Thanks for the great post, Nathan!

So, is it acceptable to put the title in quotes?

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

One day too late!

I sent off my letter in the e-mail, rather than an e-mail, in response to my first request for a full manuscript.

*note the casual tone I certainly am not feeling :D

Nathan Bransford said...

elaine-

If they already requested a full they are most definitely not sweating it. Congrats!

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Again, with the basic mistakes!
PROOF READ!

Thanks, Nathan

You're the best

:)

(I wouldn't mind but the next WV INNET would have been perfect for that error)

Michael said...

Another informative post, Nathan. I didn't take the time to read all the comments, and perhaps someone has asked this, but if not, I will.

Have you ever received a query with a link to a book trailer that might provide some additional info?

With all the coverage on e-books, I thought you might have received some digital data in addition to the query letter itself. Curious to know if you have, and if not, what would your response be?

Thanks for continuing to enlighten us.

Nathan Bransford said...

michael-

Truthfully I probably wouldn't look at it unless I was already interested in the project. So while you could include it or mention that you made one I personally probably wouldn't click until I was at least at the partial or full stage.

Liberty Speidel said...

I didn't think so many relevant comments could be made on such a cut and dried (or so I thought!) topic!

Nathan, it's sad that so many folks think that becoming a writer will ease all their financial worries. While I hope to one day to be a full time writer, I know that the chances of me becoming the next Janet Evanovich or Stephen King are infinitesimal. Most writers aren't lucky enough to be able to leave their day jobs.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I don't usually comment because you get so many comments. But I just wanted to say thanks, this is very helpful.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
Your agent page on Curtis Brown LTD website requested the first 5 pages. This post request 5 sample pages. Why the difference and which is most important for you to read?

Thank you for this wonderful resource and your sense of humor and for your patience.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for pointing that out, anon. I mean the first five pages. I'll amend the post to clarify.

Kay said...

Ha! Did you read my question on the forum earlier??

K

Adam Heine said...

A G-mail tip (that likely applies to most e-mail services/programs): When composing an e-mail, just above the body are buttons for bold, italic, underline, bullets, hyperlinks, justification, and other stuff. To the right of these formatting buttons is a link that says "« Plain Text".

Click it.

Holly said...

Nathan, thanks for this wonderful, practical post. I'll take every crumb of professionalism I can get.

When you die and go to the Golden Computer in the Sky, may the angels sayeth unto you, "All your queries henceforth forevermore shall have block formatting."

Nichole Giles said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I assumed most of this, but have never actually seen anyone specifically answer these questions in a post.

JaEvans said...

Thanks Nathan this was helpful. I am wondering now the difference between an email query and a snail mail query?

Backfence said...

Thank you Nathan! Makes sense.
I've been confused also about how to post the first five pages or excerpt in the body of an email. Should that be single or double spaced? (The guidelines usually call for double-spacing but I'm thinking those instructions apply to physical snail mail submissions.) It just doesn't make sense to double space an email submission. What's your take on that?

Becky said...

Thank you so much for this, Nathan. I wish I'd had this when I sent out my first query.

Sandy Shin said...

Thank you, Nathan! This is a very helpful. :]

Cheryl said...

Dear Mr. Bransford,

Thanks for the info.

Sincerely,
Cheryl

Did I do ok?
:)
But seriously, thank you!!

Bane of Anubis said...

In my query carousel time, I've sent you 4 queries, of which you've requested partials on 2--the ones that were both formatted incorrectly... I'm not sure if this means anything, or if you just realized I was a Lakers fan :p

Trisha Wooldridge said...

Thank you very much for the post, Nathan. I get your blog via email, so it's even better.

So many people don't know this!! I get many students who are now applying for jobs online, and they are confused because all the books (that I have/know of) teach them to format their business emails THE SAME WAY as a business letter.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nathan! I've copied for later reference.

Adrianne

iamfrightenedtoo said...

ouch....just sent three queries with my contact information, and the "hopeful" agents contact information at the top, with reading this first.... Ironic thing was, i almost didn't out that information at the top...but went with the "business letter" approach.

stupid me...

my first query had about 900 spelling errors...so i guess i'm making some progress

Moira Young said...

Thank you.

This goes in my file of "how to do things THESE days". Some of the writing books in my collection are a bit out of date, so their information is, shall we say, less than reliable?

Oh Internets, though I know you are untameable, at least let me traverse your turbulent waters with minimal misfortune. :)

Kate Evangelista said...

I always love reading about your query posts. Querying is probably even more daunting than writing the actual novel.

Christina B. said...

Holy Cow! So I've taken a break from reading publishing/agent blogs while I run this crazy marathon-sprint called law school and...

You have a whole new-looking website. It looks awesome! Your new digs look dashing in orange, Mr. Bransford. :)

Malia Sutton said...

I have to admit that I've always sent e-mails for everything the way you just posted. However, I'm guilty of leaving a space for a signature. I was never quite sure about this until I read this post.

Thank you.

Niki Schoenfeldt said...

Thanks Nathan,
I always wondered about the proper etiquette for formal emails. They didn't teach us this in school! Now I know.

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Susan Quinn said...

Thanks Nathan! Your advice is always common sensical, but it's great to have the reminders on tap. I always know where to look if I have a question!

Marjorie said...

This is so absurd it is almost insulting. Walt Disney,
Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, Benjamin Zephaniah, Steven Spielberg, John F. Kennedy, Richard Ford, Michael Faraday, Scott Adams, and Leonardo da Vinci were all dyslexic.

I could speculate that they might perhaps send an agent an improperly formatted query because dyslexia is manifested most often in poor spelling and other writing errors.

Your blog entry on how to format a query letter reflects a nitpicking mentality. I disagree that a correctly formatted query conveys an "indispensable aura of professionalism." All it conveys is an ability to robotically format a query. The content of a literary project is what should be the basis for further interest.

What a load of narishkeit!

CS said...

marjorie, that's exactly what Nathan has said many times- the quality of the project is the most important, but that doesn't mean that clarifying format issues isn't helpful

Nathan Bransford said...

marjorie-

Hmm... methinks Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, Benjamin Zephaniah, Steven Spielberg, John F. Kennedy, Richard Ford, Michael Faraday, Scott Adams, and Leonardo da Vinci all found a way to write letters in reasonably coherent fashion. Well, except maybe for Leonardo, who probably wrote them backwards.

Donna Hole said...

Very helpful Nathan. Thanks.

.....dhole

Genella deGrey said...

That's about how I have my emails - but my signature and releases are in a different font and color.
For the most part, I sent my query emails to females who usually enjoy that sort of fancy thing.
If I ever send a query to a male, I will surely reconsider my pretty sig. Thanks, Nathan!
:)
G.

Marjorie said...

Nathan:
I will give you tons of credit. You do not delete my comments and your replies to me are witty.

Janet Reid has comment moderation in place and she will not publish my comments regarding her obsession with queries. And, I met her at one of her panel discussions in a local library... I am concluding she doesn't like me. Or, she doesn't like my comments.

:-(

Nathan Bransford said...

marjorie-

I can understand being frustrated by queries, but I personally think it's best to assume that agents are operating with the best of intentions. We have every reason to want to find projects we can sell and when we're hearing from 10,000-20,000 people a year, the only way to do that is with a reasonably efficient system and to expect a certain level of professionalism from the authors who want to work with us. If we're obsessed with queries it's borne out of necessity, not because we're crazy.

Marjorie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marjorie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

marjorie-

This really isn't the venue for criticizing another agent's blog. Let's keep things on the topic at hand.

Marjorie said...

OK, I will post my opinions at my own blog or on my Facebook page.

Wanda du Plooy said...

Mr Bransford
Agents are like Idols Judges - you confuse the hell out of us with conflicting sugestions...

And I do not mean the layout but the contence - I pretty much stick to that basic layout...

Anonymous said...

Ok, I suck. I just copied and pasted my query letter into my query email because I thought it made me look professional. Guess not. Thanks for the tip. I started query a couple of weeks ago and wish I had read this before I started.

Dwacon® said...

You left out the auto-opening embedded YouTube of James Brown singing "Please... Please... PLEASE... P-L-E-A-S-E" with the background of glaring flashing GIF animation, "Please buy this manuscript."

That is VITAL in any e-query.

Valerie said...

So simple. So necessary. Thanks!

Theresa Milstein said...

I haven't seen e-mail query formats addressed anywhere else as well. I always put the agent's address at the top - now I'll stop doing that!

Matthew Skala said...

Saying "default font" isn't going far enough; it shouldn't be in a specified font at all. It should be a plain text message without HTML markup.

cardiogirl said...

What are your thoughts about querying with completed manuscripts versus a manuscript that is 80% complete?

I wonder if it's necessary to sell the idea before writing the entire manuscript.

Also, it seems you could spend the time being rejected to finish the last 20%. This is assuming at least 30 (or 300) rejections will come before acceptance.

Annette Bagley-Martin said...

Thank you for posting this. This was confirmation on something I was reasoning out as I put together an equery letter.

Lauren said...

Nathan,
Your blog is always helpful, but there is one question that's been bugging me.

I know you are supposed to double space the actual manuscript, but when you include the first 5 pages in an email, should you copy & paste the first 5 pages double spaced? Or single spaced?

That seems like it would make a big difference since you might accidentally send the agent double (or half) the amount they want to read.

Thanks! :)

Deineira said...

Hi Nathan,

This is a great format, but I have a question. I've been using a book called "Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript," a Writers Digest book, to format my query letters, and it says there that for email queries, you do need the agent's address and information at the top. This doesn't entirely make sense to me, but I just want to know if including the agent's address and such in an email query is one of those "Oops" factors that agents notice right off the bat, or if it's a kind of subjective sort of thing.

Thanks!
Deineira

Samm said...

Helpful piece of information. But how do you write a query/synopsis for a trilogy? What are the standard requirements? What about a book series?

Anika DeMarco said...

Hi there!
You made a post about Re-querys awhile back, and I am wondering how do you format those? What if the query was invited by the agent? What if it wasn't?
Thank you so much for dedicating yourself to helping writers!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nathan!

Your great! I no this advise will help me be the best selling I know I will be!

It won't bee long before you all know what my name is!

:)

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, Nathan, do you have anything against introductory first chapters?

DTA said...

Mr. Bransford,

As a general rule, should you include page numbers/headers with email queries? Thanks for your time.

Jose said...

Mr. Bransford your information has been very helpful.

Jose said...

I was ready to send you my Query letter but there is much more. To me it was like writing a short business letter showing my product. Reading the info you have here has made me stop and fix the Query.
Thank you again.

Gabriel said...

Thank you for this simple yet precise guideline for queries, Nathan. It's extremely helpful to find advice like this. Just a few questions: Do you want/accept a small bio of the query-sender? If so, where should we include it? Will your answer ever depend on age? I know that young writers are pounced upon more quickly these days by literary agents....Most likely boosted because of "Eragon".

Michael Roland said...

Thanks. Very helpful. Just get to the point without annoying distractions, no?

xeeran said...

Everyone says it's a business letter, therefore, wouldn't it be more professional to include the business you are querying in the format?I continue to be impressed with your practical generosity.business letter

Nathan Bransford said...

xeeran-

If it's an actual letter on paper then perhaps, but for e-mailed queries it's not necessary.

Tiffany said...

Hi Nathan,

fisrt of all, thanks for the advises because I literally hate querys! I have a big project, a saga, and it's so hard to resume it in just one paragraph and at the same time exxplain the first book!
Regardless that point I have a question, if I have a blog ( not very popular) about 80 followers with comments about my book, do you think this wise to insert it on my query?

PS: English is not my native toungue, and the book will be in spanish... just in case

Thx for your time!

Rhonda L. Osborn said...

Hey Nathan,

That was a great and job well done, you're the man. I just added the format on my email. Your post has been very helpful to me. Thanks

Rhonda

Joshua said...

Great post, Nathan.

I have only one problem with the loss of formatting for my eQuery (and I know it is not acceptable to attach when Querying which would make my life much easier...):

I have just finished my manuscript that is in the Speculative Fiction genre.. which means it has its own world, own races, and own languages. The languages are very clean and uniform looking--no wildly accented words that look like gibberish (though I suppose to a non-fantasy reader they might be). For my languages, I've had to create my own font (YIKES!). All proper names are in the created language (and actually mean something as traditional names do, like Nathan is Hebrew for "God has given"). So here is my question, and I apologize for the long lead in to it: Should I type out the names without the accents, or should I forgo eQuerying altogether and use snail mail so that the agent will get an idea of the language?

Thanks,
Joshua

Bradley Adams said...

Hi Nathan,

This was the same set up I used, I got it from a friend of mine and he said he got set up on query letter here. Such a huge help to everybody..

Terry Merritt said...

Good to hear that there are only Less than 25% are formatted. This is such a great new learning on how to format a query letter.

Thanks Nathan

Pamela Dickerson said...

Excellent post Nathan,I have lately realized is always to established your own client to make use of basic textual content rather than html.

Sherry Molina said...

Simple format but very essential knowledge that should be keep in mind. Thank you for posting it here..

Melinda Brasher said...

You have no idea how frustrating it was not to find this information anywhere, until I found your site. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

H.T. Sundance said...

This is great info, but the comment about not worrying about how your manuscript is formatted is odd information. Publishers want your manuscript to be formatted correctly almost as much as they want a clean query letter.

Nathan Bransford said...

ht sundance-

I just mean the five pages that are pasted into the body of a query letter.

H.T. Sundance said...

So the format of the "sample" of the manuscript within your query letter does not matter. Is that what you're saying? That just seems a bit odd.

Nathan Bransford said...

Yep, that's what I'm saying. Realistically no matter how you format it it's going to appear differently in various e-mail clients. So don't sweat that part too much. Do sweat how it's formatted when you send the actual manuscript to the agent.

H.T. Sundance said...

Thanks for the info.

C.K. Garner said...

Hi Nathan,
Thanks for giving so much of your time to all of us! I just sent off my first query letter, manuscript duly copied and pasted into the emailed submission, as per targeted publisher request. Realizing that I had no guide for format or what to type in the subject bar, I of course, opened a page to your site, and found the information I needed in a couple of clicks. Manuscript sent, I am so grateful for the guidance I found on this site, from writing, to editing,editing, and more editing! So, lest I take up your entire column, I wnat to say again, thank you for being there to guide me on my journey form writer to author. Now the wait begins! If I'm published, great; if not, I'm framing my first rejection letter!

You're my hero.
C.K. Garner (aka, Candace Riffle)

Lisa said...

Hi Nathan,

I have been reading your posts on formatting email queries and I have a question. I typed the query in Notepad and copied/pasted the first ten pages below that from Word. Then I copied/pasted all of it from Notepad into Gmail. I sent it to my other Gmail account to make sure it was okay. I received a reply from an agent today and I noticed that there were hidden characters and some of the font color had changed from black to pink. Any idea why that would happen and do you think that came from her end? I am hoping that the email she received from me did not look like that.

I appreciate any feedback I can get.

Thanks!!!

Lisa

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

So agents don't care if the sample writing in the email isn't in manuscript format? Eg. double lined spaced, indented etc....

Please confirm.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Mr. Bransford.

I've been reading and taking notes on your posts of how to(s). I'd like to say that they are very contributing so I must thank you. What I'd like to know is that I'm a writer and I intend to publish a book in the future. The thing is, I don't live in US, I live in Asia; Malaysia to be exact. If I want to send a query letter to an agent in the US, should I note of my country or just put the address anyways? I have thought of sending a query letter to a literary agent in my country instead, but I'd like to think that there's a chance that I could be published internationally. Could you give any advice for me in this matter? Thank you.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Yeah, I'd just briefly mention it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for taking so much time to help everyone.

I have what seems like an obvious question, but I cannot find out for sure. When you (and others) say to include the first five pages of your manuscript, does this mean five pages in a word processing program or what you think would be the first five pages in published-novel form? Single or double spaced? Basically, how many words do you want to see in these five pages?

Thank you!

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Word processing format in manuscript format (ie doublespaced)

Katie said...

Thank you for this post - exactly what I needed!

linda randall said...

learning to write a query, found your post! looks easy.. I'm sweating now as I write one :)lol

Toni said...

Thank you so much! This is really helpful.

Keith said...

Nathan thank you for the advice you give. I've completed a 72,000 word action adventure novel. When I began it two and a half years ago, I intended for it to be book one of a trilogy. I stuck to my original plan and it in fact lends itself to a serial nicely.
Where I am stuck is this first book ends by leading you into the second book as it should. But this means the first book has no end in the sense of resolution. The antagonist lives on and the protagonist keeps fighting.
Will a prospective agent ding me on the fact that the first book doesn't resolve, even though i've indicated in my query letter that this is the first of a series?

Nathan Bransford said...

Keith-

Yes, that's a problem. Your first book really needs to be able to stand alone.

Baptiste Lacasee said...

The most important thing throughout querying a great agent/editor is always to local plumber. Ensure that they will agree to your current variety. Cause them to acknowledging queries. Verify their website intended for submission guidelines and find out as long as they have a very weblog accessible to tell you somewhat more with regards to their preferences. Researching your current target audience is important for your sale made involving any kind of book knowing that goes for offering this to help agents/editors also. life coach

Dayan said...

I will add that some mail clients can mess with line spacing. It is thus a good idea to set your client to use plain text. Thanks Nathan

Anonymous said...

Nathan-

Thanks for the informative post. I have a quick question that I didn't find addressed in the comment section (unless I missed it).

My query includes four words that are italicized for emphasis (the first three are part of a short sentence that appear in the opening, whereas the fourth appears towards the end). My question: Is this something that would be off-putting to an agent?

I realize this might seem like a silly question, but I don't want to jeopardize my letter might not getting read because the agent thinks I'm being gimmicky. Thanks in advance!

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Don't overthink it!

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