E-Queries...Miss Snark Calls in Reinforcements

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm a long time Snarkling with a tendency to lurk. (I almost commented once but KY caught my scent as I peeped over the fence and chased me away with one sharp--well, there's no other way to say it--killer yapp.)

Pride (and doggie treats) in hand, I approach again, this time with much fear and trepidation, etc., etc. to ask a nitwit category question about one of your VERY favorite subjects: e-queries.

I'm in the midst of the query process and have saved the e-query only agentsfor last. I verified that your recommendation was that we include pages, even in e-queries, and I was wondering if you could tell us what formatting you've seen work well for this. Most e-query agents DO NOT wantattachments, and I'm a little uncertain how to throw the pages in the email without making them look ridiculous (and I do realize that e-mail programsalso do a number on formatting.) Any advice? Before you say it, I know I'm getting caught up in the details (I know, I know!), but from everything you've said about e-queries being so easy to ignore I don't want to do something annoying and lose the 6 seconds of attention I may get from the agent.

Well, as we all know, Miss Snark writes only with a quill pen, on foolscap and delivers her rejection notes via footman, so all e-query folderol needs to be handled by someone who actually Knows Her Stuff. Agent Knows Her Stuff is in Denver and people there call her Kristin Nelson. She's been kind enough to pop in and answer this for us all.

Kristin writes:

Because Miss Snark doesn't accept e-queries and I do, she kindly asked me to guest blog and see if I could answer your equery questions.

First off, I have to say I have no idea why you would save the equery-only agents for last. There are so many good agents who accept them now and it doesn't cost a cent to send, why in the world would you wait? Most equery agents will also respond within a week or two. Sure beats waiting for Bob the Postman to haul his cookies to your door every afternoon.

Of course, there are some agents who don't respond at all but don't let them give equery-only agents a bad name.

I congratulate you on knowing that equery agents don't want attachments. We won't open them so you will want to post the first 5- 10 pages of your manuscript in the body of the email (if that is requested). I suggest only the first 5 pages or so. Any more than that is often overwhelming to look at in email form and to be honest, most agents make a quick assessment of whether the work is right for them (even by snail mail) within the first five to ten pages.

I personally just prefer a query letter; however, if the writer also includes around 5 sample pages, I will give it a look if the query letter itself is of interest to me. If the query letter doesn't grab me, I won't bother reading manuscript pages even if they are included.

As for the formatting issue, I'm not a computer expert (and I'm hoping some more computer-savvy Snarklings will jump in on the comments section to help out), so I actually don't know why the formatting gets messed up when sending. I have noticed that some of the big email providers such as AOL or EarthLink tend to be the biggest culprits for format issues. Maybe there is an issue in cutting and pasting from Microsoft Word into their email-writing
program? You might try formatting those sample pages in a txt file? Honestly, I wish I knew.

I do know that you can do a test run first. Email a copy of your query letter to your friends who have a variety of email programs (some who use Outlook, something else, AOL etc.) and see how the end product turns out. Then you can fiddle with it.

I will still read the email queries with strange formatting, but I won't tackle the sample pages.
That's just too hard.
Kristin Nelson


Chrysoula said...

Text formatting can be messed up in email because of line-wrap. Basically, when you cut-and-paste, you cut-and-paste formatting as well as text. The formatting says, "No! I am an 80 character-long-line and I insist you read me as such!" and sticks a carriage return at the end of 80 characters.

The best thing to do is to paste the text into the simplest text editor you can find, make sure all the line wraps are removed (easiest way to do that is by dragging around the size of the window: you want the characters-per-line to shrink and increase as the window does) and then paste again into email client.

I don't know about the professional-query-readers, but I also find paragraph-indents awful in email. I'd much rather read paragraphs separated by a blank line (as is standard in most webpages). That's another thing you can fix when you clean up the line-wrap.

Anonymous said...

Drat! Here I am, trying to watch my nickels and dimes and Miss Snark guest-agents an agent whose agency agents books I NOW MUST READ. Drat! {Little voice: Psst. Buy the book.} Drat!

Dave Kuzminski said...

With 25 years of programming experience, I can give you only a partial answer on why there are so many problems with email and formats. Each case may be different, so you have to look at it carefully to find out if there's anything that can be done about it.

First off, some people write offline using Word or some other program. Some of those have a feature called Smart Quotes or a similar title. Problem is, that special feature was designed for printouts directly from that program. Thus, if you cut or copy and paste from that program with the feature turned on, the email program tries to substitute an equivalent meaning for everything in your text. However, it may not have anything compatible with that feature, so it assigns the background code for the feature in its place producing those awful hideous emails that are difficult to read. This is the most frequent cause and can be best prevented by turning off the Smart Quotes feature before you write anything.

Another problem is caused when the writer uses an unusual font that's not available on the recipient's machine. Therefore, the recipient's machine tries to perform a substitution and not all fonts contain all the printable characters. In such cases, there may be some symbols inserted to represent the characters that the recipient's font doesn't include or use. This will happen when trying to special accented characters.

There are other causes, but those are considerably rarer and almost impossible to do anything about in most cases. These would be caused by spikes and brownouts in the signal in which case the message will either be cut off in the middle or garbled briefly if the system succeeded in recovering enough to finish transmitting the message.

Anonymous said...

ATT Worldnet email will also screw up line spacing on a few random paragraphs and there are no controls to fix that glitch. I expect anyone requesting emailed text is savvy enough to realize that this stuff happens and won't hold it against the sender?

Anonymous said...

Since I'm an adherent to the KISS principle (Keep it simple), my inclination would be to format the e-query something like this:

E-Query Letter

n sample pages follow the dashes.


3-5 Sample pages


This generates my own question. Would a link to my web site I've created that includes an excerpt (in my case it's the first chapter, but could be a partial) be an equally acceptable way to go?


Stephen D. Rogers said...

Yes, save the file as a DOS text file if possible, a plain text file if not. Copy and paste from Word to email often includes all sorts of little nasties.


Anonymous said...

I always e-mail things to myself first if I want them to look their best. I have 2 accounts, business and home. If I want to see how a mail looks I just bounce it between them. If I see problems, I fix them.

Even if you don't have a business e-mail, you can easily get a free account from yahoo or, my personal favorite, gmail!

Seeing what the agent will see before the agent sees it is a great stress reliever!

MTZ said...

The simple solution is to save as plain text and then open that file in NotePad or equivalent. Then copy and paste from there. No weird stuff that way.

What causes the weird stuff? All word processors do not use the same codes. Very few seem to use the codes that email recognizes. The numbers that show up unwanted come from this. New line is one of the not consistent symbols and can result in a message all smushed together with no line breaks.

email can be html, similar to the way a web-page is done, or plain text. (AOL email tends to force the html whether you want it or not.) If the recipiant has her email set to receive only plain text and the sender used the html version, without even realizing it, then the html codes, beginning with the less than sign (like a left pointing arrow head) and ending with the greater than sign.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I do:

I create a new Word document with the query letter and whatever sample pages I'm sending the agent. I don't format anything--no italics, no curly quotes, no tabs, no m-dashes, etc. I single-space everything, double-space between paragraphs (even the ms pages). Then I copy and paste it into the body of my outgoing email message.

In the reply emails I've received from agents, my original message looks fine--no funky symbols or line breaks. So this method seems to be working okay.

Hope this helps!

Brady Westwater said...

It is best to type within the e-mail rather than cutting and pasting. But if you do cut and past - it is dashes and quotes that seem to get screwed up the most; so if you do cut and paste - just delete them and retype just them.

And if you do send friends your e-mails first, you should see what else might get garbled.

Anonymous said...

I have tried it a couple of different ways and the method that seems to work the best is to format the text in HTML format using basic TABLE (declare width, for sure) tag elements.

Try this: write the letter, make it pretty, then create a local webpage for it, then copy and paste it from the browser into the email program (in my case Outlook Express). I tested the output in these readers: Yahoo!, Outlook, AOL, Roadrunner's web dialogue, and Outlook Express. The resulting email looked exactly as same as it had before I sent it in all cases. Yay!

It seems that most email programs now default to accepting HTML formatted mail. I did ~not~ test it with a plain text reader -- in that event I am hopeful that the html-tag elements will be stripped with a readable result.

Anonymous said...

Try saving your document as an.rtf file. Then close your document, reopen, cut and paste into the email. Truth be told, if the query letter is good enough, I'd have my assistant copy and paste it back into a document, format it, and then give it to me anyway.

Stephen said...

It seems that most email programs now default to accepting HTML formatted mail. I did ~not~ test it with a plain text reader -- in that event I am hopeful that the html-tag elements will be stripped with a readable result.

HTML may be the default setting, but any Agency with a security conscious sysadmin is likely to switch to plaintext, and that may screw up HTML formatting.

Sending a test e-mail to a friend is a good check, but less reliable if you both use the same ISP and/or mail tool. This is doubly true when Outlook Express and AOL are involved (they both tend to be a bit cavalier about internet standards, but know their own children). If you know somebody who has the same ISP as your target agent then you are on safer ground.

Many mail tools allow you to paste without formatting (OE may offer "Paste Special" with "unformatted text" as an option). This will avoid many nasties, but not the so-called "smart" quotes problem (turn them off before you start) or the funny dashes (check carefully in your e-mail).

NL Gassert said...

I groan when I come across an agent who requests snail mail only. I lived fine without a printer until I started querying. And as Kristin mentioned, e-query replies come in much faster.

When I include sample pages, I clear all formatting. No italics, no indents, no nothing. I single space paragraphs and double space between paragraphs. Because I’m anal, I also add a disclaimer that reads “traditional manuscript formatting changed for easier online viewing.”

I only include sample pages if submission guidelines specifically mention sample pages. Otherwise I keep e-queries under 250 words.

With my personal information – name, e-mail address, etc. – I also include a link to my website, which I set up specifically with agents or publishers in mind: complete with chapter excerpts (first 3 chapters) and a copy of my query letter. But I would NOT ask an agent to follow the link in lieu of including sample pages.

Eileen said...

Another piece of advice- as email is so quick and easy to send, so are mistakes. I would print off your query first and do a double check before sending. Nothing worse than hitting send and then noticing an error.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I ne er have fo mating prob ms. I'm s ha y I use yah e ail.

heidi said...

anon-y-mouse asks,

Would a link to my web site I've created that includes an excerpt (in my case it's the first chapter, but could be a partial) be an equally acceptable way to go?

My belief is no, for several reasons:

1. It is an extra step to click on a link and read a web page. Agents don't like extra work. They've got lots to do.

2. Not everyone reads their email while connected to the internet. I know several people who read off-line, to avoid the temptation of the Internet. Also, if someone is on dialup, they may connect long enough to download email, then log off, to work off-line. I used to do that to keep the one-and-only phone line in the house free.

3. There is the nebulous issue of using rights. Now, while it's generally safe to stick a single chapter of a novel online, do keep in mind that you are posting it on a public forum (the world wide web). An agent may have issue with this.

verification: kiddy dove

Anonymous said...

Pasting the sample pages onto the query letter is an interesting problem. I experimented with it based on the different solutions posted here and this is what I found works the best.

• I copied and pasted the first 1000± words into note pad (word wrap off) and added the extra line feeds between paragraphs.

• I had one line which was italicized, so I put an underscore before and after the line to indicate italics.

• I opened a blank email from outlook express and took the html formatting off.

• I put a couple of lines of nonsense text in the email and then pasted the contents of notepad below.

• I emailed that to my Gmail account.

Results: Fairly good, easy to read and the lines wrapped almost correctly. Gmail sometimes broke words if they were possessives either before or after the apostrophe, depending on the line length. So it's not perfect, but may be the best that can be done if the agency doesn't accept html.


SAND STORM said...

I only e-query, refusing to use snail mail was a choice of local, of course you will have a devil of a time getting your blood, sweat and tears to resonate. Where as in Miss Snark's case she simply pours them out of the envelope:)