In the old days writers could send out their queries and fantasize for weeks about acceptance before getting that crumpled little self-addressed envelope with its bad news back in the mail.
Nowadays, thanks to email, we can be zapped with rejection in a matter of minutes!
Nevertheless, email queries are a boon to writer and agent. They save time, paper and postage. Not to mention unproductive fantasizing.
Much email writing breeds carelessness in most of us so it’s a good idea to pay special attention to any email we direct to a literary agent.
Here are some guidelines.
Subject line: Put something meaningful in the subject line. For example, a meaningful subject line for a query about a novel called It Was A Dark and Stormy Night would be
Query: It Was A Dark and Stormy Night.
Contact information: The usual place in an email for contact information is at the end, after your name. However, in this case it’s a probably a good idea to let the agent know immediately whose query is unscrolling before him. Just put the same contact information at the top left of the email that you have after your name at the bottom.
Greeting: Use the same salutation you would in a letter. Do your homework. Address your query to an individual, not an agency. Find out if the honorific is Mr. or Ms.
Avoid Email Speak: Don’t pepper your query with abbreviations like BTW or LOL. Think “business letter.” Write the email as if you were going to mail it the old-fashioned way.
Formatting: Keep your email query brief. Avoid long screeds of words. Break it up into short word groupings. I hesitate to say “paragraphs.” In web writing proper paragraphing is not always an option when the goal is to present easy-to-read clumps of words. And above all, DON’T WRITE IN ALL CAPS!
Correct spelling and usasge: Most emails are composed on the fly. We open Compose, dash off our message and hit Send. That’s not the way to handle an email query. A single misspelling or misused pronoun can shoot you down with the agent. Write your query in a word processor. Use the spell checker. Run it out and scrutinize the hard copy. When your query is error-free, then and only then paste it into the email and hit Send.
Tone and Style: Be businesslike. You can be cordial without being chummy. Don’t try to crack a joke. Jokes have a way of coming out all wrong in an email. And as for emoticons. Puhleez! 🙂
Attachments: Unless the agent has asked for an attachment, don’t send one. Most people, not just literary agents, maintain a strict policy of not opening attachments from strangers.
Links: Given the tiny bit of space allowed by an email to present ourselves, it’s tempting to want to include links to sites that tell more about us or showcase our writing. It’s probably not a good idea. All the agent wants in this first approach is the gist of your proposal and an idea of your professional credentials. By all means, place a link to your professional website after your name at the end of the email, but don’t pepper the body of the email with links.
The OWL at Purdue offers general guidelines at Email Etiquette.
Business managers who would like to draft an email policy guide for their employees will find 32 rules of email etiquette at a site called Emailreplies.com.