Emailing a Literary Agent

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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.

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11 thoughts on “Emailing a Literary Agent”

  1. Was “Fomatting:” spelled correctly? I thought format had an “r” in it.

    And under formatting – does it matter if you attach an MS Word document, or should it be straight and simple, unformatted (no bold, no underline, no italics, no font specified) plain text?

    And should I avoid parentheses?


  2. Brad K,
    Thanks for catching the misspelled word. The dropped r is a typo.

    As for attachments, don’t send an attachment unless the agent or publisher asks for it. Anything you want read needs to be copied and pasted into the email.

    If you are asked to send an attachment, it can be a regularly formatted Word document. What I do when I submit to my writing group is send two files: one a Word document and the other an RTF.

  3. Your article ‘Emailing a Literary Agent’ is really a good approach where you explained a long lesson story in a short way.

    Please also suggest if we could not guess the “Mr.” or “Ms” through given name, what salutation we should use in this case?

    Regarding correct spellings you can do all this Outlook express itself instead of using word process separately.

    For this purpose we click Tools at menu bar of Outlook Express and select option “spelling” and check at “always check spelling before sending” under option “setting”. In this way our email will be sent after proper spell check.


  4. In regarding to ‘Find out if the honorific is Mr. or Ms.’:

    What if the person’s first name isn’t gender-specific? I’ve seen several names that could have been either male or female; some made more confusing by a middle name that didn’t gender-match the first name.

  5. I noticed you didn’t capitalize “Web,” nor did you hyphenate e-mail. My AP stylebook does both of those things. It also capitalizes Internet. What say you?

  6. Maeve, this was a great piece of advice. I have recently been sending out queries by email to literary agents and thankfully I had used most of the advice given here, although I think I stuck an emoticon in one of them :lol:, thanks again.

  7. Dear Editor

    I am seeking representation for my creation entitled “Agilia – Mother of all sins”. It is a philosophy converted into fiction, as well creating shortcut of story telling. I have designed this creation to uproot the basis of terrorism by entertaining the readership without disgracing their belief and religious view.

    My creation is based on conversations of our one almighty God with Nature, pointing out our attitude leading us on path to peace or terror. Two other acting characters are representing the ideology of good and evil. The leading character “Agilia” is an embodiment of all the sins that always forced the human being to innovate a subject for peace and humanity. Unfortunately now she is potential enough to seduce that innovative power for our unnatural end.

    Ideology of this creation is meant to unify all the God teachings in one idea, following the history of all the leading religions of the world. In Fact, existence of our almighty God enthralls our mind and spirit by its teachings for peace and humanity. Unfortunately some mankind worshiping only to fulfill their own span less desires, have separated the meanings of our God teachings to provide a base for terrorism. Separation of our one almighty God had already separated and disgraced our belief to force us in mazes of fanaticism. Today, according to the need of this current period, unification of our entire almighty one God in one frame, is essential for the world community willing to uproot the basis of terrorism. Seems as an impossible task, but possible in a simple way.

    Mr. Richard Fitt (editor- authorsonline.co.uk) is the editor and publisher of this book. I am seeking an agent to handle this subject meant to uproot the basis of terrorism in professional way. In fact, only lethal weapons are not enough on war against terrorism. Grace of literature is must needed for the world community, to encounter the views of literature appreciated by fanaticism.

    Thank you for taking the time to review my request; I would be honored, if you would consider reviewing my creation to handle the market world wide.


    Ajay Singh

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