Traditional Publishing — Step 4: Format your query package

Before you submit your query package, you need to ensure everything is formatted correctly and professionally. (And spell-checked. Dear God, spell check!)

The Manuscript

For your query package, the manuscript needs to be in a single file saved in .doc or .docx format. Not PDF or other format.

The general requirements are:

  • 12 pt. Times New Roman or Courier font, black only
  • 1 inch margins
  • Double-spaced text
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph
  • No extra space between paragraphs
  • Cover page with title and your contact information
  • Your name/Title/Page number in the upper right corner of each page, beginning with the first page of the story
  • Begin each chapter about 1/3 of the way down the page.

Want a visual example? Check here.

You may hate the way your story looks when formatted this way. You may prefer a different font or even have the skill to make your manuscript look like a printed book.

Don’t. This is the way professionals format their manuscripts. Agents and publishers want to work with professionals.

Email queries

The vast majority of your queries will be sent via email or online form.

Only a small number of agents (or publishers) accept snail mail exclusively these days because it’s considerably cheaper, easier, and faster to work by email. Honestly, unless you really, really, really want to work with a particular person who accepts only snail mail, I would put those people at the bottom of my submission list.

  • Email subject line (unless told otherwise in the agent’s submission requirements): Query: BOOK TITLE / Category & genre
  • Start the email with Dear {Person’s Name}. Skip a line, and then begin the body of your query.
  • Your query should be single spaced.
  • Do not indent the first line of each paragraph
  • Do skip a line between paragraphs.
  • After the body of the query, skip a line, and sign “Sincerely, {Your Name}.” Put your phone number beneath your name.

Now, check your spreadsheet to see what the agent or publisher wants you to send in your query package. If the agent or publisher wants you to include pages or a synopsis, these are pasted into the email. They are NOT attachments unless specifically stated as so.

NEVER send an unsolicited attachment. NEVER.

Formatting the synopsis and pages

The synopsis and pages will be formatted much like the query — single spaced, no paragraph indent, extra line between paragraphs.

PROFESSIONAL TIP: You probably have your query, synopsis, and manuscript saved in Word or similar word-processing program. Instead of copying and pasting from your word-processing program directly into email, paste into Notepad first. Format in Notepad (and save for the next query package!), and then copy and paste from Notepad into email.

Why? Because word-processing programs have lots of back-end code that can be problematic when pasted into email. It may look great on your end but have a lot of weird characters that make it virtually unreadable on their end.

Notepad is a “plain text” program. That means it will strip away all the special characters and formatting and back-end coding. Your email will then be clean and simple and readable — exactly what agents and publishers are looking for.

Note that you will have to go back through and manually add any italics in your pages.

Online forms

Those query packages not sent by email will be sent using online forms. Query Manager is one such online form that is becoming more and more common.

Agents love Query Manager and online forms because they can specify exactly the information they want and make it required.

I, personally, hated online forms because they strip the formatting all the way to the paragraph breaks! Having to manually add back the paragraph breaks in the first fifty pages of your manuscript is a royal pain in the butt!

Printed query packages

Fortunately, printed query packages are rare. This site has a lovely breakdown of how to format your query and synopsis, what size envelopes to use, and so forth.

Time-saving tips

Now that I’ve been in the query trenches a while, I’ve developed a few tricks to make the process a bit less tedious.

  • Prepare and save plain-text versions of things most commonly requested. For example, I have:
    • My query
    • My synopsis
    • My bio — often request separate from the query
    • My one-sentence pitch (log line)
    • My first ten pages
    • My first twenty pages
    • My first fifty pages
    • My first chapter
    • My first three chapters
  • All of the queries you email will be in your sent mail. When an agent requests teh same thing a previously queried agent requested, copy and paste from the sent mail. Just update the “Dear” and the “___ is pasted below” information, and personalize as you can.
  • As mentioned, Query Manager strips the formatting all the way to the paragraph breaks. However, when you submit to Query Manager, you get a reply with a link to check status. If you scroll down on that page, there’s another link with query details. You can copy from THAT page into the next Query Manager form, and the format will transfer! Such a life-saver.
Rain in the leaves

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