How To Format Your Query in 5 Easy Steps

stock.xchng.1280072If you follow these tips not only will you avoid the spam filter (which is triggered by strange fonts), but you will make it easy to read and fast to consume.

How To Format Your Query in 5 Easy Steps:

  1. Always use the default settings: remember no italics, bold, or colours.
  2. Capitalize your book title. That way it stands out without having to bold or italicize it and it’s transferrable across all email platforms without confusion.
  3. Keep your query to one page on the screen. That way we don’t have to scroll and it’s easy to consume speedily.
  4. Use a three paragraph format. Paragraph 1: Title, Word Count, Genre, Hook; Paragraph 2: Pitch that reads like back cover copy, not a synopsis; Paragraph 3: Your author bio, it’s okay to call yourself a debut here.
  5. Include a signature with your contact information, website, and social media.

And a few ways not to format your query:

  • When emailing a query don’t include the date, your address or the agency address in the top left corner. It takes up too much valuable space.
  • Don’t start with a quote from your book.
  • Avoid writing your query in the voice and point of view of your characters.

That’s it! Good luck!

Q: What are your big query format worries?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

49 thoughts on “How To Format Your Query in 5 Easy Steps

  1. Thank you for the clarifications. I’ve been addressing my queries in formal business letter style in the belief that it shows I’ve done my research related to the agency or publishing house and wisely tailored and targeted my query (ah, the rationales we make up in our heads!). I routinely do this with magazine article submissions, mostly because it’s simple to locate my payment address. But when it comes to my novel, I’m coming across as a Katie Gibbs throwback. :) I’ve also muddled my query by injecting synopsis rather than sharpening hook and pitch. Oh, and I included in my author bio graph links to my published work. I suppose that really sets off the spam filter alarm bells? Off to a writing conference next week in which I’ll be able to practice my elevator pitch. Working on the rest of it, too, with gratitude to the lit agent-bloggers like you who offer such useful tips!


  2. Thank you for having a such selfless willingness to always be so open and honest, giving such helpful tips about the ins and outs of an industry that so many of us hopeful writers try to break into everyday without success do to fear stemmimng from either lack of knowlegde or the fear of the unexpected..


  3. Thanks for the helpful info!

    I’ve read before that we should include something in our query that shows that we’re familiar with the agency, like a “In reviewing your website, I noticed that you were looking for dystopian fairy tales…” sort of line. Is that something you look for in a query? It doesn’t seem like it would fit into your three paragraph recommendation well so it has me wondering if I’m not including useless info! :)

    Also, since you were pointing out that we need to make these easy on the eyes, are there any recommendations on how we should copy/paste our excerpts or requested chapters into the query email?


    1. Yes that’s very helpful. If you can say how you found us, or that you read a client’s book–that’s good.

      I don’t ask for text pasted in the body of the email often, only with contests. And it’s for that reason. It’s so easy to get messy.

      The best thing to do is email it to yourself first in a couple different platforms (outlook, hotmail, gmail etc).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. hello
    I don’t understand it all… Do you just present things like this :

    Tittle: “Happy time”
    Page count: 12 double pages
    Genre: fiction picture book

    what about the hook…

    if we have something that follows like the back cover copy, isn’t it the same thing ?
    Because when i write a back cover copy, I do my best to hook the reader ! :)

    Thank you for your help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You present it like this:

      Today I’m presenting HAPPY TIME a 12-page picture book. It’s X meets Y with a ADJECTIVE HERE young girl who BLAH BLAH BLAH…

      Does that make sense?


  5. Great Advice and you delivered it in a way that will easily stick in my mind :-) thanks! I do have one main worry, “How Do I explain in paragraph 3 that I have no writing experience?” I’m currently working on revision process #1 of my first book. I have no other writing experience. I do maintain a blog that I post content to 3 times a week and social media sites that are dedicated to keeping in contact with the writing world. I would love your input on this.


    1. It’s okay to call yourself a debut.

      If you’ve gone to conferences say so. If you’ve been in writing contests you can say so.

      It isn’t a deal breaker if you have nothing there.

      You can say (and this is entirely preferable to making things up/exaggerating) :

      Author Darla Denton lives in CITY, STATE. This is her debut novel.


    1. If you are querying with a book that is already self published you need to let us know at the top of the query the # of copies sold and it should be over 10k. We are really only interesting in bestselling self published titles.

      If you have previously self published, but are querying with a NEW book. Then let us know in the author bio the title of the book and if it has sold well also let us know that.


  6. I have another question… :)
    Most of my books have been published in french (canada, switzerland…) but I have One bilingual one (french and english)
    Two have been published in GB. I wondered if it was interesting to put that in about 3 years the two books have sold over 129 000 together. Or are those numbers just usual, and no point mentionning them ? (In france numbers are far far from that ;) )


  7. sorry, me again…
    What about the books that have been translated ? Do we mention them? or just say that some of my books have been translated in coreen, brazilian, indonesian, thailande, spanish catalan, german, chinese and soon two books in arabic.


      1. Gosh things are complecated !
        You are supposed to find an agent… that will referral you to a publisher…
        But you also need a referral to get to some agents! and who does the referral ?
        I am discovering a completly new world…
        I don’t know if I will manage it ! ;)
        Than you for giving me a glimpse to this english publishing world !


  8. Thank you for offering us a peek inside the agent’s requirements and expectations that aren’t listed on the website. Very helpful.


  9. Thanks for the info, Carly. One question – if italics alert spam filters, and we highlight our own ms in all caps, how do we present comp titles? I usually use italics for those. Thanks!


  10. Thanks, Carly, I’m going to Pin this post.

    I’ve read recently that the desirable word count is trending downward due to the skimming style of so many of today’s readers–will it hurt my query if I’m only around 79,000 words for a debut mystery/romance novel? (I know how important that first impression will be.)

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀


      1. Carly, I’m so glad to hear that. Since I’m only finishing up my first round of editing, I can manage that. It turns out I’m more of a darling killer than I had expected myself to be. ❀


  11. Thank you for this. I learned a valuable fact about inserting they this is our debut book. Never thought to do that. Thanks so much again! I write picture books and mg. There are some agents who rep both, but not that many. Should a writer query two agents in this situation? Thanks again!


  12. I’ve recently stumbled across your website and want to start by saying thank you for the various writer-related blog posts. So far, every one I’ve read, I’ve found answers to nagging questions, so thank you. Especially with this and 8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers… I intend to start querying in the next two weeks and wasn’t sure where to start. I am glad I read this beforehand though, because I would have thought a synopsis was required. I guess now I just need to figure out how my back cover blurb would go… :)


    1. I like it at the beginning. I like to know the facts right away. It’s a subjective process so I’m sure you’ve seen other opinions. There are no “rights” or “wrongs” so just follow guidelines as best you can.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. After sending a 50 query letters I realized huge mistakes I made.

    1- I put my book in wrong category, I called it psychological thriller (which the book is in most ways) but the category I was supposed to mention was Upmarket YA.
    2- I didn’t realize who is the protagonist of my novel. I thought, the good guy has to be protagonist and the bad guy has to be antagonist. But my whole novel revolves around the BAD GUY. He takes action at every step.

    And how did I realized this? After I received around 10 rejection letters, I went back and read your book “Getting Published in 21st Century” from cover to cover for the second time. I was halfway in the book when I clutched my head and said, “Oh man! What have I done?”

    I read your blogs again and today I am revising the Query Letter the way it was supposed to be written. I came back and read this blogpost because, I hope not to go wrong this time.

    Thanks for putting all the information in your blogs and books. They decode the complex world of Querying for a writer.


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