Monday, June 1, 2009

E-Query Etiquette

Once upon a time, in a galaxy much like this one, a writer's tools were quill and ink pot. I won't bore you with the evolution of writing implements, but let's face it - we have it pretty easy in the 21st century. Ergonomic keyboards and mice (or "mouses" but dang, that just sounds wrong), the ability to communicate with anyone at any time of day and a vast universe of information at our fingertips make us a pretty spoiled lot.

One of the latest and greatest conveniences for writers is the ability to communicate with editors and agents via e-mail. I know policies vary from house to house and even person to person, but it is becoming more common to e-query - which brings up a multitude of questions. What exactly is e-query etiquette?

E-mail, at least for me, has always been a very informal, fun way to communicate with friends. I liken it to sending a postcard with jargon like lol, rotflmao, OMG - kwim? My most recent e-query left me a little stumped. I followed this agent on Twitter and also read her blog, but I didn't feel comfortable making reference to either because I just couldn't fit it in the query without feeling a bit stalkerish. And yet, the very nature of e-mail BEGGED me to be informal. Why couldn't I tell her I highly recommended a pair of yoga pants from the website she Tweeted about? Wouldn't that be a cute, fun way to differentiate myself from the virtual slush pile? Honestly, I'm not sure.

Ultimately, I decided against being cute or informal and wrote the query as if I were sending it the old fashioned snail mail way. I did make reference to the agent's website and why I thought my manuscript would be of interest, but I kept my mouth shut about the yoga pants*. No matter how may times my hippie dippy right brain said "go for it Dudette".

I think one of the traps we can easily fall into in this information age, is that all of this "Right now I'm getting a bikini wax - YEOWCH" Twittering can make it feel okay to jump into the party. Knowing what a person has had for lunch or how they spent their weekend lends a false sense of familiarity. The truth is, until a contract is signed or a manuscript is sold, you are selling yourself as a prospective client, not befriending someone.

When it doubt, be professional. jmho.

So how do you handle e-queries? Is it ever okay to be informal?

*(btw...the pants are reeeeaaaally comfy, great fabric, cute pattern and don't show even a crescent of moon in Down Dog!!)


  1. I am ALWAYS formal - like writing a regular, real letter. I am a professional, I'm going to present myself as a professional.

    But I'm like that when emailing in general. I write in full sentences, use punctuation, proper grammar, and capitalization. (I do this when texting too, which my children find ridiculous). I don't know what the abbreviations all mean, and I don't know how to make those sideways smiley faces.

    I don't Twitter, I don't read Twitter, I could care less what people (strangers no less) are doing every second of the day.

    Maybe I'm old fashioned...that I doubt because I do appreciate and use the new technology - just some of it seems a bit ridiculous.

  2. Like Meg, I'm always formal. I don't know these people, they don't know me. I am introducing myself. I wouldn't walk up to someone important and say something like, "Yo, dude, waz up! It's like my total pleasure to introduce myself to you."

    I don't twitter either. I don't need or want to know what other people are doing all day long, nor do they know what I'm doing.

  3. My query is as formal in email as it is in snail mail. I write it in Word and paste it into email, so I don't feel a difference.

    I have, though, occasionally included references gleaned from reading agents blogs. But I always keep it about the work.

  4. I agree that e-queries should read like paper ones.

    But I long is it before...someone tweets about their manuscript...the tweet is read by an agent...the agent contacts the twitterer (tweeter?)...and the book winds up agented, sold, and on the NYTimes best-seller list?

    This could already be in the works...IMHO...OMG...TTFN...


  5. I always err on the side of "just be professional" but the agent I queried has a real fun chick-lit vibe and I wondered if it would have been okay to make mention or not. As I said, I'm glad I didn't, I bet I would have had writers remorse after I sent it! (I did get a partial request, so I must have done something right.)

    In defense of Twitter - I'm not sure of its relevance in helping you get published, but there's a plethora of information that can be gleaned by following publishers, authors, etc. And I really, truly do like to know what Neil Gaiman is up to minute to minute. Like the time he went out to pick vegetables from his garden for breakfast...sigh.

  6. ALWAYS formal in an equery. It's a business letter. Just because you move to email doesn't make it less of a business letter.

    That said, some conventions change (i.e. format of the letter).

    I disagree with Meg on Twitter--although some of it is fluff, I do think that it can be a powerful networking tool--which sounds like hogwash, but it's an easy way to get a direct, informal response to a question from an agent to an editor.

    I recently blogged about #askagent on Twitter, which was pretty helpful.

  7. I love being able to email a query. It is so much easier than putting together a whole package in the mail. But because it's easy it can be dangerous. Too easy to do something impetuous. I agree that keeping it formal is the right way to go.

  8. Brianna, that's exactly what I meant - it's too easy! Somehow when I take my time printing everything and then head out to the post office, it seems more formal & important than dashing off a few quick sentences and hitting "send" - although That isn't what I did either. Confession, it took me a few days to get the wording of my query to where I was satisfied with it. And then I had a fairly simple aha moment...if I really wanted to say something about the yoga pants, I just should have twittered about it...D'oh!

    Beth - I agree with you about Twitter, I've found it to be a great source of information (other than what an author is eating for breakfast, lol)It takes a little getting used to but it's fun way to find out some very useful (and not so useful)info.

  9. I always prefer FORMAL until I get to know them really well. The only exception is when I met a local agent at a conference and then sent an email query with references to Jimmy Buffett, a local magnet school my daughter attends and vacations to Disney World. We'd discussed this during happy hour at the conference, but, alas, still a rejection!

  10. I never queried an agent unless they were equery. cant be bothered with snail mail. plus its greener :)