These days, more and more literary agents are accepting e-mail query letters, which means that you will need to incorporate a different format than with a query letter sent through the postal mail. You should also know that all literary agents do not accept e-mail queries; make sure they are specified in the submission guidelines before sending an e-mail.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: Informative Subject Line
Some literary agents will specify what should go in the subject line of an e-mail query, while others will not. You should realize that everyone receives spam e-mails, so if your query subject line seems like it could be unsolicited advertising, the literary agent will probably delete it unread. The best subject line for an e-mail query would be: Query: Title of Your Manuscript. This tells the recipient that it is a query letter and gives him or her an idea of what your book is about.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: Contact Information
Many writers put their contact information at the bottom of an e-mail query letter, underneath their typed name. While you can also include it there, I would put it in the top left-hand corner of your e-mail for easy reference. It will annoy the literary agent if he or she has to scroll down to find the method of contact.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: Salutation
Even though e-mail is less formal than postal mail, you should still do your best to appear professional. Start your e-mail query letter with the standard Dear followed by Mr./Ms./Mrs. and the last name of the agent. Make sure that you do enough research to know whether the agent is a man or a woman.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: Length
An e-mail query letter should be even shorter than one sent by postal mail. Literary agents receive dozens (even hundreds) of e-mails each day, and you don’t want to ruin his or her schedule by providing length e-mails to read. You can still use the standard four- or five-paragraph format for fiction manuscripts (five or six for non-fiction), but your paragraphs should be considerably shorter. The more concise, the better.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: Address the Genre
Let the literary agent know that even though you are submitting your query by e-mail, you have not taken the short route on everything. Research his or her other books and make sure that your manuscript fits into the accepted genres he or she has advertised. Mention that you read on the agency’s website or in Writer’s Market that he or she is interested in romance (or whatever genre you’re manuscript is) and that you are hoping he or she will consider representing you.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: No Net-Speak
E-mail query letters are automatically less formal than queries sent through the postal mail, but don’t mark yourself as a rank amateur by using “Net-Speak” or any other informal language. LOL, TTYN and “U” for “you” have no place in an e-mail query letter.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: Format
If you are copying your e-mail query letter from another word processing program (such as MS Word), make sure that you save the document in plain text format before pasting it into your e-mail. Certain characters – such as “smart quotes” – don’t translate well into e-mail format, and the literary agent will receive a letter full of funky characters that make the e-mail difficult to read. Make sure also that you leave out any HTML code and that you you’ve typed the e-mail in black on a white background with a standard font (such as Courier).
As time goes on, e-mail queries will likely become more and more commonplace, though there are plenty of literary agents who still expect postal mail queries. At the other end of the spectrum, some agents have reverted entirely to digital correspondence and will even expect your manuscript to be submitted by e-mail.
NOTE: Literary agents will not open an attachment that hasn’t been solicited. Don’t send attachments at all unless they are requested.