We live in an instant gratification society, and few things are as instantly gratifying to the writer seeking representation than sending a submission to an agent by email. There’s something satisfying, almost seductive, about the idea of pushing a button and having your query arrive on an agent’s desktop in a matter of seconds. But precisely because it’s so quick and simple, the email submission is easy to misuse, and may not be your best option when it comes to finding representation.
Email works very fast, and your chance of getting a quick response is pretty high. Your chance of getting a rejection is pretty high, too; higher, in fact, than with a printed submission. Studies have shown that people spend less time reading an email than they do reading the same amount of text on a printed page. This assumes that your email gets seen at all. Spam filters often block legitimate messages and your submission could be one of them.
So, how do you know when to email and when not to email? First, does the agent even accept email queries? If he doesn’t, look no further; your decision’s made for you. Does he only accept emails? Ditto. But if he accepts both, you need to make sure you pick the method that will be most effective for that particular agent.
As a general rule, if an agent accepts both email and postal mail submission, I opt for the postal submission every time. However, if you’re still set on email submissions, here are a few questions to ask yourself before you send:
How web-savvy is the agent you’re submitting to? Sure he might accept emails, but does he know enough about spam filters and security settings to make sure he gets all the queries that are sent to him? Does he live on the Web, or is he just posting an email because he feels that he has to? Chances are, if he’s got a clean, well-updated website, his inbox is in similarly good shape. If he’s got a blog, it’s a slam dunk.
Is your query letter written to be read on the screen and not the page? Emails have a much higher ignore factor than a printed letter, so you need to work extra-hard to grab the agent’s attention. Your window of opportunity is even narrower than it is with the printed page. Your first paragraph has to be perfect, or at least as perfect as you can make it, and it needs leave the reader wanting to know more. Stay away from long sentences and use action words to keep the eye moving and the reader riveted.
Does the agent have specific instructions about how to submit via email? If so, always follow those requirements to the letter. They’re there to help bypass spam filters, separate submissions from all his other emails, and present your work in the way he prefers to read it. All good reasons to make sure you’re following directions.
Finally, here are some additional tips for sending your email query:
- Be sure to personalize your query for the agent you are sending it to.
- Unless the agent’s profile specifically states otherwise, be sure to put the word “Submission” or “Query” at the beginning of your email’s subject line.
- Always send to one agent at a time. Never copy multiple agents on one submission.
- If you are sending additional materials, such as a synopsis or sample pages, and the agent has no instructions listed about how to handle attachments, consider including those materials both as attachments and in the email body. This way, the agent has his choice when it comes time to read. Just be sure to let him know in your query that this is what you’re doing to avoid any confusion that might arise.
Now, get back to writing.