How to Clean Up Your Formatting in a Query

Have you ever received an e-mail from someone that had text cut and paste into it, and the text was all garbled? Maybe apostrophes were now like 18 symbols long? Or m-dashes looked like a firework exploded in the e-mail? That’s the danger of cutting and pasting different fonts into an e-mail you send. I remember just last year I received a query that looked like this:


Dear Mr. Sambuchino:

I have a great idea for the Guide to Literary Agents that I wanted to share just with you.



You can see the problem here. It’s obvious they cut and paste a previous query into their e-mail to me, then changed some details, but the new changes came through with funky formatting. This is the exact stuff you want to avoid when querying agents.

The solution is tedious, but here’s what I recommend. (By the way, if you have a different way you want to share, simply do so in the comments.)



Just write it. This will likely happen in a Microsoft Word doc. Right now, it doesn’t matter. Write all of itfrom “Dear (Agent)” to “Sincerely, Chuck.”


These programs are designed to “wipe” all formatting out of your text. For example, if you put text in under 1,000 different fonts, NotePad wipes all that text out. It equalizes everythingso the text is now “clean” for you. By the way, if you use TextEdit for Mac, go under “Format” in the toolbar and make sure you choose “Make Plain Text.”


That’s right: Open a new e-mail for every agent query. (I would not “reply” to an e-mail and then query.) Then cut and paste the entire query in from TextEdit or Notepad. The query will come through in universal, “clean” font. BUTsince you’ve made it totally clean, you will have to go back through and italicize and bold what you want. You will also have to manually push the date right, etc. It’s tedious, but worth it. As long as you edit only within the text and don’t cut and paste more material in from elsewhere, you query will be the same font and come through looking fine.


Self-explanatory. If you’re still nervous, perhaps you could test it by sending emails to a few friends or other e-mail accounts.

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11 thoughts on “How to Clean Up Your Formatting in a Query

  1. Kristin Laughtin

    "Send and become a famous author." <– I love it! If only it were that simple.

    But yes, this is very good advice. I get emails with wonky formatting like your example all the time at work, and it’s very jarring. I notice the formatting more than the content, and that’s not something you want to happen with your query letter!

  2. ali

    Of course now I’m worrying over all the queries I’ve sent, lol. I thought they *looked* okay but … oy! Thanks Chuck 😉

    And as a new Mac user, I appreciated the tutorial ~ I wasn’t positive that Text-Edit would clean the text up like Notepad does. Thanks! (this time for real, lol)

  3. S. Kyle Davis

    If you use Google Chrome, you can press CTRL + SHIFT + V to paste rather than the traditional method. This will do a formatting-less paste, which accomplishes the same thing as using notepad, but making it easier. Also, if you use gmail, you can press the "Tx" button, which will remove ALL formatting.


  4. Natalie Aguirre

    Thanks for the advice. I read on another blog that the way you suggested will solve the problem of the e-mail looking unprofessional. After all the time we spend on the query, it’s a waste to send it looking like a mess. Thanks.

  5. Linda Adams

    That’s an awfully roundabout method for something so simple. When I submit to agents, I routinely paste their names and addresses into the letter to ensure that I get all the information correct. All I do is open the query in Word and choose Edit>Paste Special. From the Paste Special menu, select Unformatted Text.

  6. John McDuffie

    I preach the value of a good query letter all the time. Copying and pasting is never a good idea. It leaves you wide open to pasting information you don’t want such as another editors name, especially if you are in a hurry. A query letter that works should be formatted this way:


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