When aspiring writers talk about querying, they talk about the critiques they've received, and the difficulty of balancing voice with plot revelation inside of a tiny word count box. They talk about the agents they've hand-picked and, if those don't work out, they talk about papering the whole world with their query on the off chance that a hitherto unknown agent will see it and come calling.
They secretly dream of being woken by a phone call from Dream Agent #1 and overtly fear utter, desolate silence, even from the agents who say they respond to every query. They stalk their email accounts, sure that their internet provider has done something to slow down the connection. Or they refuse to check their email more than once a week, terrified of finding it devoid of response.
What they don't talk about is how to actually send the query out. The agents kind of cover it, in tweets and on their blogs. They'll have helpful, occasional posts about what they want to see in queries, from the requirements to the preferences. Sometimes they'll showcase the query that sealed the deal between themselves and a new client. And agents will talk about what they don't want to see: no contact information, insults, anyone else's name or nobody's name in the greeting, descriptions of the author's body, material goods not obviously related to the query.
So what do you need to know before you actually send the query off? You need to know that your eyes are your enemy and your mouth is your friend. Or maybe it's your ears that are your friend. Read your query aloud and without distractions. Are you repeating the same word or phrase? Is there an awkward sentence or transition? Did you accidentally write the phrase "magic poop" instead of "magic pool"? (that typo literally haunts me)
Here's how you email out (note: not write) a query:
1. Get plenty of sleep, and have a supply of your favorite (legal) upper on hand.
2. Shut out all outside distraction. Send your kid to the kennel and your dog to the sitter. :)
3. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
4. Double-check your preferred agents' websites or, if they don't have them, their postings on professional sites. Make sure they are open for queries. Use the correct email address (if they want it sent to an assistant or general box, follow the direction).
5. If you alter a template for each agent, make sure you alter each detail. Things like client references, attachments/inclusions (5 pgs, 10 pgs, synopsis, no synopsis).
6. Save all the emails in draft form and walk away.
7. Return the next day to review for accuracy. How many hours/months/years have you spent on your manuscript? Isn't the query worth a second review?
8. Wait around for a few minutes to make sure the email went through.
9. If you're the prayin' type, now's the time.
Also, Submission Stats Update:
Queries Sent: 10
Full MS Requests: 2
Partial MS Requests: 1