I’d thought about posting this as part of my “iPad for Writers” series, but I felt it spoke to a larger piece about automation I plan on writing eventually, so instead I’m just publishing it as kind of a how-to for anyone interested.
The more I use the iPad to do my daily driving, the more I find myself looking for ways to simplify the tasks I perform each day. When compared to the Mac, the iPad seems limiting in what it's capable of, but I'm finding the opposite. It's not that it's limiting, it's that we've been doing things one way for so long, anything different seems wrong.
Which brings me to my current dilemma. As with every book I've written, I now find myself emailing literary agents my query letter, as well as any other materials they request, including sample chapters and/or the dreaded synopsis.
My previous process worked thusly:
- Find an agent I'd like to query.
- Start a new email.
- Look in my Sent folder for a previous query with some or all of the materials they're requesting.
- Copy/paste from the old email to the new email.
- Change all identifying information (agent's title and last name, what's been included below the query).
- Verify all formatting is correct.
- Go back to website for agent's email address.
- Copy/paste into TO field of new email.
- Check it again.
- Realize I made a typo in the agent's last name.
- Curl up under my desk and cry like the failure I am.
Okay, maybe those last few steps were a bit melodramatic, but my old process did leave a lot of room for error. I once realized I hadn't included my name and address at the top of the query after I'd sent it because I hadn't copied it. I even forgot to include the pages I'd said I'd included and had to resubmit the query.
The whole process was tedious and prone to mistakes. I had dabbled with automation here and there on my Mac. I dumped my query letter into a TextExpander snippet so I could populate an email with it just by typing ";query" into the message. It had a place to fill in the agent's name and select what was included at the bottom. Unfortunately, TextExpander is limited on iOS, forcing me to open up Drafts, start a new draft and invoke the TextExpander snippet, then share the draft to an email or copy/paste it into a new message.
There had to be a better way.
Enter Shortcuts. In my previous experiences with Shortcuts, I'd installed a few pre-made shortcuts that calculated tips and set alarms for specific times. I'd never really explored the capabilities of the program. Then I had an idea: what if I could automate the querying process using a shortcut? Nothing existed already that would accomplish the task, so I set out to build my own solution.
Here's how it works:
- I find an agent I want to query and copy their email address from their website.
- The shortcut asks the title of the agent I'm querying (Mr. or Ms.)
3. Then I enter their last name.
4. Those values are dumped into the query letter at the top ("Dear Mr./Ms. [LAST NAME]").
5. I'm prompted to enter the number of chapters/pages I'm including (or I can delete that line entirely if I'm just sending the query).
6. I select from a menu what I'm including (Query, synopsis, up to three chapters)
7. A new email message is generated with my selections, a pre-populated subject line, and the email address I'd copied at the beginning dumped into the To: field of the email.
8. I do a quick look-over of the message and once everything looks okay, I send it--all from within shortcuts.
No more copying/pasting. No more hunting through old emails for submission materials. I spent about an hour and a half configuring something that will save me roughly 10-15 minutes per query I send. Well worth the effort.
Here's a link to a version of my shortcut where you can replace the stock text values with your own query letter, synopsis, and chapters. Then add it to your homescreen and/or your share sheet so you always have access to it.
Hope this helps other iOS-focused writers and/or anyone looking to make the query process that much less painful.