How To Write A Compelling Query Letter

 

The most important step in getting published is to push your way past the first gatekeepers - the literary agents. That's done with a query letter - a letter inquiring about their level of interest in your proposed book.

Now the bad news: most agents see hundreds of queries a week by mail and email!

How do you differentiate yourself from this avalanche of queries?

It's not sending roses, money, balloons, chocolate or silly gimmicks, although they've all been tried. It's not fancy paper or a glitzy package that you hope will impresses an agent. It's having compelling, salable content and a strong author platform. That is, that you are speaking, promoting, an expert, teaching, writing articles, whatever on your topic.

For agencies like mine that handle exclusively nonfiction, your best approach is to alert us to the size of your market. If the opening paragraph reads "650,000 Americans will struggle with this problem this year and my proposed book is the first to address it from this perspective" it will always get attention.

It helps if you are the leading expert/researcher in your subject area, a celebrity or have some extremely unusual story related to your topic. Mention that promptly, then tell us a bit about your content. A rule of thumb is "Audience Size, Your Credentials, Your Proposed Content."

Remember to include a self-addressed stamped business-sized envelope (called a SASE) and include it with your query if you want to mail it, as well as your contact info and email address. If you email it to us, don't let us see all the other agents to whom you're also sending it, and NEVER complain about how many rejections you've already gotten.

Select thirty literary agents who have sold and are currently selling projects like yours. Address each one by name, not "Dear Madam/Sir". Get right to the point, don't try to be cutesy, and be clear about your content and whom it will serve. Most agencies employ well-trained assistants who exist to filter out anyone useless to the agency.

Allow all the agents to respond. If after six weeks you haven't heard from someone, assume they are too busy or not interested. Some agents will likely request your proposal. Send it along, but never agree to allow an exclusive look - this is an archaic practice that serves the agents and not the writers.

When an agent offers you a contract, it is in your best interests to call the other agencies who are still considering your project before signing. We are an extremely diverse group and offer a wide range of services and benefits. Make sure you have a good fit so the relationship between you and your agent will be a long and happy one.

2007, Keller Media, Inc.  Want to use this article in your publication?  Reprints welcome so long as the article and by-line are reprinted intact and all links made live.

Wendy Keller is a published author, professional speaker and literary agent.  She helps authors and speakers make a difference in this world and she is behind the scenes supporting their efforts every step of the way.  Wendy has developed some of the best writing tools and seminars for authors available at http://www.kellermedia.com