Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to Get an Agent: Part One – The Query Letter

This week I’m going through the steps of getting published. See yesterday’s introductory post: How to Get Published.

Many people believe you have to know someone to get published. And, sure, celebrity book deals do nothing to dispel this myth. But the truth is, most book deals are made for people who had no previous publishing connections. They just wrote a great book. Then they wrote a great query letter. The query letter grabbed the attention of an agent and the book made him/her want to take you on as a client. That’s how it worked for me. I had no contacts. No special publishing secrets. I just didn’t give up and I kept on writing.

Before you start this process, you should know...you will get rejected. Everyone gets rejected. You might get rejected 100 times. That 101st query letter could score you an agent. Or you may have to shelve this book that you’ve poured your heart and soul into and start again with a new one. That’s why this is a tough business. You need to have thick skin. You. Have. To. Want. It. I’ve read that the average number of manuscripts people write before they score their first deal is four. Sure, some people sell their first book. But others write ten before they sell. And you don’t know what your magic number is going to be. (My magic number? I signed with my agent for manuscript number three, but that one didn’t sell. Clarity was manuscript number four.)

With those caveats done, let’s move on to your query letter. The purpose of the letter is to sell you and your book to an agent. The letter shouldn’t be too long. One or two paragraphs about the book and one paragraph about yourself. Be sure to include basic info on the book (genre and word count). And for the love of all that is holy make sure it’s written well!

I highly recommend getting your query letter critiqued by fellow writers. Some sites where you can do that include Query Shark, the WritersNet forum, and the Absolute Write forums. (I'm sure there are more sites, too. If you know of any, please post them in the comments!)

AgentQuery has a great page on How to Write a Query. It really is a must read! Lots of details and links to query letters that worked.

Have a kick-butt query letter written? Great! Now you need someone to send it to. So tomorrow, in the next installment, I’ll discuss researching agents and how to find the perfect agent for you.


  1. All wonderful advice. The only suggestion that I'd add: while it's good to remain optimistic about the 101st query letter being the one that lands you an agent, if you're starting to pile up 15, 20, 25 form rejections from agents, without a partial or full request, it might be time to re-strategize and revise your query. Try a new hook, since that can set the tone for the query. This is just one of the many reasons why getting overzealous and sending out 50 queries the day after you finish revisions can be a bad idea.

    That part about being willing to write multiple manuscripts is right-on too. Great post.

  2. Very true, Karsten! In tomorrow's post, I suggest writers prioritize their list and send ten at a time. That way, if their response rate is very low, they can change their letter and perhaps get a better response from the next ten. Or dozen. Or lucky thirteen. Oh, batches of thirteen...that sounds cooler. :)

  3. Isn't a batch of thirteen a baker's dozen?

    This step sounds less scary now that I know the first step does not have to be sending out the query. A safety net of non-agent critiques is comforting before baring the wilderness.

  4. It is a little comforting, SM, before stepping onto the query-go-round. :)

  5. Kim,TY TY TY for this glorious post. I have been wallowing this week after several rounds of rejections, including one from an agent who asked for a pretty extensive revision (hey, at least she cared enough to read the whole thing, so I feel blessed)...but this has all been for manuscript #2. The fact that I got half a dozen solid nibbles from this one leads me to believe I'm getting closer. So onward, with hopes of landing that solid BITE the next time!