Monday, November 10, 2008

GumboWriters Article: 7 Signs of a GREAT Query Letter

Three years ago I set out on a dream to purposely be one of those rare writers who self-published a book and landed a deal with a major publisher, and I'm happy to say I achieved that goal. A lot of writers ask me if there was one thing I learned that I would advise them on achieving that goal too and I tell them GET THE RIGHT AGENT.
The right agent can speed up the process tremendously. To give you an example, before I signed with Warner Books my manuscript had been rotting on their slush pile desk for 3 months. The moment I got an agent they read it over the weekend and had an offer within 7 days. Do you see my point?
Editors receive hundreds and in some cases thousands of manuscripts a month. They need some way to cut down the process. They need someone with credibility to filter the manuscript and sift the wheat from the chaff, and that's one of the reasons they like to work with top agents.
But how does a self-published author or any writer for that matter, get a top literary agent? Two words: a query letter. Not just any query letter, but one that is crafted in such a way that it presents you in the best light. A difference between a query letter you might get from reading a couple of books on query letters and one crafted by a professional can be the difference between signing a deal with a major publisher and getting a pile of rejection letters.
After interviewing quite a few top agents, I really got inside the inner workings of an agent: what they look for, what they want to hear and what immediately turns them off. I started helping quite a few writers craft their query letters and found that I had a knack for it. So much so that every single author I ever helped had requests from top agents for their manuscript or self-published book. Most had at least 15 agents request their books some more than 80 agents. One even had 3 television producers offer her a deal
without even reading the book, based on the query letter alone.
Here are a few key things to remember when crafting your query letter:
1) Grab them from the first sentence. This can be in the form of a question, a logline or even the opening line introducing yourself. It can also be in the form of telling them who referred you.
2) Get to the point. The most successful query letters I've written for other authors are short. They are about 1/2 a page long. If you say too much you'll bore them, if you say too little you will not pique their interest. It has to be the right balance.
3) Remember agents, although often passionate about reading and books, are really only glorified sales people. Many do not make hourly wages or salary. They rely on 100% commission to put dinner on the table. So they need product, as much product as possible.
4) Here's something to think about. Most good agents don't want to sell just one book, they want someone who will stick by them and who want a long-term career. This doesn't mean you need to mention you have an 18-part series you've written but do let them know you want to work with them for the long term.
5) Stop thinking about your book as "art" or as your "baby" and start thinking about it as product that needs to be sold.
6) Think about what makes you different and special. Think about the "so what?" factor. Assume they've heard it all before (and they probably have). Is there something about your day job that makes you unique to write this particular book? What about where you grew up or how you grew up? Are you a teacher? A single father? A part time publicist? What about you makes you special?
7) Close your letter with a simple brief statement such as: "If you would like to see a copy of my book please feel free to contact me." And then leave your phone number and email address.
Keep these tips in mind when crafting your query letter and you'll be leaps and bounds above the rest.

Jeff Rivera: Need help getting an agent? We'll help you craft the perfect query letter and send it to the right list of agents. We guarantee you will receive at least 10 reputable and legitimate literary agents requesting your work or your money back. Contact: for more information.