There are few words that bring such dread to a writer’s heart as the words “query letter”. At least they do to mine. While at Killer Nashville I attended a panel titled “How To Catch An Agent’s Eye”. The panelists were Jill Marr (Sandra Dijkastra Literary Agency), Lucy Carson (The Friedrich Agency), Elizabeth Kracht (Kimberley Cameron & Associates), Sharon Pelletier (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) and Megan Close Zavala (Keller Media).

These women were kind enough to share an hour of their time with us and give us some great advice on writing a query (or pitch) letter. Here are a few of their suggestions:

Do:

  • Research and find the agent that is a good fit for you and the book you’ve written.
  • Look at the agent’s history and see who they represent to get an idea of what they like.
  • Write a letter that is specific to that agent.
  • Spend a lot of time on the pitch section of the letter. Write it until it is as perfect as you can make it. This is your one chance to catch their attention.
  • In the Bio section of the letter, emphasize what makes you unique, mention any writer’s groups you are a part of (this is where being a member of Sisters In Crime comes in), writer’s conferences you’ve been to, awards you’ve been nominated for or won, etc.
  • Be straight forward in your presentation but be interesting too (yeah, easy for them to say!)
  • Know where your novel falls in the marketplace
  • If you meet the agent at a conference, put that IN THE SUBJECT LINE. If they request materials, even better and lead with that (i.e. Requested Materials from Killer Nashville).
  • ALWAYS put something informative in the subject line. Never put just the word “Submission”. It almost guarantees your e-mail/letter will get shoved off to the side and looked at later, if ever. (ex: Submission of a historical mystery set in the 1920’s in a Topeka, Kansas speakeasy). Put what makes your novel different from the crowd.
  • Let agent’s know if it is a multiple submission.
  • FOLLOW THE RULES. However the agent or agency want submissions formatted, do it. It shows a willingness to follow the rules, intelligence and observational skills. If you don’t, the chances are pretty good your query letter is going to get put at the bottom of the pile, or, again, never looked at.

Don’t:

  • Send a form letter that you have sent to dozens of other agents. They can spot those from a mile away and figure, “if he/she can’t take the time to write me a personal query letter, why should I take the time to read said letter or submission”.
  • If you don’t have experience specific to your book, don’t emphasize it.
  • Write what you want to write. Don’t write to trend. Trends are fleeting and chances are by the time your book hits the marketplace, it’s over.
  • You can always cite comparables to your book but don’t only use bestselling authors. If you are going to say your book is a kooky traditional like Janet Evanovich, also uses some mid-list authors such as Gretchen Archer or Jana DeLeon.
  • NEVER say “My book is the next great American novel”.
  • If other published writers have read your book and would do a blurb for it mention it. If your mom read it and liked it, don’t. They don’t care. They only care about things that would help your book sell.

I know it seems impossible, but it’s not. Difficult certainly, but who ever said it would be easy? I hope this helps some of you, especially those who are thinking about coming to our meeting with Victoria Selvaggio. It would be a perfect time to try it out and get her feedback. The more feedback you can get, the better your letter will be and the better your chances of actually landing an agent. Good luck!!

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4 comments on “Catching An Agent’s Eye from Killer Nashville by Kristin Crump”

  1. One other piece of advice: read other queries to get a feel for how it’s done. Several examples (both good and bad) can be found at Janet Reid, Query Shark, or even the defunct Miss Snark. And remember, it’s a standard one page, three paragraph letter (and only one of those paragraphs is about the book). That said, make sure that one paragraph kicks azz . . . nobody ever hit a homerun by swinging the bat delicately.

    Or as Sir Isaac Newton said: “Force equals mass times acceleration. Now who threw that damn apple?”

  2. The querying process can be brutal. This is great advice, along with Patrick’s—-er, Fernando’s–mention of Query Shark. Hearing directly from top agents can’t b beat.

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