Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for...are you surprised? Query

by Kim Van Sickler

A friendly literary agent recommended Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents to me and I picked up the 2012 guide. (The 2013 guide is due out in May, I believe.) Mr. Herman started his own literary agency in his 20's and over the next three-ish decades learned a lot about writers, editors, and other agents, wrote about his observations, and turned all that wisdom into this book. Agents and publishers, I discovered, consider it one of the best guides in the business. Toward the back (around page 800), Jeff's written advice to writers about the publishing process, to write a query.

Here are my three favorite tips from Jeff Herman's "Write the Perfect Query Letter" essay.
1. You may want to rely on the journalistic technique of the inverted pyramid. This means that you begin with your strongest material and save the details for later in the letter. Don't start slowly and expect to pick up momentum as you proceed. It will be too late.

2. At the close of your letter, ask for the sale. This requires a positive and confident conclusion with such phrases as, "I look forward to your speedy response." Such phrases as "I hope" and "I think you will like my book" sound too insecure. This is the part of the letter where you go for the kill.

3. Let's get contemporary. Whenever you hear the term query letter, you should say to yourself "pitch" or "sales" letter. Because that's what it is. You need the letter to sell.


  1. good advice though if one reads all the info on how to query one would never actually write the letter :)

  2. I am learning so much from fellow bloggers, good tips, from books,links to writing tips. In addition, just learning from reading each other,period. Lucy from Lucy's Reality

  3. Ah, the dreaded query letter. Bane of every writers life. Good firm advice though.

  4. I do think the emphasis on SALES in the letter has increased. We've gone from thinking of it as "detailed cover letter" to "query" to "sales tool." #2 can be a challenge. It's easy enough to concentrate on confident rather than tentative wording, but still not easy knowing just what to say. "I look forward to your speedy response" doesn't do it for me. So many agents don't respond unless they're interested (so it looks like you didn't research them if you say otherwise) and it even sounds like you don't know how the industry works if you say "speedy." But then, closing a sale is definitely a weak point for me.

    1. LOL about the speedy response...although SOME of the rejections can be pretty darn speedy.

  5. The goal is to get them to ask for more...not sell them on your book right out of the gate. I think a lot of writers make this mistake and as a consequence overload their letters with too much information. :)