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, includes...how 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.