Ye Olde Query Letter

Ye Olde Query Letter

I loathe writing. On the other hand I’m a great believer in money.

–S.J. Perelman

Many large publishing houses accept only manuscripts submitted by agents. Many agents aren’t interested in representing unpublished authors. So now what?

If you are an unpublished novelist, don’t bother a literary agent or anyone else in the book business until you have finished writing your novel. Agents and editors work at desks surrounded by stacks of completed manuscripts and are too busy to entertain “ideas” that may one day become books.

Writers of nonfiction who are also experts in their book’s subject may attract an agent by submitting a compelling proposal, outline, and sample chapters. But most editors and agents advise aspiring writers that time spent peddling an unfinished book would be better spent finishing it.

If you have a complete manuscript, you should approach one or more literary agents by writing a query letter; introduce yourself and your book, and ask permission to submit the entire manuscript.

Books About Literary Agents

At you can peruse a database of literary agents and select one most likely to represent writers who work in your genre.

Or search Amazon for literary agentsAmazon Link.

Most agents belong to the Association of Author Representatives, and their site offers a list of their members and more good advice about how to contact them. You’ll notice that most literary agents don’t include their phone numbers in their contact information — that’s because they hate phone calls from unpublished authors with unfinished books.

Or visit Poe War: The Writer’s Resource Center, where I found the photo above and a great article by John Hewitt.

The Horror Writers Association has a great page devoted to frequently asked questions about literary agents at HWA Agents FAQ. Same goes for The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site, which features all kinds of advice for new writers, including an article on fee-charging agents.

The Nebraska Center For Writers also has a good collection of links and frequently asked questions for unpublished authors looking for agents.

Nicholas Sparks, the author of The Notebook has a nice site with a page called For Writers, with good advice for aspiring authors, including a link to the query letter Sparks used to sell his first novel, The Notebook.

Several repositories feature selections of query letters that actually worked, meaning, the author successfully snagged an agent and then went on to get published:

Another nice collection of literary agent blogs and links may be found at: The Writer’s Resource Directory, including links to other samples and how-tos.

It’s possible to find more sample queries in the books recommended above, or by doing a google search on the terms “sample query letters”.

For an entertaining tour of some bad query letters, poke around on Miss Snark, Literary Agent.

Other Tips

Think of books that are just like the one you are trying to get published. Look in the acknowledgments of those books. Most authors thank their agents. Now you know the name of some agents who sold books just like yours. Query them!

I believe Publisher’s Weekly still has a RIGHTS column wherein they have very terse one sentence descriptions of all the books sold that week: title, author, AGENT, publisher, and usually the sale price. When you see an agent repping a book like yours, query them! Even better an agent repping a first novel or first nonfiction book. If you see that, you know that agent will at least consider repping unpublished authors. No need to subscribe to Publishers Weekly, just go to any major library and spend an hour looking through issues from the last couple of years.

How To Query A Literary Agent