The Truth About Query Letters and Responses
The trick to sending query letters is volume over time. If you expect your first ten letters to get at least one response, don’t. The trick is to find the right agent or publisher at the right time. They must be in the market for your book to be open to it.
Some of the best authors of all time took several years to get picked up. Most authors know the success story of JK Rowling, but she went through a lot of rejections before one of the editors of Bloomsbury picked it up. In fact, the only reason the editor did was that her eight-year-old daughter asked for the book by name.
Why You Need Your Query Letter Edited
The writing style must be business formal. This is not a creative piece and an editor will make sure your style conforms to a direct and simple approach all while keeping in line with the tone of your book. It’s like mixing oil and water. They don’t mix but you must bring the two together.
A query letter editor knows what’s in demand. They know the market shifts and what agents and publishers are looking for. Young adult vampire and werewolf books were all the rage once, but not selling now. Most books cover a wide spectrum of genres. A little romance, a little mystery, etc. A query letter editor could emphasize what sells now which would generate a lot more interest.
A query letter editor would make sure the elements of the letter are there while keeping the fluff down and interest up.
Query Letter Examples/Samples 1
Dear Mr. Foster,
Given your interest in military science fiction books, my book may be a good fit. I am a huge fan of authors Kent Horn and David Slush. They had a lot of great things to say about you!
Kane was abandoned as a child and was prime meat for experimenting on in the early stages for the Mano Project and their super soldiers.
It’s the year 2060 and Kane is in his mid-twenties. Technology has advanced and Kane’s lot are being disposed of for better tech. His human side just isn’t ready to give up without a fight. In his attempt to show he still has value he kills the lead scientist which sends him down a spiral that reveals a few dark secrets about the Mano Project.
Falcon Dark is a 70,000-word book edited by a professional. The manuscript is ready as are samples and a synopsis if you would like.
Query Letter Examples/Samples 2
Dear Mrs. Zabi,
We spoke at the business book conference in Virginia last year. You asked me to send you my query letter when I was done. Well, five beta readers and a professional edit later and here we are!
Big Business, Small Startup is a 120,000-word book that covers how to start a small business with growth in mind. Many small businesses fail because they don’t plan for big business growth and paint themselves into a corner.
My book contains interviews with ten of the top founders of small businesses that have made it big and what they share. It’s a powerful message filled with gems and applicable advice.
It’s been reviewed by Book Reviews and Great Reads (see links below). It won the editor’s choice award from Great Reads for upcoming business books.
Free Literary Agent List
Soliciting literary agents is a pain! Our collection of lit agents helps make the process a little easier. It's a free download and contains agency names, addresses, emails, numbers, and other information. Things get updated quarterly so you may run into some information that is out of date, but it's a great source for saving time. (link at end of post)
Do You Need a Lit Agent?
Well over half of all published books were sold by lit agents. They know the publishing industry and have open doors with publishers. They can even assist in book deals and help advise you or improve a possible deal with a publisher.
A good literary agent will help protect your rights and look over a contract and be a good mediator between you and the publisher.
How Does an Agent Get Paid?
An agent only gets paid when they sell your book, so it's in their best interest to do so. On average a lit agent will make 15% of what you get, including any advances and royalties. If you run across an agent that charges more than 15% or has additional fees outside of what you get paid, drop them.
Should I Get an Agent?
This is a common question and the answer is only if your book has a large market. If you wrote a nonfiction book on how to start a specific small business, the answer is no. Remember, an agent gets paid up to 15% of your sales. They won't waste their time pushing a book without a large market value. It doesn't mean the book you wrote isn't worth your effort and publishing, it just means it's not enough to motivate an agent to take it on.
Agents rep both small presses and large houses, so if your book is not the next blockbuster, don't worry. Check the list in the next section to get a general sense of market value.
Measuring Market Value
If your book is mainstream fiction, it stands a better chance of being picked up. Things like:
Nonfiction is a little trickier. A good way to measure it is to look at the top-selling books on Amazon in direct competition to your book. What's the seller rank? Do they have hundreds of reviews or just a few?
Most publishers won't even glance at a nonfiction book unless they know it will sell at least ten thousand copies. Nonfiction is measured on market size.
So, Maybe a Lit Agent Isn't Right for Me
If you feel it's not the right move, go direct to publishers. Many small and independent small publishers pick up great books. It's good advice to never pay an agent or publisher for their services. They make money off your sales.
I Need More Than Your List
How dare you! 🙂 Here is a list of sites that help with literary agents you should check out:
What Should I Send to a Lit Agent besides a Query Letter?
Most agents want to see the full book if it's fiction (but not at first), especially if you are a new author. If your book is nonfiction it all depends on the market for the book. You can create the market by having thousands of followers, or maybe it's an emerging market and your book could be the leader.
Either way, be sure what you send the literary agent is edited and polished up. Editing errors are the same as selling a dirty car or house. They might see the potential under it all, but why risk it?
Here is a breakdown of common things to send to lit agents:
- Query letter - A quick half page or full-page breakdown of your book. Often, the simpler and easier it is to read, the better the chance it gets read. I recommend keeping it short.
- Synopsis - A breakdown of the story or content, including the ending. It's something the agent would read after the query letter so feel free to make it a few pages if you want.
- Sample - Send a sample chapter or two. Most lit agents will turn down the full manuscript if you send it right from the start, but they will likely want to see the full book so be prepared to send it.
Start with the query letter. If you get a response, provide what they want next. It's good to have a synopsis, sample, and full manuscript ready to go.
Cool, I Sent Out Some Query Letters, Now What?
One of two things will happen. The first and most common is no response. It's not that they hated your book. It's that there isn't a market demand or there is currently a market saturation for that genre/topic. That may change in a few months or years.
The second thing that could happen is a request for a sample, full manuscript or synopsis. If you get turned down at this stage many agents will let you know why, which can help you restructure anything you may need.
Getting published and soliciting agents is a long process. Don’t expect a response the next day. Many new authors will self-publish a book and do their own marketing. If they can get a successful book on their own, getting picked up by a publisher is a lot easier.
Which Lit Agent Should I Go With?
Getting so many offers you don't know what to do? Congrats and you should probably play the lottery with that level of luck. The first thing you want to do is check up on the agency or agent. What is their track record? What books do they represent? You can often see how well a book is doing by looking it up on Amazon and checking out the reviews and seller rank. Try contacting their clients (authors) to get feedback.
Often new agents will want to try and represent everyone so they can grow their portfolio. If your book's market value is on the small side, it may be worth it. But if the book is higher on the mainstream level it would be better to hold off on new agents. Either way, don't accept the first offer you get. If an agent or publisher is interested, they will be just as interested next month.
Check on the communication you two have. Do they respond quickly? Do they seem eager or do they seem only semi-interested? You want one with energy and quick responses.
An agent should keep you posted on responses from publishers, what they say, and how to fix any issues. They should also help you improve your query letter and other submissions if they aren't doing well. A lot of new authors go through a few versions of their query letter before it grabs the attention of a publisher.
Above all, there needs to be good chemistry between an author and their agent. Good luck!