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How to query a literary agent: Editor's Notes #191
August 03, 2015

I wrote a query letter to an editor - a friend of a friend.
The editor called me an idiot, told me never to contact an editor directly,
and then recommended three literary agents he had worked with before
…and I've never looked back.

--Daniel H. Wilson

In this issue:

1. How to query an agent
2. Tickled my funnybone
3. Interesting Web sites
4. Writing prompt

1. How to query an agent
Stop a moment, please. Before you worry about how to query an agent, decide whether you really need one. Many publishers now accept manuscripts only from agents, but some still accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you think you may need an agent, here's how to create a professional query.

Step one
Step one is critical. Under no circumstances shortcut your way past this step.

Check the agent's Web site for current contact information and submission guidelines. Then take what you find to heart, and follow all directions to the letter.

If you have a sci-fi novel and the agent takes only nonfiction educational material, move on. You will never successfully wheedle a good agent into taking something the agent is not knowledgable about. If you can wheedle an agent, that person is not a good agent.

Step two
Write a professional query letter. It must be a real one-page letter. That means no shrunken margins and no small type. Edit this letter until it truly has no extra flesh and it fits easily into a one-page letter format.

  • Paragraph 1
    In one sentence, give the word count (NOT the page count), genre, title, target audience, and a one-clause summary of the book.

  • Paragraph 2
    Write a synopsis of the book.

    For non-fiction, this could be a list of chapters or a statement about how you have approached the topic. Why is this book worthy of publication?

    For fiction, focus on the main character. What is the problem the character faces? In good fiction the main character usually faces external and internal tensions. Briefly show how the character reaches the climax of the story. Remember that this is one paragraph.

  • Paragraph 3
    List relevant credentials.

    If this is non-fiction, what qualifies you to write this book?

    If this is fiction, list relevant publishing credits.

  • Paragraph 4
    Give contact information not included in your letterhead.

Step 3
Include a self-addressed stamped envelope.


Do not be tempted to add anything extra. Do not be tempted to be cute. Do not whine or bargain.

Agents want writers who understand and respect the process, writers who use words to communicate clearly and concisely. Agents want you. Give them your best.


2.Tickled my funnybone
After the tea break, staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board.


3. Interesting Web sites
Here are some legitimate literary agents:

United Kingdom



4. Writing prompt
Declare war on modifiers. Select a piece of text, yours or something someone else has published. Remove all modifiers. Note that this is a writing exercise, not a comment on all modifiers. After you have removed them all, put back only those that forward the intent of the writer.

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