Today Mike Larsen, a literary agent and author of How to Write a Book Proposal and How to Get a Literary Agent, offers another post on how to write a successful query letter–one that can gain the attention of an agent or acquisitions editor. He and his partner Elizabeth Pomada run the Larsen-Pomada literary agency in San Francisco. For those WNFIN participants not writing books, many of today’s tips apply to contacting a magazine or newspaper editor as well. So, if you plan on contacting an editor or an agent, pay heed to Mike’s advice. If you missed his last post, you can read it here.
Query Letters: Avoiding “The Oops Factor”
By Mike Larsen
“I have written two novels: One is fiction, one is nonfiction.”
–the beginning of a query letter Elizabeth and Michael once received.
Agents only read queries far enough to make a decision. They know that if someone can’t write a letter, they can’t write a book. One query letter we didn’t have to finish reading began: “Not that I compare myself with Shakespeare’s Hamlet…” Avoiding these common mistakes will help you:
- Typos, spelling our names wrong, poor grammar and word choice such as fiction novel, which is redundant
Proofread your letter online and in hard copy, and have at least one other knowledgeable reader do it as well. You will avoid having to look at the letter after you send it and saying “Oops!”
- Impersonal salutations: Dear Sir, Gentlemen, To Whom It May Concern.
Use the agent’s name.
- A list of agents you’re emailing.
Use individual letters.
- Handwritten letters.
In the age of computers?
- Sending work we don’t handle.
Only contact agents who handle what you write.
- Writing to both of us.
Send to only one person at an agency. Whoever it is will pass it on, if necessary.
- Long paragraphs.
Aim for three or four paragraphs on the page.
- Asking about a smorgasbord of unrelated books or kinds of writing.
Only ask about your best, most salable book.
Agents would rather receive unique submissions, but you can speed up the query process by sending a one-page query letter to as many agents as you wish simultaneously online or off. Write the letter that would excite youyou’re your readers about your book, and if you have a salable book, agents and editors will be glad to see your work.
Avoiding common mistakes in query letters will immediately set you apart from most writers.
About the Author
Michael Larsen is a literary agent and consultant to nonfiction writers. He and his partner Elizabeth Pomada are co-directors of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference. He is the author of the third editions of How to Write a Book Proposal and How to Get a Literary Agent, and coauthor of the second edition of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons for Selling Your Work.
The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Changing the World One Book at a Time / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)