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The common way to query an agent is with a one-page letter and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Maura Kye, associate at the Denise Marcil Literary Agency, commented, "There is no right way to write a query letter. I am drawn to people whose letters are creative as opposed to necessarily informative." For advice on querying more than one agent at a time, read Susan Page's excellent book, The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book.

Here are the key ingredients:

1. Generally, an effective query letter to a literary agent consists of four paragraphs.

2. The first sentence of the first paragraph could simply state your project: "I am seeking representation for my 'x-word' mystery thriller." Or, you may choose to start with a more creative opening, "Have you noticed that many women who are assertive at work are not able to carry over this quality to their home life whether it is with their kids or their husbands? I'm a clinical psychologist and have created a book proposal for Say No and Mean It: A Working Mother's Guide to Achieving Balance and Harmony at Work and at Home." In your opening paragraph, it would be ideal if you could state a personal connection to the agent, such as "I heard you speak at 'x' conference" or "I greatly enjoyed <name of mystery thriller that agent represented> and thought you would be interested in my book."

3. The second paragraph is a longer explanation of your novel or nonfiction book.

4. The third paragraph lists your writing credits and your experience with the material. For a nonfiction book, you'll need to show why you're the best author for this project.

5. The fourth paragraph is the closing. For fiction writers: "May I send you <my synopsis and first two chapters>?" Note: If the agent would like to look at the entire manuscript, you can limit the agent to a two-week exclusive look, so your time isn't tied up waiting months for one agent to respond. For nonfiction writers: "May I send you my book proposal?"

6. Make sure you have the correct address for the agent. To find lists of agents and the types of books they represent, research the following guides: 2010 Writer's Market, The Literary Marketplace, 2010 Guide to Literary Agents, The Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman, and Literary Agents by John F. Baker. Don't call the agent's office.

7. Ask an excellent writer to edit and proof your letter before you send it. Make your letter an enticing proposition for the agent. Have fun with it!

I recommend two books that will help you with query letters:

How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters by John Wood
How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool

Special thanks to Maura Kye, associate at the Denise Marcil Literary Agency, for reviewing the above information to ensure its accuracy.

2010 June Cotner, publishing consultant and author of the bestselling Graces and Dog Blessings and 24 other books. PO Box 2765, Poulsbo, WA 98370 june@junecotner.com


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