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April 23, 2018
By Betty Kelly Sargent
Editor Betty Kelly Sargent answers writing questions submitted by readers. This month, she takes a look at writing effective query letters to agents.

Dear Editor:

How do I write a query letter to an agent? –Sally A.

You need to do three things: (1) Determine which agents are right for your book. Check the acknowledgements page in similar titles. Those are likely the agents for you. (2) Do your homework. Tell the agent why she’s right for your book. (3) Write an intelligent, clear letter describing how your book differs from others in its field, who the readership is, and why it will sell well.

But don’t just take it from me; here’s what several top New York literary agents have to say.

For Lisa Bankoff, “a query letter should have a sense of immediacy—as if the author were right there in the room with me. It’s also essential that the writer has done her homework, knows my list and the type of writers I represent.”

Emma Sweeney says, “I love finding that letter with the promise of a gem of a project. The letter demonstrates that the writer has both a great idea and the ability to pitch it.”

Robin Straus says she “looks for enticing, well-crafted letters. Grammatical and spelling errors, over-the-top boasting, and generic submissions to multiple agents are instant turnoffs.”

For John Silbersack, “If a writer has strong publishing credentials, I’d lead with that. If not, begin with a pitch line, the kind of tag found on a book jacket. Grab my attention, but too much plot and a CliffsNotes synopsis make me feel like I’m back in school playing catch up. Unless you can convey your excitement, I’m unlikely to get excited for you.”

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.

If you have a question for the editor, please email Betty Sargent.