Agents Advice on Query Letters

On June 22, 2016 the Authors’ Guild had an interview for their Industry and Advocacy News titled “Agents’ Roundtable: Three Agents Reveal What They’re Really Looking for from Authors.” The roundtable included David Forrer, from Inkwell Management; Eric Myers, from Dystel & Goderich Literary Management; and Regina Ryan from Regina Ryan Books. These three agents represent a range of authors and books, from YA to non-fiction. Each, I felt, had some interesting (and helpful) comments about query letters.

I really like David Forrer’s simple three-word setup: Hook, Book, Cook. You start with the HOOK which is the one-line opening that hooks the reader (i.e., him), followed by the BOOK, one paragraph summarizing the plot; and finish with the COOK, a few sentences about the person who wrote the book (you) including, if it’s a non-fiction book, why you are the best person to write this book.

Eric Myers advice (or warning) regarding query letters is it shouldn’t be much more than a single page, double or single-space, and should give enough of the premise so he can get a sense of the plot (without spoilers) and be intrigued. He says he’s a stickler for spelling and grammar. In his opinion, if you have errors in the query letter, there will be even more in the manuscript, and that’s a turn off. So make sure your query letter is vetted.

Regina Ryan wants to see that the writer understands the business and the writer’s role in the publication process. She suggests it doesn’t hurt to mention a book the agent has represented that you admire.

All three agents mention the uncertainty of publishing nowadays, especially with the merging of Penguin with Random House. The Big Six are now the Big Five and over the years many lines have shut down or merged with others. (I know three lines that I once wrote for are now gone.) Many wonderful editors and writers have found themselves without a job or a publisher. Also, all three agents emphasized that publishers expect writers to do more promotion than ever before.

One thing David Forrer said in the article is: “When an agent says ‘no’ he/she means ‘I don’t think I can sell this book.’ It doesn’t mean that the book isn’t publishable—we’re often wrong about that—and it doesn’t mean that the agent has any constructive criticism to offer. When an agent says no just move on. And keep writing!”

So remember that if you get a rejection. Keep writing!

Meanwhile, I may not be doing as much writing for a while. Tomorrow (June 30) I’m having back surgery, and I’ve been told I have to limit my time at the computer (sitting) and no bending or twisting. I’m sure I’ll learn some ways to get around my limitations, but my blogs might be a little shorter for a while.


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18 Responses to Agents Advice on Query Letters

  1. Nancy Gideon says:

    Excellent advice, Maris, all in one place! Good luck with the surgery and a quick recovery.

  2. Maris Soule says:

    Thank you, Nancy.

  3. Excellent information–as usual! I agree with the pessimistic info regarding the publishing industry. It’s become harder than ever to be well-published. Wishing you a successful surgery and recovery.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thank you, Jacqueline. I appreciate the positive wishes. I guess historically writers have always held a pessimistic view of the publishing industry, but it certainly seems difficult nowadays for a writer to reach the top of the pile.

  4. Good advice, as always. Best of luck with the surgery.

  5. Great post….thanks for sharing. Good luck on the surgery and hope you have a speedy recovery!

  6. Melissa Keir says:

    I love the advice… It is all about selling and when an agent can’t sell it for whatever reason (not a formula) then your book can still sell a million copies but until the book industry sees it, they won’t believe it (I was thinking of 50 Shades- no one wanted it until it actually sold a lot, then she got the agents and offers. )

  7. prayers are with you through your surgery and recovery. Have you seen those stand up computers.

  8. Elorise Holstad says:

    Maris ~~ Here’s hoping your surgery solves all your back issues … wishing you a speedy recovery! We all want you back in the writing game, asap.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thank you, Elorise. I need to get the back fixed so I can walk my 10,000 steps and stay healthy and while I’m walking, let my mind fill with ideas for my next book. (By the way, I miss seeing and talking with you.)

  9. Charli Humphreys says:

    Good luck, Maris, with your surgery. Other than that, hope you are enjoying your Northern time. I’m in NJ for the summer, and all is well.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Hi, Charli. Surgery went well, I guess. Recovery is a bummer. I feel like I’m in lala land. Can’t write or read much without my eyes going wacky. Time for another pain pill.

  10. Carole Price says:

    Always open to excellent advice such as you stated. Best wishes for your surgery and for a speedy recovery.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks, Carole. Surgery is now behind me. Recovery isn’t fun. Time for another pain pill. I’ll be glad when this body is back to some semblance of normal.