Hook an Agent With a Killer Query Letter

When you decided to become a self-published author, you maybe didn’t realize you had to train yourself in entrepreneurship, too. 

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Writing a book was time consuming enough. But before you can even celebrate all those long hours and endless edits, you’ve got to dive in with your marketing strategy so you can start selling some copies.

Your mind might be racing with logistics, while your eyes are tired from the late nights Googling “book marketing tips” — which we’ve got a ton of on our blog, by the way. 

Lucky for you, many self-published authors before you have been in this exact state: feeling like they’ve unknowingly signed on for a career in marketing once their book is finished.  

Hiring a literary agent can relieve you of daunting steps that take specialized industry experience, like contract negotiations with publishers, creating a comprehensive marketing strategy, and getting you book signings and speaking events.

Your job is to find a literary agent who is a good fit for your goals, budget, and is experienced in your genre. But once you’ve found them, it’s time to hook them. 

How? With a killer query letter.

A query letter is a pitch that you write to a literary agent that paints a vivid picture of your book, your experience and accolades as an author, and ideally convinces them to work with you.  

It should give the agent an idea of your voice, an exciting book teaser, and a little bit about why you personally would be a good fit as their client. 

Craft the perfect query letter to reel in a literary agent for your self-published book with these 4 simple steps:

1. Start with a Flattering Introduction Paragraph

The introduction paragraph is where you explain your “why” as a self-published author. Let the literary agent know what drew you to them, and why you think you would be a good fit as one of their clients.

Try to be as specific as possible. Instead of saying “I’ve enjoyed your work,” try to specify the titles and authors they’ve worked with that have impressed you.

As a creative, it’s easy to let your mind wander into the metaphors and visuals you can sneak in to your query letter to show off your writing skills. And that’s okay! 

Just be sure to take a step back and include some key information about your book, such as:

  • Title
  • Genre
  • Number of pages

It might seem redundant, but to someone brand new to you and your book, it’s far from it. Yes, a literary agent could look up your book online, but wouldn’t you rather they be introduced to your brand through the teasers you offer them? (Hint: Yes you would.)

2.  Slide into a Compelling Synopsis

The next paragraph of your query letter should dive into your story and create a strong desire for the literary agent to read more. You’ll want it to be short and to the point, while still being colorful and engaging. 

Draw them into the plot of your story by sharing things like the challenges of the main characters and the choices they have to make to overcome them. You’ll want them to feel connected to the journeys and outcomes in your story. 

Include the emotional themes and tensions of the story as well. Your literary agent will want to know about things like the main characters’ desires, and what’s keeping them from pursuing or getting what they want. 

Pro-tip: Avoid mentioning more than 3-4 character names. This can get confusing, and cause the agent to lose interest rather quickly. 

Don’t be afraid to have fun with your synopsis, as it should be fun to read, too. Just make sure you avoid spoilers! You want the agent to pick up your book for the answers, so don’t hand over the ending so easily.

3. A Short Biography

Cap off your query letter with a short author biography, no more than one paragraph. Include the basics such as where you live, if/where you received a degree in writing, and where your work has been published before.

Be sure to include a sentence or two that separates you from other authors. What interests do you have? How does your personal experience, interests, or expertise feed into the content of the story?

You should also include your personal expertise on the topics covered in your book. For example, if you write a story of a single mother on a new journey to find herself and you were a single mom yourself, this could not only add credibility to the plot but also some interest on the agent’s end. 

If you’ve had other writing victories like book sales or previously published work, be sure to include those, too. 

4. Send It Off!

Now you’re just about ready for the big moment: sending your query and pretending to distract yourself until you get reply.

But before you hit send, be sure to proofread, proofread, proofread! Nothing turns off an agent like a bunch of typos. You might even want to get a second pair of eyes to check it out before sending, which is where your incredible personal network of writers and editors come in handy.

Once you’ve sent your query, wait about 6 weeks to send a follow-up. Not all literary agents will send you rejection letters if they’re not interested, so have other agents in mind and start to send more queries. Time is money!

You may have to send out a handful of queries, but you’ll be surprised at how easy it gets after you nail the first one. Just picture all the work and stress you’ll be saving yourself when the right agent comes onboard. 

See? That wasn’t so bad! Now you can start visualizing all the ways your agent will help you sell more copies of your beloved book. 

By the way, need a refresher on how that works, exactly? Here’s how a literary agent can help self-published authors sell more books »

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.

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Thank you, Steuben Press, for bringing my book to life! Roger, your cover design skills are exceptional and Adam, your skill with the interior design was steller. 

– Maripat Abbott, Sewickely, PA

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