A Killer Query - Writer's Digest

A Killer Query

Composing a good query letter is vital to getting an agent hooked on a self-published book.
Publish date:

Composing a good query letter is vital to getting an agent hooked on a self-published book. The following letter was written by Suzanne Hansen for her self-published book You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again:The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny. The query was sent to Los Angeles agent Sharlene Martin, who quickly realized the potential of the material. Here’s the original query letter followed by Martin’s thoughts on why it worked.

Dear Ms. Martin:

When I was 18 years old, I moved from my hometown in Oregon (population: 7,500) to live with the most powerful man in Hollywood and be a nanny to his three children.

In my memoir: You’ll Never Nanny in this Town Again!—The Adventures and Misadventures of a Hollywood Nanny, I describe my unusual experiences with the rich and famous, and provide a peek into their private lives. I also share humorous stories about my girlfriends who were working for celebrity families. The book describes my short education at the Northwest Nannies Institute in Portland, Ore. It also describes my journey as a 24-hour-a-day modern servant, juggling medical emergencies, as well as toddler and adult tantrums.

This book is a cross between People magazine and “Seinfeld.” One example of the bizarre priorities of the wealthy: The family had a small painting in their family room that cost five times as much as my parents’ home, but I was told not to take anything from the hotel honor bar on vacation, because it was too expensive.

I self-published the book last year and was selected for a distribution contract through the IPG small publishers program. I’ve consistently ranked in the top five percent of Amazon.com sales. I’ve already sold more than 4,000 copies in 12 months and have garnered great reviews. I also have a popular website: hollywoodnanny.com. Some of the media attention I have received includes an E! Channel “Will Work for Stars” red carpet interview for the Screen Actors Guild awards. I’m featured on an upcoming A&E special “Fathers and Sons in Hollywood.” I’ve been interviewed on many radio programs, and I speak nationally.

So now I’m ready to go mainstream with a major publisher. Apart from writing this book, I’m a mother of two, and have worked as a high-risk labor and delivery nurse, lactation specialist and childbirth educator. I can send you a copy of the book by e-mail or regular mail, and hope to hear from you to discuss this further.

Suzanne Hansen

The agent’s reaction:

The instant appeal of a nanny who worked for a major Hollywood player is obvious. And paragraphs two and three make a clear description of the work, so that when the “spoiler” comes in paragraph four—telling of the book’s self-publishing past (a usual deal killer)—she builds upon momentum she has already established, pointing out that her self-published book enjoyed real success in online sales and through word of mouth.

After Suzanne sent me this letter, the supposedly “impossible” happened: Her previously self-published book sold to Crown Books/Random House for a six-figure advance in auction, and quickly went into multiple printings. It became a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller. —Sharlene Martin


Three Keys to Crafting Chemistry Between Characters

Romance author Michelle Major explains her three go-to tips for ensuring your characters have believable chemistry.

Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

Take Two: Saving Money on Your Screenwriting Career

No one wants to break the bank to learn how to write a screenplay. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares practical tips on saving money on the pursuit of a screenwriting career.


10 Epic Quotes From Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Here are 10 epic quotes from Watership Down, by Richard Adams. The story of a group of rabbits who escape an impending danger to find a new home, Watership Down is filled with moments of survival, faith, friendship, fear, and hope.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Quintilla Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the quintilla.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Fight or Flight

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's fighting time.


Vintage WD: 10 Rules for Suspense Fiction

John Grisham once admitted that this article from 1973 helped him write his thrillers. In it, author Brian Garfield shares his go-to advice for creating great suspense fiction.


The Chaotically Seductive Path to Persuasive Copy

In this article, author, writing coach, and copywriter David Pennington teaches you the simple secrets of excellent copywriting.

Grinnell_Literary Techniques

Using Literary Techniques in Narrative Journalism

In this article, author Dustin Grinnell examines Jon Franklin’s award-winning article Mrs. Kelly’s Monster to help writers master the use of literary techniques in narrative journalism.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 545

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a cleaning poem.