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

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Magazine Cover Reveal, Literary Agent Boot Camp Announced, and More!

This week, we’re excited to reveal the cover for our upcoming July/August issue of Writer’s Digest, a Literary Agent Boot Camp, and more!

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Author Camille Aubray discusses her recent novel The Godmothers, including what prompted the book, why writers should write everything down, the importance of understanding the nuances of human nature, and more.

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soul Mate

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soulmate

Bestselling author Laura Munson shares how journaling lead to a breakthrough in her fiction writing and how you can use journaling to do the same.

From Script

A Fond Farewell to Netflix’s Lucifer, Writing Video Games, and Do Experts Stand in the Way of Your Writing Goals?: From Script

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, exclusive interviews with Lucifer TV writer Chris Rafferty and video game writer Ian Ryan. Plus, learn about screenwriting trailblazer France Goodrich Hacket, who co-wrote It’s a Wonderful Life, and advice on when and when not to approach a writing expert to reach your writing goals.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is misusing dialogue tags.

Poetic Forms

Boketto: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, Walter J. Wojtanik shares his relatively new form, the boketto.

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

In this article, author Paul Neilan explains how he came up with the idea for his mystery and dark comedy novel The Hollywood Spiral.


Deborah Hall, 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winner

The winner of the 2020 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards discusses the inspiration behind her first-place poem, “The Loneliest Whale."

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters split up.