A Killer Query

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