Agent Bob Silverstein On: Query Letter Tips

First, let me tell you about query letters that immediately turn me off: 1. When they are typed on an old typewriter or, worse, handwritten and often illegible. The look of a query letter is important in making a good first impression. Use a computer! Bob's guest column is an excerpt from Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents.
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Editor's note: I am declaring November 2010 to be "Agent Guest Column Month," and therefore, every weekday, I will be posting a guest column by a literary agent. Day 19: Today's guest agent is Bob Silverstein of Quicksilver Books Literary Agency.

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Bob's guest column is an excerpt from
Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from
Top Agents. Buy it here.

First, let me tell you about query letters that immediately turn me off:

  1. When they are typed on an old typewriter or, worse, handwritten and often illegible. The look of a query letter is important in making a good first impression. Use a computer!
  2. Those that list multiple projects and crossover genres; for example: Novel #1 is sci-fi, novel #2 is a western, and novel #3 is a young adult, etc. This kind of shotgun approach is bound to backfire. 
  3. Letters that go on for pages. As far as I’m concerned, one page—a little more at most—should be sufficient.

OK, so much for the negative. Now on to the positive. For me, the best and most effective query letters do the following:

  • They immediately establish the author as someone to take seriously; for example: I’m a member if the National Writers Union.
  • My name is (name) and I’m the author of (a book or books) previously published by (house).
  • You were recommended to me by (a current client or a person I would know).
  • They include reviews, new clips, flyers, etc. that showcase the author as a person with a platform, media exposure, and marketing capability. This may not be as important for fiction, but is especially crucial in many nonfiction categories that an author have credentials and/or endorsements from peers, celebrities, etc.
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