Literary agents make a business of getting publishing houses to consider producing
books written by their authors. Many writers, myself included, have long thought, ďif I could
just get a good hard-working agent to represent me, then he or she would pitch my
concepts to the publishers and voila, Iíd be a big successful published author.Ē
Unfortunately -- and youíre probably ahead of me on this but Iím going to write it anyway --
it doesnít work this way. Literary agents are like speakers bureaus; they donít need you
until you are a hot, in-demand product. They want to sign you up when publishers are
clamoring for you. That makes their selling jobs easier and their credibility and incomes
Well, does that mean itís impossible to entice an agent to represent you before your
name is established in literary circles? No, but you have to prove to them that your
manuscript has great potential for commercial success. How do you do that? Iíll tell you,
but first let me warn you not to fall into a common trap for the new writer. Donít become
so enamored with your manuscript that you fail to succinctly identify why it is unique and
exactly what itís commercial appeal might be.
Itís easy to understand how we speakers fall in love with our own writing. We slave at it
for hours, weeks, years. We make sacrifices. We give up family life, social activities,
even our own leisure alone time. We face blank pages with fierce determination to tame
the unruly thoughts bouncing around in our minds until they make sense to the imaginary
readers who will judge our results and fund our success. By the time weíve completed
our masterpieces, you bet weíre in love with them, as any mother who has brought forth
a child can clearly understand.
So when most of us write query letters to entice agents to notice us, we start off
announcing what a piece of work our writing is, similar to the mother who proudly
maintains that her child is the most wonderful creation of the ages. Bad approach.
Thatís the assault agents are bombarded with on a regular basis. It is not uncommon
for established agents to receive queries like this daily. Many agents have adopted a
ďdonít waste my timeĒ attitude toward writers who are eager to proclaim ďmy book is
For years I struggled to find an agent who might be interested in lobbying on my behalf
to get my book published. I was frustrated. But finally, when I changed my tactic, I began
to find interested agents. The trick? I looked at the process from their angle rather that
from my own self-centered point of view.
Hereís a letter I sent to agents. Youíll see the logic in it as you read it.
Dear Mr./Ms. Agent,
Unless itís got blockbuster potential, a book project isnít worth an agentís
glance these days. One component of such a book is (1) buzz recognition.
Another is (2) success orientation.
My book (3), Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work is based on (4) Daniel
Golemanís best seller, Emotional Intelligence, as seen through the eyes of (5)
successful leaders in the workplace.
The underlined parts of the letter need to be filled in with your own manuscriptís special
success features. Numbers (1) and (2) tell the agent two factors about the work that
make it desirable in the marketplace. In my case, the buzz recognition is current
popularity of the phrase emotional intelligence: (3) is the proposed title of the book: (4)
substantiates the validity by saying what itís based on: (5) relates to the point of view or
ďangleĒ the work takes.
To illustrate another book I wrote could be described by filling in the blanks like this: (1)
a credible formula for youth and longevity; (2) a broad receptive demographic; (3) ďLook
10 Years Younger/Live 10 Years LongerĒ; (4) credible and useful research; (5) the
emerging demographic of middle-age baby boomers.
Now I leave it for you to fill in the blanks for your book, as you are the best judge to
determine how to craft it into a blockbuster. I hope you take the time to do this because
if you donít readily have the answers, then you arenít ready to convince a literary agent
that your work has blockbuster potential. Spend some time polishing your version of this
letter and you will have agents taking a second and third look at what you are bringing to
David Ryback is the president of EQ Associates in Atlanta. Heís the author of Putting
Emotional Intelligence to Work and Look 10 Years Younger/Live 10 Years
He can be reached at Eqassoc@aol.com