By Wendy Keller
You have surely heard that people make a decision about whether they like and trust you within seconds of first meeting you. The same is true when you send a query to a literary agency…the first few sentences make a huge difference in what happens next.
The following sentences will grab attention right away.
#1 Best First Sentence: Your Ability to Reach Your Audience
“I am a professional speaker…” tied with “I have a Facebook following of 45,000….” Or “I am the host of my own podcast, reaching 134,000 people every 2 weeks.” Or something else that identifies you as someone who already reaches a large number of people with your content.
Why? Because publishers and agents are greedy. We actually expect the products we create (books) to make a profit so we can all stay in business. People who have even a slight ability to reach others (blogging, speaking, podcasting, media, whatever) are valuable to us because we know you can be groomed to sell more books than someone who has been sitting on their backside waiting for the Attention Fairy to make them interesting, motivated and famous enough to get some attention on their topic.
#2 Best Sentence: Summarize the Size of the Need
“6 million Americans will lose their job at some time in the next 3 years. My book addresses…” or “According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 42 million people suffer from … and my book is the first to clearly identify the 5 ways they can recover.”
Those kinds of audience-defining statements are hugely valuable.
Why? The viability of a nonfiction book is calculated by the publisher based on the size of the potential reader group. If 8,000 people have a problem your book solves, you should probably self-publish. But if 800,000 have it, and you are not writing the same content as all the books already out there, and you seem smart enough to promote yourself in your target group, now everyone is interested in you.
#3 Best Sentence: Outline Your Unique Expertise
“My clinic sees 200,00 patients a year for weight issues. Our success rate is 63%…” or “I sold more cars than any other sales person in the state of Utah three years in a row. My book outlines my strategy.” Or “As a therapist, I specialize in children who….and I discovered a new technique that consistently changes lives.”
Bad example: “I am a mother of three and we used to live in Michigan but now we live in Illinois…” along with “I am the author of 17 unpublished novels, 8 screenplays and this nonfiction book..” and this week’s most alarming, “Writing books is how I want to make my living. I lost my job a few months ago…”
Why does your expertise matter so much? Because there are close to 500,000 books published every year in the USA now, not counting all the ones that came before. Having expertise means you may have something unique to contribute to the content glut that invariably exists in your subject matter.
What if you don’t have any of these things to say? What if you’re just a nice person with a great idea for a book? Well, honestly, chances are you’re going to have a rough time finding an agent. And even if you can wheedle someone into representing you, your agent will have a very difficult time selling your book.
You’ll want to spend your time building a platform before you waste more time trying to find an agent. A platform is a large, growing group of fans who like what you have to say and who willingly interact with you. (No, that’s not the publisher’s or the agent’s job. You won’t get a publisher or an agent until you start taking steps in that direction and strangers start responding to you!)
On our website www.KellerMedia.com,, you can find a lot of information about platform because if your market really exists (like in Example #2 above) then by reaching out to them, you prove to everyone that you are a good, reliable provider of quality content. And that makes you more likely to be a successful author someday soon.