By Elise Howard, Query Manager for Keller Media, Inc.
A query is an email or letter an author sends to an agency in hopes of getting them to work for free to sell the author’s book, at which point the agency will earn 15%.
My role is to read the queries and compare them to the agency’s established guidelines. In all the years Keller Media has been successfully selling books, they have a pretty good idea of what will sell, why and to whom.
When an author sends us something that is juvenile, poetry or a screenplay, that is an easy, instant No. We don’t handle those kinds of books and yet so many people send them to us! They obviously know nothing about us and are bulk-sending to as many agencies as they can.
When an author has a nonfiction to share, more than half the time it is a really sad story about their childhood, bad marriage or other trauma. Thousands of those kinds of books are offered to us. Unfortunately, there is not really much of a market for those unless the author is out there speaking on the topic, leading workshops, is running a growing charity, something like that. So those are also a No in most cases.
This means I’m only really considering about 25% of what we’re offered. Those are business, self-help, science and a few other categories the agents here handle. Sometimes, I can tell right away that the author has no idea about the other similar books out there.
Here at the agency, Wendy Keller tells the story of how someone pitched a book called, “Men are from Pluto, Women are from Uranus” – at a time when John Gray’s book by a similar name was a best-seller. The hopeful writer promised he’d never heard of Gray’s book.
Once I get through rejecting all the books that are just repeats of similar books (whether the author thinks so or not!) I am down to about 5-10% of that day’s queries. Those I pass along to the appropriate Keller Media agent.
To me, from my side of the desk, it seems so obvious! The way to successfully attract an agent who adores your work and works hard to help you sell it is to avoid the pitfalls mentioned in this article. Good luck to everyone!