literary agents

  • Four Steps for Query Letter Success

    Query letters: THE single most common question I get from unpublished writers.

    And they're right to be worrying about them. Very few good-sized publishers will even read from the slush pile anymore.

    You've got to have an agent. That means, absent a direct referral, you need a query letter.

    So here's your plan for success:

    1. Check out the WSJ articles on why you need an agent HERE.
    2. Read my original query letter from years ago, the one that got me my first agent.  Still works exactly like that.
    3. Need a template: here you go. One page, no more, but the toughest one page you'll ever write.
    4. Finally, look at this  great collection of honest-to-God query letters that made agents bite. I really like this list because the agents themselves tell you exactly what captivated them in each query letter.

    Got a query letter that's not working that you'd let me use in a blog post?  Drop me a note at



  • Query Letters



    Yep, this is really the letter that landed a top New York agent oh so many years ago. It’s written in what used to be de rigueur for writers: Courier 12 – in this case, New Courier – with two spaces after punctuation, unjustified margins an in “business letter” format. With a few changes in the mechanics, it’s exactly how a query letter should read today.

    Based on this letter, George Wieser took me on as a client and he and his associates went on to sell my manuscripts to more than a couple of big New York publishers. The actual book pitched here, Rites of War, went on to hit the USA Today bestseller list. Since then, I’ve had several agents, but getting signed on never came close to that first agent thrill.

    Do cold query letters work? You bet they do. A number of bestselling authors got their first agents with cold query letters, Dale Brown and Steve Martini among them. Whether you email a query or go the old-fashioned route, it’s still a primary way of connecting with an agent or editor.

    Now, one thing you must remember, and that’s the point of the query letter. The ONLY goal of a query letter is to get the editor to request the full manuscript. I don’t care if you’re querying a fiction or nonfiction manuscript or even an article – the ONLY goal is to get a request for the full manuscript. Don’t forget that.

    When they follow this template, most decent writers have around an eighty percent request-for-manuscript rate. Most of them think that’s pretty good.

    Now, obviously – if your writing is awful, it’s going to be tough to draft a strong query letter. Same thing with your concept or story or log line. If you’re getting rejections when you’re using this template, then you need to find someone who will tell you the truth about your work and how it measures up to current industry standards.

    That kind of help is beyond the scope of this report, but if you need help, shoot me an email. I can usually tell within a couple of pages if that’s your problem.

    So. On to the query letter that put me on the bestseller list!



    Cyndy Mobley

    XXX North Second Avenue


    Wieser & Wieser


    New York, NY XXXXX

    13 May 1995

    Dear Mr. Wieser:

    Marc Iverson suggested I contact you.  Marc and I are in the same Naval Reserve unit and he just finished reading a manuscript I’ve had in the works for a few years.  He gave me the “full Cleveland” on a previous draft and he says it’s now ready to see the light of day.

    When the Russians activate still-functioning WWII mine fields around key Mediterranean choke points, the Commanding Officer of Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit 106, Lieutenant Commander Jerusha Bailey, must fight through a web of deception and betrayal in order to reach the one man who can prevent a war – the Russian submarine commander now stalking her ship.  Rites of War (95,000 words)is the story of a National Security Agency analyst thrust into the center a conflict at sea and the choices she must make and the promises she must break in order to prevent World War III.

    I enlisted in the Navy when I was 18.  I’m currently the ASW officer in a Naval Reserve unit that provides expert wargaming for battle force commanders.  When not with my reserve unit, I’m practicing law in San Diego.

    Can I shoot Rites of War over to you?  I’m enclosing an SASE or you can reach me at ***-***-****.

    Thanks so much for your time!


    Cynthia Mobley


    So, what do you think?

    What a different world back then, yes? World War III was as “right there” as terrorist activity is now. The thriller world was still obsessed with Tom Clancy and The Hunt for Red October, so anything having to do with submarines and mines was exceptionally hot. Publishers were searching for a breakout female protagonist in the genre, so the idea of a female officer in the middle of combat was unique and very appealing. And throw in the National Security Agency – well, the story line hit al the right notes.

    Would exactly the same story get the same results today?  Honestly, I’m not sure. The genre has changed and people are more worried about terrorist attacks than World War II. It would be harder to get the editor to suspend disbelief, but not impossible.

    One funny thing about the final contract: while the publisher was frothing to have a female protagonist, marketing felt that having a female name as author would be a turn off. So the author name on the cover was CA Mobley, not Cyn Mobley.

    One thing I’m sure about, though. This approach still works. I see it every year through the writing workshops I teach and in my own career.

    Do you have to do it this way? Of course not. It’s your career. Sit in some agents’ and editors’ offices and watched them scan through their slush piles and you’ll know what they’re looking for.

    This template is a place to start. It’s a structure. Use it when you’re tired of staring at a blank page and then when you know the rules, feel free to break them.

    And be forewarned: after your first sale, everything changes. Then it’s a phone call and an email – no more cold call query letters!

    Now that you’ve seen my query letter, let me show you the full template and the variations I’ve used.


    The Bestseller Query Letter Template

    Paragraph 1. The Opening:

    Referral?  Tim Jacobs suggested I contact you.

    Hook? Have you ever peed on a fire hydrant?

    Interest? Congrats on the sale of Kumquat Heaven  to Warners.

    Reminder? When we met at the Maui Writers Conference, you told me to drop dead.

    Paragraph 2. The Story

    a. Open with a log line OR a question.

    When a giant shark devastates his community, police officer Kevin Bacon must overcome his fear of the water to protect the community he serves.

    How far will a cop go to protect his family?

    b. Then the story.

    A Strange and Separate Journey (80,000 words) chronicles his search for peace and heavier firearms.  STORY, not plot.

    Paragraph 3. The Author

    Be interesting and sound easy to work with.

    If you don’t think there’s anything interesting about you – YOU’RE WRONG.

    Paragraph 4. Close

    It’s complete OR I’ve attached chapters OR proposal.


    SASE or recycle

    Looking forward to your response



    Based on my life....

    My family loves it....

    But it really happened that way....


    So. That's how you write a killer query letter. 

    Next question: which agents to query?

    Why not try the most current top ten?





  • Top Ten Agents from NYT Bestseller List

    New York Times Fiction Hardcover List


    Need an agent? Why not query the best? These agents all have clients on the toughest list to crack, the New York Times fiction hardcover list.

    These are the top ten bestsellers on the New York Times Hardcover List, listed by name (linked to their submission page), email, client, and NYT Bestseller title.

    Please visit the agents’ sites and read their requirements before submitting. Those that say they are not accepting submissions may look at a query letter.

    Good luck! 

    19 January 2018


    Jennifer Joel


    Agent: Jennifer Joel

    Agency: Curtis Brown

    Book: The Woman in the Window: A Novel

    Representing - A. J. Finn


    Heide Lange


    Agent: Heide Lange

    Agency: Greenburger Associates

    Book: Origin: A Novel

    Representing - Dan Brown


     David Gernert


    Agent: David Gernert

    Agency: The Gernert Co

    Book: The Rooster Bar

    Representing - John Grisham


    Inkwell Management


    Agent: Inkwell Management

    Agency: Inkwell Management

    Book: The People vs. Alex Cross

    Representing - James Patterson


    Darley Anderson


    Agent: Darley Anderson

    Agency: Darley Anderson Literary Agency

    Book: The Midnight Line: A Jack Reacher Novel

    Representing - Lee Child


    Julie Barer


    Agent: Julie Barer

    Agency: The Book Group

    Book: Little Fire Everywhere

    Representing - Celeste Ng


    David Fugate


    Agent: David Fugate

    Agency: Launch Books

    Book: Artemis: A Novel

    Representing - Andy Weir


    Amy Berkower


    Agent: Amy Berkower

    Agency: Writers House

    Book: Year One: Chronicles of the One, Book 1

    Representing - Nora Roberts


    Abner Stein


    Agents: Dennis & Sandy Voilette

    Agency: Abner Stein

    Book: End Game (Will Robie Series)

    Representing - David Baldacci


    Aaron Priest


    Agent: Aaron Priest

    Agency: Aaron Priest Literary Agency

    Book: The Wanted (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike)

    Representing - Robert Crais


    Robin Rue


    Agent: Robin Rue

    Agency: Writers House

    Book: Tom Clancy Power and Empire (A Jack Ryan Novel)

    Representing - Marc Cameron










    16 Aug 2016


    Faye Bender


    Agent: Faye Bender

    Agency: The Book Group

    Book: Truly, Madly, Guilty

    Representing - Liane Moriarty


    DeFiore & Company


    Agent: DeFiore & Company

    Agency: DeFiore & Company

    Book: The Black Widow

    Representing - Daniel Silva


     The Clegg Agency


    Agency: The Clegg Agency

    Book: The Girls

    Representing - Emma Cline


    Eve White


    Agency: Eve White

    Book: The Woman in Cabin 10

    Representing - Ruth Ware


    Park Literary


    Agency: Park Literary & Media

    Book: First Comes Love

    Representing - Emily Griffin


    Jane Rotrosen


    Agency: Jane Rotrosen

    Book: The Nightingale

    Representing - Kristin Hannah

    Email: See site for agent emails

    Lyceum Agency


    Agency: Lyceum Agency

    Book: All The Light We Cannot See

    Representing - Anthony Doerr

    Email: See site for agent emails

    Amy Berkower


    Agency: The Wylie Agency

    Book: Heroes of the Frontier

    Representing - Dave Eggers


    Morton Janklow


    Agent: Morton Janklow

    Agency: Morton Janklow

    Book: Magic

    Representing - Danielle Steel


    Darhansoff & Verrill


    Agency: Darhansoff & Verrill

    Book: End of Watch

    Representing - Stephen King



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