Query Queries: Pitching Your Self-Published Book To An Agent


Many writers who’ve self-published a book for one reason or another get to a point where they want the book to be taken to the next level and see a widespread, traditional release.

If you are looking to pitch a self-published book to a literary agent, you must understand that you have a tougher submission road than others. That’s because when agents review a query for an unpublished novel, they’re looking for voice and story. When agents review a query for a self-published novel, they’re looking for voice and story—and they’re also looking for one or several good reasons as to why this book deserves a second life via traditional publishing. Agents look for factors that hint at money and success. You are trying to show that your book is head and shoulders above the other million items that are self-published each year, and thus it demands fresh attention.

Here are 4 elements to include in a query letter for your self-published book that can impress an agent:

  1. Sales numbers. How many copies has the book sold? And by sold, I don’t mean free downloads. I mean how many copies you’ve sold for money. How many print books? How many e-books? (And since it’s assumed e-books are usually downloaded at $0.99, have wording in your query if the price was higher—such as $2.99 or $6.99.) “Impressive” sales numbers will differ from agent to agent, but you shouldn’t query before you’ve sold at least 2,000-3,000 print books or 10,000-20,000 e-books.
  2. Awards and any recognition. Did it make any online “best of” lists? Did it reach No. 1 in any category bestseller lists on Amazon? Has it collected any accolades that vouch for its content and quality? Such recognition could be a local honor, or a niche fiction award, or anything else.
  3. High-profile endorsements or blurbs. Since your book’s release, has it attracted the attention of any notable authors, politicians, celebrities, organizations, or person of interest? If so, whom? What did they say about the book? A blurb from a recognizable name or large group is a great marketing tool, and agents know this.
  4. Media attention or reviews. Has your book received a review in any mainstream publications or media outlets, such as morning TV shows (local or otherwise), newspapers, magazines, or notable blogs? If so, explain some of the greatest hits. Please keep in mind that Amazon reviews do not count.

So, Will an Agent Find Your Self-Published Book and Contact You?

A deep hope within authors is that, after a book is self-published and available for purchase, a literary agent will come across the work and come a-calling. Does this happen? Occasionally. Does this happen with any degree of regularity? No.

Some agents make an effort to scan through Amazon’s e-book bestseller lists and find hidden gems that are blowing up the charts. In fact, this happened to Couleen Houck, author of Tiger’s Curse. After she e-published her book and spread the word to friends, it remarkably made its way to the No. 1 spot on the Kindle children’s bestseller lists for seven straight weeks.

Getting to that spot for just one week would have been impressive, but seven straight weeks is quite amazing. Says Houck: “Costco contacted me about selling my series in some of their stores. I was contacted by China, Thailand, and Korea to see if the translation rights had been sold. A film producer e-mailed me. My world was spinning when a literary agent contacted me. He said he’d found me on Amazon and was impressed with my reviews. Two days later I had representation. Within a few weeks, I had a [traditional] book deal.”

So, as Houck’s success story shows, this possible path to publication can indeed happen, but it’s a rarity in a marketplace glutted with self-published works. And don’t forget Houck’s book was huge—and your book is likely not selling at the stratospheric levels hers was. So don’t just e-mail an agent and say, “Check out my book! [Amazon hyperlink] IT’S THE BOMB!” Understand that you’re not yet at a level where it’s that easy. Entice the agent by mentioning sales figures, pricing details, media attention, endorsements, awards and more for your book. These items don’t come quickly or easily, but including them in your query letter will immediately make your work stand out among other self-published books.

Query QueriesWriting Life

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