Agent Query: How To Shift From “Telling” To “Selling”

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Your humble host

My friend Molli Nickell, a veteran of the publishing world with over 30 years experience in the big leagues, drops by to impart a few nuggets for those of you pursuing the traditional publishing route, but there is wisdom in her words for indies, too.

Writers: your query AND your blurb need to SELL your product.

That’s a whole different skill set than writing a story.

Here’s Molli.


Dear Writer,

What prevents writers from becoming published authors? The culprit is the query letter. Arrgh! I understand the challenge, which is why I sent you a link to my Query Letter template on February 7. Use it to help you figure out what you need to put where in your query and why.

writers, including you, don’t give yourself enough credit for what you’ve accomplished (or are accomplishing)

It seems to me that writers, including you, don’t give yourself enough credit for what you’ve accomplished (or are accomplishing) as you work your way through your novel or non-fiction project. At some point, every one of you voluntarily jumped onto the story-teller learning curve. You took classes, read how-to-write books, attended writers’ conferences, and studied with critique groups as you expanded your skills.

And then, you edited and polished your manuscript as you prepared to share it with the world. Wowzer! You discovered dozens upon dozens of virtual outlets where books and articles and blogs and magazines, could be shared in digital form and free. And of course, lurking in the background, was the option to go through the intense learning curve called “self-publishing.” (More about that in another post).

Despite this plethora of opportunity to share your work for free, most of you want to become traditionally published. Your book would become proof positive of the path you’d traveled from initial concept to finished manuscript. You want that author business card, with your name and then name of your partner, the publishing company that took a chance on you and produced your manuscript into a book.

My experience continues to be that most writers want the traditional experience. And, the one thing that blocks most of them is the ability to write an effective query letter. I’ve heard it said (whine!whine!whine!) that writing a 350-word query letter is more challenging that writing an entire 75,000-word book. I understand this feeling.

shift your mindset from “telling” to “selling.”

The query is difficult because it requires you to think differently. To shift your mindset from “telling” to “selling.” I’ve never met a writer who could do this effortlessly, who could just plop down in a chair and “whip” out a query. It doesn’t happen. For everyone, regardless of skill level, writing a query takes a certain amount of practice and the patience to revise, revise, and revise, through several drafts. Eventually, writers who are determined to master the query, do it.

practice even when your manuscript is in rough draft format

Hint: It’s never too early to begin learning how to write a query letter. I suggest you begin to practice even when your manuscript is in rough draft format. You know your story. You have the format, so what’cha’ waiting for?

Maybe more guidance.

Good news. More detailed query letter “how to” is posted on my website. Here’s the link. Take a look and get going.

Molli Nickell

May the words be with you.

Molli Nickell, the Publishing Wizard


During Molli’s 30+ years in the biz, she’s been associated with the big players including

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great upcoming sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to check out his other works.


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