How to Persuade a Literary Agent or an Editor to reply to your Query Letter

So, you wrote a book, and want it published. You follow the established path: query literary agents, only to find, and likely to great perplexity, that most don't bother to reply. You may be puzzled, or angry, and wonder what to do next.

Turn to psychology. Randy Garner presents details of an interesting study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (2005).

Researchers studied the art of persuasion based on similarity. They mailed surveys of varying information on the cover letter: one set of surveys where the name of participants matched the name of the scientist, and the other set where the names did not match.

In the matching surveys, the name of the researcher was Fred Jones, and the participants' names were Fred Smith, Fred Something-or-Other, etc. On the non-matching surveys the names of researches were different from the participants'.

"Four studies examine the influence of attaching a seemingly insignificant Post-it note to a survey packet on the likelihood of completing the survey. Participants who received a packet with an affixed Post-it note request had significantly higher return rates than participants who received the identical survey with (a) no sticky note, (b) the same message written on the cover sheet but without a Post-it or (c) a blank Post-it with no message provided. Furthermore, they returned the materials more promptly with higher quality responses. A more personalized Post-it appeal increased returns when the survey was long and time consuming but was no more effective than a nonpersonalized Post-it when the survey was easy to complete. Results suggest that the Post-it leads the request to be interpreted as a solicitation for a personal favor, facilitating a normative compliance response."


  • Surveys sent to non-matching names resulted in a 30% return rate

  • Name-Matching surveys were returned by 56% of participants

What's behind it? Another study concluded that we like people who share certain similarities with us, such as name, dress, habits, political preference, background, etc.

Thus, one may conclude that by finding literary agents, or editors, who share your name may result in higher response to your query letters. Adopting a pen-name makes the list virtually limitless...

The point: Never address your queries to "To Whom it May Concern", or "Dear Agent". Always address your recipients by their name. It's not just common courtesy. There's basic psychology in it, too.

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