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The Secret Query Letter Tip that Landed an Agent:

Updated: Feb 27

From an Interview with Author Cristina LePort

The story is as familiar as A, B, C, or 1, 2, 3. An author pours their heart and soul into a manuscript, convinced it's ready for the world. They enthusiastically send out dozens of query letters, eagerly awaiting a response. Yet, more often than not, they receive form rejections or silence in return. It's a tale of hope, dashed expectations, and the harsh reality of the publishing industry.

Author Cristina LePort, the creative mind behind the gripping medical thriller Dissection, found herself caught in this all-too-common narrative. Her debut novel, described by none other than Lee Child as "breathless suspense," was her labor of love. Like so many authors, she embarked on the query letter journey, sending out her manuscript to literary agents with high hopes. However, the path to publishing success is rarely straightforward. Cristina faced hundreds of rejections. Yet, amidst this sea of discouragement, she managed to achieve what many aspiring authors dream of—she uncovered a secret tip to capture a literary agent's attention, with whose help she ultimately published her book.

The importance of a strong hook

Cristina, like many authors at the outset, understood the necessity of a strong hook. In a world where literary agents receive hundreds of queries, the first few lines often determine whether your manuscript gets a second glance. She says,

The most important thing is the query. You really have to have a catching beginning because most agents don't even read the entire query. They just read the first couple of lines.

Cristina created what she initially believed to be a strong hook, "Your heart attack will arrive within an hour." At first glance, Cristina’s hook seems like it should have all the elements necessary to catch a literary agent’s attention. It not only piques curiosity, but it also showcases her genre, medical thriller. However, after sending query letter after query letter with this hook, Cristina realized she wasn’t getting results. She says, “So you think it’s good, but sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.”

So if the hook isn’t the book itself, what is it? Keep reading to find out.

What Should a Hook Have? The Answer is Surprising.

It turns out that Cristina’s initial instinct was correct. She did indeed need a hook. However, it turned out, it just wasn’t the hook she thought it was. 

After enduring round after round of rejections and disheartening silence, Cristina decided it was time for a change in her approach. Frustration had reached its peak, and she contemplated self-publishing. However, during this research phase she discovered “a coach to get an agent.” The fact that someone could make a living by coaching authors in this pursuit was eye-opening, but Cristina felt she had nothing to lose and decided to give it a shot, despite the high cost.

So, what sage advice did this coach offer? It was a game-changer. The coach suggested that Cristina highlight a unique selling point: the fact that her book had been edited by a highly reputable editor, one who had previously played a significant role in launching Stephen King's and John Grisham’s careers. Cristina had discovered this editor through diligent online research and had hired him to work on her manuscript. 

This newfound selling point became Cristina's new hook. And it worked wonders. By placing this information first in her query letters, Cristina saw a surge in interest. Her query letters, now armed with this impressive hook, garnered a remarkable ten requests for manuscript submissions from literary agents, some of whom had previously rejected it. She says, “Can you imagine this? So obviously agents rejected my book before because they never really looked at it.”

What are sources of reputation?

It turned out that the secret sauce to the query letter hook was not a pithy sentence about the story, but external validation. So what kinds of external validation can an author find to use as their hook? Consider the following. 

Work with a well-known editor. Rewind to when Cristina was still polishing the novel she eventually sent to agents. She knew she needed an editor to help her with the process. She says of her editor,

He really helped me, and he loved my book. So he gave me a very big boost of confidence.

Lucky for you, you don’t have to wait. Whatever stage your story is in, you can look for a well-known editor to work with your book. Dropping that name in the first line could be the difference between your query letter getting read or not. 

Get a blurb from a well-known author. Another potential external validation point Cristina’s coach mentioned was a book endorsement by a well-known author. She says, “If you have some potential blurb—they're not going to give you a blurb until you get published—but if you connect to some famous author and you can say in your query that you may have a potential endorsement… That’s very important.” Cristina eventually got an endorsement from Lee Child, author of the bestselling Jack Reacher series. Although it happened after she got an agent, it’s another source she could have used. 

It’s a source you can use too. Reach out to authors you respect, express your genuine enthusiasm for their work, and see if they would be open to endorsing your novel. 

Use your writing credentials. If you’ve won any awards with your work, be sure to mention that first in your letter. Winning awards or competitions is another marker of validation and can seriously boost your credibility as an author—ie, hooking the agent. 


Just remember, rejection is not the end but a chance for growth. Stay true to your work, harness your unique strengths, and persist through the uncertainty. Cristina's story is an inspiration to keep moving forward. Let her journey inspire you on your own path, as a reminder that persistence and authenticity can ultimately lead to your breakthrough moment.

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