You’ve written your polite, professional salutation, you’ve carefully crafted an intriguing summary filled with character and conflict, now there’s only one more bit of business—your credentials.
What are credentials for a writer? First of all, if you’re writing a non-fiction book, you don’t necessarily have to have any writing experience if you’re already an expert in the field around which your book is centered. Your job is easy. List your degrees, your profession, your speaking engagements, and you’re off.
If, on the other hand, you are writing fiction, credentials are any writing you have ever done that has seen the light of print. If you have published short stories, a novel with a small press, poems, had a play produced at a local playhouse—list these, of course. If you’ve ever written for a newspaper, no matter how small, list this. Let the agent know if you’re a technical writer, a copywriter, or a lyricist. If you edited your college newspaper, if you majored in creative writing, list these as well. If you have a popular blog, this can also be listed. Anything at all that shows you have a working knowledge of the English language is worth mentioning.
Also, if your novel deals with, say, a murder in an upscale restaurant’s kitchen, indicate that you worked for five years as a sous chef. If you are writing a crime procedural you might want to mention how you are a retired homicide detective. Anything to lend credence to your authority with a given subject.
But if you have not published anything, if you don’t have a degree in fiction, or have never written for a newspaper or made a living as a copywriter—if, in short, all you’ve done is sit down and worked as hard as you could on your first novel—don’t despair. Everyone starts somewhere. Thank the agent again, perhaps drop a line about being hard at work on your next novel, and say good-bye. It’s possible there will be agents who won’t consider your work because you haven’t proven yourself yet, but if you have a good story to tell, someone somewhere will recognize this and give you chance to prove it.