Thursday, October 28, 2010

Query Chat Tonight! and How to Write a Non-Fiction Query

Today's the day!! Join us at the Operation Awesome Blog at 9pm EST/8 CST for a LIVE query chat with the Queen of Ninja Queries herself, the awesome Ms. Elana Johnson. 

In honor of our query talk tonight, I thought I'd repost an article I did last year on How to Write a Non-Fiction Query. Elana will be addressing fiction (which I know most people who read this blog write) but in case there are a few of my non-fiction peeps hanging in the wings, here's a little something for you :)

And for everyone, no matter what genre you write, DO NOT MISS this awesome opportunity to get all your query questions answered by the woman who literally wrote the book on the subject. (Seriously, she did, and it is can buy it HERE) :D

Now, for non-fiction queries, even though the elements are similar to a fiction query, it's just a whole different angle of pitching your book. So, here goes.

What to include in your non-fiction query:

1. Your lead/hook

Just like in a fiction query, your opening paragraph should hook the editor or agent into wanting to find out more. But you also need to clearly state what the book is about. With fiction, sometimes you might leave out some details in order to entice your audience into wanting to read more. But with non-fiction, publishers generally buy the book before it's even written based on your proposal. They need to know specifically what is in your book in order for them to want more, so get right to the point. Don't save the best for last. Start with your strongest material. You could start off saying something like, "In a recent NYT article, it was reported that over 60% of Americans are dying to buy my book." :D You could also use a strong anecdote or comparison.

2. Supporting Material

This is where you back up your thesis (the idea for the book). You could add some preliminary details that you've researched. This is also where you would state why your book should exist. What is the need for it? Maybe mention the strong market for it. Will your book help millions of students pass their math classes? Say so. Will it teach all those frustrated mothers how to deal with fussy children? Point that out. Are the skateboarding teenagers of the world crying out for a book on cool stickers to decorate their boards with? Well this is the book they've been waiting for!!

Sell your idea and back up your claims. Just make sure you do it in a page or less :D

3. Author Bio

As in fiction, this is where you toot your own horn as loud as you can. But make sure the material is relevant. The editors and agents don't need to know how many kids you have or what kind of dog you have, unless your book is about training kids or dogs :D Do you have any publishing credits? Put them in! Degrees, special training courses relevant to your book, any other experiences that prove why you are the best person to be writing this book? Put it in! You want to show them why you are qualified to write the book you are proposing, why you are the best one for the job. So any relevant credentials you have, be they educational, professional, or real world experiences, should be included.

4. Closing

Use strong closing statements to finish off your query. Don't be shy about stating clearly what you are looking for. "I am seeking representation for this book. I look forward to your response." Don't use phrases like "I hope you like this," "I hope I'll hear from you soon." Keep it strong and confident. And be sure to thank them for their time. Being polite never hurts :)

And it is always a good idea to have a writer friend or three look over your query before you send it to help catch those embarrassing typos we all make. :)

When you are writing your query keep in mind these two things: what is the need and how does your book address that need?

This is your selling point - this is what will make a publisher buy your book. With my book, I pointed out how many students were in this country (with actual statistics), pointed out that every single one of them had to take Language Arts classes where they would be expected to write essays, and then I pointed out how much trouble the vast majority of these students have with this task.

I mentioned how other guidebooks out there tend to be too technical, hard to understand, and just plain boring and how this does nothing but further confuse and frustrate students. And then I zinged in with how my book was going to change all this. I pointed out the ways in which my book was different, mentioned specifically everything my book would contain (step-by-step instructions on how to write over a dozen different types of essays, including the SAT essay; rough draft, edited, and final copy examples of each type of essay; tips on researching, citing sources, and proofreading).

I followed it up with my bio - and since this was a weak section for me, I made sure to list EVERYTHING that could help show why I was the best person to write this degrees, my personal experience with helping people with writing, my experience with my blogs, and the publications in the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

And it worked :)

Please join us at over at Operation Awesome tonight! Bring your query questions and take notes! See you there :)


Ishta Mercurio said...

I will be there. I will also be watching Grey's - nothing comes between me and my Grey's - but I will be there.

See you then!

Ishta Mercurio said...

Oh, and this was very, very informative, by the way! You see info on query writing everywhere, but it is overwhelmingly for novelists. Good info on writing a non-fiction proposal is much harder to come by.

Michelle McLean said...

thanks :) and that is very true - I had the hardest time finding info on writing a NF query (which is different from the proposal actually - I have a post on writing the actual proposal in my How To section as well) :D

I think it must be assumed that NF writers automatically know all this stuff...I don't know, but it is surprisingly difficult to find information out there. So I figure we need to help each other and share what we know :)

Madeleine said...

Wow that's amazing! Congratulations :O)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Very helpful! I have no platform for non-fiction, but I do LOVE to read it, especially if it has to do with education, parenting, or natural living. So much knowledge out there!

I'm glad somebody's telling those non-fiction writers how to be heard/read.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yay, Elana!! It's nice to see something for non-fiction. I don't think there's enough of this info out there. :-)

Elana Johnson said...

Yeah, it worked! Great post!

Theresa Milstein said...

I've never tried to write a non-fiction query. If I ever write a memoir about substitute teaching, I'll keep this post in mind.

If you have a chance, stop by my blog "Substitute Teacher's Saga". I'm hosting a Halloween Haunting from 10/28-11/1. Enter to win a prize.