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How to Write a Query Letter

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How To Write a Book Proposal

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How to Write a Query Letter:
Nonfiction

The following is an excerpt from Write a Book Without Lifting a Finger by Mahesh Grossman, available at www.WriteABookToday.com and bookstores everywhere.

The letter you send to an agent to get him to request your book proposal is a query letter.

It needs to be a real attention grabber. Agents sometimes read these one hundred at a time.

All the material you need for a query letter is in the overview of your proposal. If your overview is more than a page and a half, shorten it to that size. Add a paragraph asking the agent to request your proposal. That will give you a good first draft of a query letter.

Here's the basic format:

  1. Start off by saying "I am seeking representation for _____." Fill in the title of your book along with a two sentence version of your book's hook.
  2. Follow that with the reason you are querying this particular agent. Steps 1 and 2 form your first paragraph.
  3. In the next paragraph, expand the description of your book and explain who will want to read your book and why.
  4. Take a few sentences to say why your book is different from all other books on the subject.
  5. Next, mention any promised endorsements or foreword.
  6. Follow that by explaining why you are qualified to write this book.
  7. If you have a sizable audience that knows you through your work with the media, internet mailing list, or ongoing speaking appearances, communicate that. (This is called your platform.) If you give seminars and can guarantee that you will sell a certain number of books as part of the cost of your seminars, mention that.
  8. Do you have a marketing idea that is unusual? If you truly believe that it will make a difference in whether or not an agent is interested in representing you, put it in your query letter.
  9. Finally, tell the agent how to request the proposal from you. If you want to create some urgency, use the exclusivity close from the query below.

Here is the query letter writer Peggy Vincent sent to agents:

Dear ______,

I am seeking representation for a 400-page memoir, Baby Catcher, an eye-opening, poignant, often hilarious romp through my fifteen years as a certified nurse midwife in Berkeley, California. (1-2 sentences about why I have chosen this particular agent)

The story begins with Zelda, a pregnant black woman in "Mr. Duke’s hospital" in 1962. Similar in organization and anecdotal style of writing to James Herriot's memoirs, each chapter in Baby Catcher can stand alone. Taken from my experiences in delivering over two thousand babies, the stories are arranged like a crazy quilt of births in all their marvelous, often dramatic and sometimes frightening individuality. I sew the pieces together with the thread of my belief that women's bodies know more about having babies than their brains do. Given freedom and support, laboring women will find their own best way to give birth. I've laughed and danced with women and listened to them sing Golden Oldies through their labors. I've watched them clap their hands, bang on the walls, and backpedal crab-wise into a closet moments before giving birth. I've delivered the baby of a redheaded Scot in a thunderstorm on a leaky sailboat and cupped the bum of a breech baby in my palm in the back seat of a speeding car. But nothing in my conservative upbringing in the Midwest prepared me for midwifing a tattooed and multi-pierced centerfold model for an S&M magazine.

In spite of midwifery being known as 'the second oldest profession for women,' very few books by or about midwives exist. The huge success of Gay Courter's The Midwife, and Chris Bohjalian’s novel, Midwives, chosen as an Oprah book, demonstrates that there is a wide audience for stories about midwives. Baby Catcher will fill the neglected niche of non-fiction writing on the subject. The two midwifery memoirs that are still in print and selling well are Diary of a Midwife by Juliana Van Olphen-Fehr and A Midwife’s Story by Penny Armstrong. In a class by itself is the 'Amazing Birthing Tales' section of Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. For twenty-five years women have loved reading those birth stories, but many were turned off by the hippie language and counter-cultural lifestyle that the book espoused. Baby Catcher, written by a licensed midwife with one foot on the home birth side of the ideological fence but with the other one firmly planted in Western medical tradition, will have an even broader appeal. Essayist Philip Lopate read three chapters of Baby Catcher, described them as 'superb and engaging,' and has agreed to provide a quote for the book jacket when it is published. Adair Lara, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Cathy Luchetti, author of Medicine Women, have also promised endorsements.

I will show this proposal (including three representative chapters) to only one agent at a time, so if you are interested in seeing it, please contact me right away by phone, pager, fax, or email. An SASE is enclosed for your convenience in replying.

Yours truly,
Peggy Vincent

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