What Makes a Good Nonfiction Query?
Blogger: Michelle Ule
Part 3 of 3
Today I’m going to talk about what we like to see in a nonfiction query and what causes us to ask for a full proposal. I’ll start with statistics so you can see what you’re up against if you’re submitting to us.
25% of the queries we received one month in 2011 were for nonfiction projects.
Of those queries, 25% dealt with biblical themes or some sort of apologetic.
Memoirs or other sorts of personal stories made up 25% of the queries.
The rest were divided between self-help, medical advice (including pregnancy) and relationship issues.
We usually receive at least one breast cancer story a week and even more personal tales of abuse. We receive numerous parenting queries, devotionals and projects about general biblical application.
As I described in yesterday’s post about fiction, a query is a short sales pitch designed to capture our interest and make us ask for more. It starts with a compelling subject line. We appreciate basic information right up front: That this is a nonfiction query and the actual subject of your project.
You need a good hook, a succinct project description, a short bio and an explanation about why you’re the best person to write this book.
In addition, you need to present a case as to why this book needs to be published. Nonfiction is a harder sell these days than in the past because so much information is available for free on the Internet. We need to know why someone would buy your book rather than google your subject matter.
(This is one of the reasons the parenting market has gone flat. If it’s two o’clock in the morning and your infant is ill, you’re probably more likely to hunt for an answer on the Internet than look for a book, much less buy one.)
Statistics help, but do your homework. If you’re writing about a compelling subject on which no new book has been published in more than three years, that’s important information.
Tell us about your platform and ability to help sell your books. If you have a significant platform, a famous co-writer or someone well-known in the field who has offered to write a foreword, tell us. In addition, let us know how you heard of us and why you chose to send your query to Books & Such.
We occasionally get queries from writers whose ministry will buy copies. If it’s a substantial number, tell us. Some projects are linked with an upcoming event–but, again, it takes 12- 18 months from contract to publication. If your project is connected to the 2012 London Olympics, you’re too late. If it’s something to do with the 2014 Winter Olympics, that’s a possibility.
Examine the list of publishers with which agencies do business to determine if your project is a good match. Our list can be found here.
If you’re writing a scholarly work, especially on a biblical subject, you need to have credentials. Especially if you’re a lay Bible study teacher, you need to provide information that gives you authority–how many people do you teach each week and how big is your church?
Finally, ask yourself and tell us, what’s the reader take-away from my project?
I happen to like nonfiction, and memoir is my favorite genre. I’m looking for a compelling story, told with factual accuracy that will give me a different perspective on life, or at least entertain me. I’m always asking a question as I read a nonfiction project. If you can awaken a question in my heart for something I’ve never thought about before, you just may hook me.
Remember, we’ve read a lot of queries at Books & Such, probably in the neighborhood of 35,000 in the last nine years. King Solomon may be right, there is nothing new under the sun, but there are still a lot of different ways to write about it.
What type of nonfiction book appeals to you? Do you care about the author’s credentials? Do you see a compelling need for a book on a nonfiction subject in the market today?
What have you learned over the last three days that has surprised you about queries? Did I miss anything?