Author Resource Center: Checklist Nonfiction Book Query Letter Submission

Your Nonfiction Book Query Letter is your first contact with publishers or literary agents and it is the first step in the traditional publishing process. This is your big chance to impress them and to have them eagerly request a book proposal from you.

You should always look at their specific submission guidelines to be sure that you have complied with all their requirements.  Goldilocks will show you the basic industry components for your Nonfiction Query Letter submission.

Make sure that you have included the following components in your Nonfiction Query Letter…

Your contact information

Full name, mailing address, all telephone and fax numbers and E-Mail address.

-While you should list your Website or Blog as part of your contact info, there’s almost never any need to tell literary agents in the body of your Query to visit your website for more info. Most of them will Google you anyway and check out your Online presence to get a sense of how easily it will be to work with you and if you have a meaningful digital platform.

Personal greeting to your literary agent or publisher

Research literary agents that represent authors who are writing about your general topic/concept, look at…

“Writer’s Market” (be sure to get the current year, as some agencies close

or change their preferences)

-Jeff Herman’s “Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents”

-Direct your letter to the specific name of the agent you wish to work with

-Use “Dear Mr.” or “Dear Ms.” Followed by a: (colon) not a, (comma).

If you really can’t find out whether your agent is a male or female, then it is okay to direct your letter to “Dear Sam Smith:”

-See “Formatting and Print/Emailing Instructions” later in this checklist

-Indicate how you know the agent…

Did you meet that person at a conference?

Has someone recommended that individual to you?

Do your homework and mention some of the authors that you have seen the agent represent and tell how you felt about their book.

Why you are writing this Query Letter 

Seeking representation for your work/manuscript (for an agent)

-Offering your work/manuscript for potential publication (for a publisher)

  • Basic information about your manuscript

-The working title of your manuscript, its subject matter or genre and word count

-If your book’s estimated word count is much higher than 100,000, you may be courting rejection before an agent has read a word of your proposal or manuscript. Eighty thousand words is the industry standard for a narrative nonfiction work. Information-based nonfiction varies tremendously, but still, high word counts will raise a red flag for most publishers and agents.

  • All about the “Hook”

-A “hook” is short, engaging and clearly explains what is distinctive about you, the book and its market potential. Take the strongest two lines from the pitch (what the book will do and why you are an expert) and use them in the first Section of your Letter.

-This will be very similar to what you might write on a book cover flap to get people to buy your book.

  • How your manuscript is positioned in the market

-Key audiences/target readership

How is your book special or needed in the current marketplace?

-Who cares? Who is the identifiable and specific audience who will spend $18 on your book?

-How is your book different from other similar selections on the market?

  • Short outline/summary of your manuscript Topic

Include the important points of your topic in a few sentences.  Don’t send a two-page or longer Synopsis unless the literary agent requests that you furnish this with your Query Letter.  This is pretty uncommon.

-Provide information on how you’ll research and gather information for your book by mentioning the generalities of your resources, such as…

What will you discuss (how do they feel about the news if applicable)?

How will the book make an impact, will it change how people think?

Does it cover opinions from both sides of an argument?

Will it foster conversation about your topic moving forward?

BOTTOM LINE: There should be little room for the agent or publisher to guess how you’ll gather your information, what approach you’ll take, or how the book would be categorized

  • Your bio/credentials/qualifications

Who are you?

Why are you the best author for this book, and what are your platform and credentials?

-Include publishing credits, any special research you did or if you have a specific educational or industry background that qualifies you to write about your subject matter.

-Consider including some of these statistics/credentials/qualifications about you as a prospective or seasoned author…

A blurb about your Blog if it receives 100,000 visits a month.

Consider adding a note if you have an E-Mail Newsletter of 20,000 readers who can’t wait to receive your updates.

– If you are a YouTube star, then you can mention your powerful reach up-front!

-If you’re a previously published author, be specific about what works you have had published. Literary Agents get irritated when writers say…

“I am a published author of two books,”

And don’t provide specifics about the books.

BOTTOM LINE: The Query Letter is mainly about your book and not about you as the author. Therefore the Author Biography should be brief and mention only a few facts about your writing history, past publications, writing awards, or experiences relevant to the manuscript you have written.

  • Concluding thoughts

-Mention the name of your book again and the (large) readership that’s waiting for it.

-This is the moment to not only thank the agent or editor for time spent reading your Query Letter, but also include a reminder that you have a full book proposal available upon request.

-Refrain from saying things like, “I welcome your feedback or comments on my work/pitch.” It’s not your agent’s job to critique your work for you, and they will see such a comment as a red flag.

-It isn’t a good idea to introduce the option of an in-person meeting with your prospective agent or editor. Don’t say you’ll be visiting their city soon, and ask if they’d like to meet for coffee. The only possible exception to this is if you know you’ll hear them speak at an upcoming conference, but still asking for a meeting is not good etiquette. Just say you look forward to hearing them speak. Use the conference’s official channels to set up an appointment if any are available.

-If you are querying more than one agent and the market assumes that you are, include verbiage to the effect that this is a “multiple submission.”

There are those that think that this is not necessary, but including this wording won’t do you any harm either.

Formatting and Print/E-Mailing Instructions

Please double-check your literary agency or publisher guidelines to make sure you’re submitting the right materials to the correct contact. This, obviously, is a huge point so take your time with it.

Goldilocks offers some general instructions that are considered representative of what the industry demands…

Formatting Your Nonfiction Query Letter

  • For ease of reading use 12 point type and a font such as (Arial, Times New Roman)
  • Margins should be 1 inch on all sides
  • Copy should be single spaced-if placed in the body of an E-Mail
  • Double spaced -if attached to an E-Mail or sent as a printed document as snail mail
  • Block style paragraphs, no indents
  • Insert a double space between paragraphs
  • No tabs or indents
  • Last name and manuscript title on every page (use header/footer function)
  • Black type on white background for E-Mail submissions

When you’re sending your e-mail to a specific agent at an agency, but the company only provides a generic E-Mail address such as…


Then use the subject line…

“Query for (Agent Name): (TITLE).”

  • When you do use snail mail, don’t try to set yourself apart by using fancy stationery. Standard letterhead and envelopes are preferable. You shouldn’t include any extraneous materials that were not requested.

Most likely your agent will be looking for a single page or two at most being submitted and no more.

  • Always use paper clips, no staples
  • Include a self-addressed stamped envelope for snail mail queries

Hopefully, this checklist will help you to make sure that any parts and pieces of this very important Nonfiction Query Letter are not forgotten when you submit your document.

For more detailed description of the components of this submission, follow Goldilocks to her…

Goldilocks Methodology/Process: Nonfiction Book Query Letter

Goldilocks welcomes any questions you may have compiling your Nonfiction Book Query Letter and if you feel that you need help writing this most important document, just reach out to her…

Contact Goldilocks
E-Mail her:
Pick up the Phone:  914-944-1474

Goldilocks Wishes You Great Success with Your Upcoming Nonfiction Book!