Your Nonfiction Query Letter is your first contact with literary agents or publishers. This is your big chance to impress them, to interest them in your work and get them to eagerly request that you send your manuscript right away!
Here is a list of the components that Goldilocks uses when composing your Nonfiction Query Letter. You should consult the submission guidelines provided by most Literary Agents and Publishers for their specific requirements. Goldilocks presents the general industry standard format for a Nonfiction Query Letter.
Simply click on each link below and be taken further down the page where you will find a very detailed description of the parts and pieces that should be included in each component.
Section One Components
- Reason for Writing this Query Letter
- Basic Information About Your Manuscript
- All About the “Hook”
- How Your Manuscript will be Positioned in the Marketplace
Section Two Component
Section Three Component
Section Four Component
- Formatting and Mechanical Issues
- E-Mailing Your Query Letter
- Printing and Mailing Your Query Letter
- Should You “Cold Call” a Literary Agent or Publisher?
Your Contact Information
When writing a Query Letter for a nonfiction book, you should use a formal business style which should include a letterhead with the following information about you the prospective author…
- Full name
- Mailing address
- Telephone numbers including (business, home, cell and fax)
- E-Mail address (try to use one that has your full name and does not have a bunch of numbers in the address. Gmail is okay but Hotmail and Yahoo mail should be avoided)
Beneath the letterhead, don’t forget to date your Query Letter.
Next insert the name and address of the literary agent or publisher being addressed in this Query Letter.
NOTE: The copy of your letter should be single spaced and use block paragraphs.
Personal Greeting to the Literary Agent or Publisher
You need to do your homework…
- Make sure the person you contact actually handles books like yours. Consult the most recent print or Internet sources you can find.
- Buy a copy of…
-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
- Research the correct name and salutation of the editor or agent to whom you are addressing this letter.
Is the editor a man or woman? A Ms. or Mrs. or Dr.?
- Choose a salutation format
There are a handful of greetings that can be used. Here are your options in order of best to worst…
-Attn. Ms. Martin:
-Dear Chris Martin:
-Dear Ms. Martin
-Dear Ms. Martin,
-Dear Christ, or Yo Chris,
NOTE: These days, more and more literary agencies prefer E-Mail queries.
Isn’t that great for you!
After all, they are free to send!
Well, here’s the downside…
Tons of E-Mail queries are being received by top literary agents (100 per day is the average). So if your query is addressed to “Whom it May Concern,” even if the agency’s submission guidelines state…
“Send all E-Mail queries to info@ the agency name.com”
Guess what will happen to your carefully crafted submission?
For this reason, always address your E-Mail query to somebody… even if it’s the name of the editor’s assistant (and sometimes it is that person or another staff member screening those 100-E-Mail queries-per-day).
Section One Components
Reason for Writing this Query Letter
- Seeking representation for your work (for a literary agent)
This will be the reason for most author submissions
- Offering your work for potential publication (to a publisher)
This situation is pretty rare and might only apply to a very recognized author
- Tell how you found this literary agent (or editor), especially if you have been referred
Basic Information About Your Manuscript
- State the proposed working title for your nonfiction book.
You wouldn’t believe how many new and seasoned book writers work hard to craft a very convincing and detail rich Query Letter and forget to give prominence to the title of their work. They even bury it in their concluding paragraphs as if it is an afterthought.
NOTE: Goldilocks uses this phrase the “working title” of your manuscript because the publisher that will ultimately produce your book could have other suggestions for your manuscript title.
Next, include the following information…
- Subject matter or genre
- Word count
All about the “Hook”
A “hook” is short, pithy, 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 flap to get people to buy your book. It should set the tone for your voice and style and you can use something fascinating, controversial, hilarious, or newsworthy.
Consider using some facts about the dearth of information in your book’s subject.
How Your Manuscript Will be Positioned in the Marketplace
Some of the questions that this paragraph should answer are…
- So what? Why is this book unique, special or needed in the current marketplace?
- Who cares? Who is the identifiable and specific audience that will spend $20 on this book?
You should consider including the following…
- Say what is distinctive about your book idea. Avoid claims like…
“The only book to…” or “the first book to.”
You don’t have to be the only or the first, but you do have to be different in some meaningful way. That means researching the market.
Tell why your book is really different from all the other possible titles out there, and give specifics, not hunches. Even if there are other competing titles, maybe you have something special to offer that will make yours salable.
- Target readership. If your book will address a timely or emerging demographic, or if it solves the problems of a specific audience, then you can open by discussing the compelling market for the book. Also include here any secondary target markets that this book will address.
The Most Difficult Challenge for Narrative Nonfiction Is Pitching a High-Quality Story for a Big Enough Target Audience
Example, between 2000 and 2013, births by women ages 50 to 54 rose by more than 165 percent. This book tells the story of [or tackles the problems of] …
Section Two Components
Short Outline/Summary of Your Manuscript Topic
This will entail crafting two or three paragraphs presenting supporting details
Which is a short summary of the topic (you will include a longer detailed version with your Nonfiction Book Proposal.)
Focus on the main points that your topic covers, enough to sell the literary agent
Much like a magazine query, the supporting details paragraph (or two) of your book query will provide information on how you’ll research and gather information for your book. It’s the time to mention the generalities of your resources, such as…
- Who will you interview?
You don’t need to go into specifics (like the number of people you’ll interview or their names unless they are notable in your topic area)
- 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…
- Is it a religious personal opinion piece?
- A political how to book for church groups?
- A pro-gay biography with resources?
Section Three Components
This part of your Query Letter should answer…
- Who are you?
- Why are you the best author for this book, and what are your platform and credentials?
Sell your expertise. Editors and agents are looking for writers they can promote, particularly in nonfiction. The most highly valued authors are those who have built a sizable national platform through, for example, their writing as journalists or their work as experts.
Consider including some of these statistics/credentials/qualifications about you as a prospective or seasoned author…
- Include a blurb about your blog if it receives 100,000 visits a month
- Consider adding a note if you have an email newsletter of 20,000 readers who can’t wait to receive your updates
- Are you’re 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 complete information about what they have written.
Example, “I have won national awards for two novellas and three short stories.”
Example, “I worked as a sailor while compiling and writing several in-house pamphlets on different classes of sea-faring vessels.”
- Are you an experienced professional, or highly regarded authority in your field?
You can start with that information.
Example, “As the former CEO of three successful startups …”
- Education is helpful because it sounds good, but it’s only really important if you’re offering a nonfiction book about Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) children and you hold a PhD in pediatric behavioral science.
- Feel free to include a bit about any awards you’ve received (if they’re specific to writing or the topic you’re pitching).
Example, mentioning that you won the Edward R. Murrow Award for your exposé on the Vatican is impressive. Talking about that your haiku poem won best place at the PTA meeting may be best kept a secret.
Be very careful not to…
- In a situation where you do not have an extensive writing history or awards, avoid inflating the experiences you do have for the sake of sounding impressive. Your book should be the most important focus and should do the selling for you.
- Also, avoid mentioning that you have never been published since this is already assumed and unlikely to gain you sympathy with the editor or agent.
- In the case where you haven’t been successful or have self-published to modest success, don’t hide it but don’t belabor it. Focus on what you’re doing in this new book and what you’ve learned that will set you up for success. Remember, agents and editors want to say yes why not give them all the help you can!
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.
This section can be daunting, especially if you’ve never been published, never won any awards, hold no degrees from MFA writing schools, and possess no credentials to write your book. No problem. The less you have to say in this Section, the more space you have to focus on selling your topic and market share for your book.
Section 4 Components
Mention the name of your book again and the (large) readership that’s waiting for it.
Example, “I hope you’ll agree that the ten million baby boomers are ready for The Senior’s Guide to Dating Etiquette.”
This is the moment to not only thank the agent or editor for time spent reading your Query Letter, but also mention that you have a full book proposal available upon request. Don’t expect that you can whip up one quickly at that point. Instead, have a polished one ready to send so you can respond while the editor or agent is still enthusiastic about your topic.
NOTE: if you are sending several submissions out for the same manuscript, you need to mention that this is a “multiple submission.”
There is no need to repeat your contact information as you have supplied this data in the letterhead of this Query Letter.
Formatting and mechanical issues
- Single-space the body of the letter.
- Write in block paragraphs, again, in the style of a formal business letter.
E-Mailing your Query Letter
If you’re sending an E-Mail, include the query in the message. Don’t ask agents or editors to download and read an attachment or visit your Website.
They aren’t likely to do it.
The title of the manuscript should be stated in the subject line of your email.
You can say…
“Query Letter for (insert name of book)”
Printing and Mailing your query letter
Use a high-quality paper, preferably laser-printed, much like the paper you might use for a resume or CV. Avoid using colored stationery or paper of unusual sizes.
Always include a self- address prepaid envelope for the agent or editor to respond to your Query Letter.
Make it easy for the recipient by sending your query via first-class mail. You would think that it should be sent via an overnight or second day method either through the post office or Federal Express…
Many agents will not stand in line at the post office to collect registered or another special mailing option as above…
Still others might go to collect such mail only if the sender is known to them
Should you “cold call” an agent or publisher?
Most agents and publishers prefer not to be contacted by phone, and generally do not return cold calls. Look at it this way, most writers are not trained to pitch ideas convincingly on the phone. Put your efforts into writing a terrific Query Letter instead.
If you are ready to tackle writing this tightly focused Letter, Goldilocks has provided a checklist for you to consult as you compose your document which will help you to include all these necessary components as outlined here in her Methodology/Process Section.
Take a look…
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Now, if you are feeling a little overwhelmed with the writing of this Query Letter for your nonfiction manuscript then…
Goldilocks is here to help you compose a really compelling Query Letter implementing the guidelines she has shown here.
E-Mail her: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pick up the phone: 914-944-1474
Goldilocks Wishes You Luck with Your Journey to Become an Author!