Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Querying for Non-Fiction

Can I ask a question? As agents, do you prefer the book to be outlined, fully written, or partially written for NF queries? A friend and I are starting some work on a draft, and while I’m familiar with queries for fiction, this whole NF thing is brand new to me. Thanks!

First, if non-fiction is new to you, time to dig in for some research.
Any book on how to write a non-fiction book proposal will be useful. I prefer the one Elizabeth Lyons wrote.

Absolutely essential however is Susan Rabiner's book. Stop what you're doing and read it first.

As to your question; it depends.

Are you writing a memoir?
Your book needs to be finished, just like a novel.

Are you writing narrative non-fiction (history/biography etc)
You need an overview about the subject that answers the questions of what you're writing (what question you're answering, what problem you're solving), and why it's important NOW (significance.)

Example: narrative history COLUMBINE by Dave Cullen. The significant question here is what really happened, and why. It's important because only when we know the why can we start to address the problem.

You need a list of chapters and projected contents of each chapter.
And you need a section on your platform and qualifications to write this book.

Are you writing prescriptive non-fiction? (how to, instructions, guide to better living, advice, etc.)
You need an overview (as above). You need a chapter list (as above). You need platform (as above)
and you need success stories.

Example: The QueryShark Guide to Effective queries proposes to help writers create effective query letters. Platform is the number of readers who consult QueryShark.blogspot.com. Success stories are the folks who not only got  to yes, but those who credit QueryShark with securing agency representation. An actual list of those folks would be in the query.

So, the answer, like always, is what you send me depends on what you're writing.

And this applies across the board; it's industry standard.

Any questions?


Theresa said...

I second the recommendation of Rabiner's book. I own a heavily consulted copy, which has helped me write several book proposals.

Irene Troy said...

As a non-fiction writer [nature, travel and memoir] may I also suggest Tracy Kidder's, Good Prose: The Art of Non-Fiction. While not specific to the query process, for me the book proved invaluable in understanding the fine art of creating compelling non-fiction.

MA Hudson said...

Janet - looking forward to ordering The QueryShark Guide to Effective Queries!!!! Be sure to let us know when it's available : )

Katya - Sorry, I don't know the answers to your copyright questions but I hear your concern. Wishing you the best of luck with your book.

Pericula Ludus said...

In a NF query, would you also include similar titles and how your proposed book differs from them? I have so far managed to refrain from publishing more than single chapters of non-fiction, but frequently get contacted by publishers to review book proposals and they usually have a section on "competitors" and how this new book will be so much better and brighter. To me, this would seem a useful thing to put in a query (albeit in an abbreviated format)—a summary of the unique selling points.

Janet Reid said...

The comment about copyright questions has been removed.
Copyright is a question of law, and the writer is in the UK; UK law applies. This is not an area any of us are qualified to offer advice in,so to avoid any possible problems down the road, I deleted.

Any questions about publishing you want addressed should come to me, not posted in the comment column first. Questions about personal preferences, reader opinions and how soon Miss Julie Weathers will get me that lady bronc riders book...those are suitable for the comment column.

As always if you have questions about what you want to post you're welcome to drop me a line.

Leslie said...

@Pericula, I would include a couple of comp titles, but without going into detail about why yours is different. That's what the proposal is for. The query is to get attention and make the recipient want to read the full proposal.

In my query, I just wrote "Some recent books similar in content and/or approach include: " and then 3 titles, mostly to give an idea of what my book is about, where I envision it on the bookstore shelves, etc. My proposal had a page or so of a few sentences each about maybe 5 comps.

Pericula Ludus said...

@Leslie Thank you for sharing your experience! I've been trying to bat away non-fiction, but I'm an academic so that monster is very likely to catch up with me at some point. Thus, I try to retain information about the process when I find it.