Thursday, December 17, 2009

Querying Non Fiction

If you are writing a proposal for a non-fiction book that includes any kind of "How To" such as

How To Rope An Alligator And Other Reptiles;
How To Defang an Agent And Other Literary Reptiles;
How To Survive And Thrive As An Intern At Fineprint Lit

one of the FIRST things you need to do is research what books already exist on the subject.

Go to Amazon, or publishers of the kind of book you propose to write and make a list of titles. Figure out the ways your book is better, faster, stronger, smarter. What NEW and IMPROVED information or strategies do you offer that these other books don't.

Example: "In my proposed book How To Survive and Thrive as a FinePrint Intern, I have surveyed all surviving interns through Summer 2009 for tips and tricks of the trade. I have also added information on all the agents that have joined FinePrint in the last year. This NEW and IMPROVED information will offer more current, more usable advice than previous books on the subject, the last of which was published in 1996 and sold six gazillion copies."

Obviously not to be used verbatim, but you get the idea, right?

Include that information in your query. You don't need all the titles, but you need a paragraph that covers the information.

The reason you need this is because the FIRST thing I do when I get a non-fiction query is research the competition. Your job is to tell me why your book offers something more than what's already out there.

This does NOT apply to narrative non fiction (by authors such as John McPhee, Tracy Kidder, Melissa Fay Greene etc) or to memoir.


Lydia Sharp said...

Seems obvious, but excellent point.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

How to survive as a FinePrint Intern... My advice, act like a Commercial Fisherman.

When there's any kind of meeting, Commercial Fishermen get their first, drink all the coffee, eat all the donuts... Interns, take note.

Commercial Fishermen never pass a bowl of candy without filling their pockets, even breath mints... Intern take note.

Commercial Fisherman hang out at breakfast eateries in the harbor eyeballin' who leaves french fries, toast, (or a mate who's too seasick/drunk to eat - take advantage, consider it, opportunity), butter's on the house... Intern take note.

Commercial Fishermen watch bar patrons shuffle off to the head, leaving a fresh drink; a quick pass-by-two-gulps does the trick, (move the glass 'cuz bartender may forget he already served the guy), learn the two gulps if you're a sippper. If desperate, take what's left in the glass s you walk out... Intern take note.

Un-noticed or abandoned tips are fair game. (Unless the waitress is pregnant)!

If you're really hard-up for a place for the night... pretend you're drunk - start a fight, sleep at the local harbor police station.

All this and more from my upcoming book... DOCK LIFE!

Haste yee back ;-)

scaryazeri said...

My question is what if it is something that is not easy to categorize? what if it is not a memoir, neither it is how to...definitely not fiction...
and how to then do your market research and prove to an agent it is going to sell gazillion copies? Or at least half of that...:)

Lori Rader-Day said...

Ooh, Melissa Fay Greene is fantastic.